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Education Deconstructed: Hopes for the New Bill

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

First published in The Jakarta Post (29/09/2022)

After months of pressure for more public participation, the Education, Culture, Research and Technology Ministry finally made public last month the latest version of the National Education System Bill and is encouraging education stakeholders and the general public to engage in discussion regarding the draft and submit their input to a platform provided by the ministry.

Although the ministry has finally addressed the issue of transparency in the legislative process, many are still not satisfied with the draft bill's current iteration. The absence of provisions on teachers’ professional allowance, for instance, has sparked the anger of various teachers’ associations in Indonesia.

The ministry has since clarified that the bill actually attempts to improve teachers’ welfare, as teachers would be able to get a professional allowance according to the provisions of the Civil Servants Law and Labor Law without having to enroll in a Teachers’ Education Program (PPG) as is currently required.

Controversies aside, the bill itself brings promises to improve education, if only the government plays its cards right.

Since his ministerial appointment, Nadiem Makarim has had only one mission in mind: To deconstruct Indonesia’s education.

The new education system bill is, arguably, the pinnacle of all these initiatives in the past years. The abolition of the national examination, the emphasis on foundational skills (literacy and numeracy) and soft skills development have taken the place of what were once seen to be the most critical aspects of educational achievement, such as content memorization and test results.

Instead, as stipulated in Article 86 of the draft law, assessments now serve as tools for evaluating the effectiveness of the education system and they are not defining students’ achievement at the individual level.

As if a blessing in disguise, the COVID-19 pandemic gave the ministry, its staff and other education stakeholders the opportunity they needed to reconsider the concept of education.

The bill is an embodiment of the lessons learned from the pandemic, highlighting the values of incorporating diverse stakeholders in the learning process, leveraging multiple media to support learning, as well as paying attention to local circumstances that differ in each region.

These are expressed in a few articles, including those on inclusivity (Article 5), recognizing the individual needs of the students (Article 63), as well as accommodating different regional capacities to adapt in order to meet education standards (Article 75).

However, the departure from the existing learning paradigm has been difficult, mainly because education stakeholders were expected to “follow orders” instead of inventing the appropriate learning strategies that suit their preferences and needs.

This also meant that the new paradigm must be accompanied by policies that support the professional growth of the stakeholders in order to equip them with competencies to exercise flexibility in their educational pursuits.

Given the state of Indonesia's education before his tenure, Nadiem, as well as his staff, has chosen an approach that is deemed revolutionary. Yet, the most difficult aspect would be to communicate the essence of the bill and put it into action.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of 10-year-old students in the majority of low- and middle-income countries, are unable to understand simple written text, leading to what is known as “learning poverty”. According to the World Bank (2021), approximately 53 percent of children in Indonesia do not have the literacy skills expected for their age group. In short, they are not proficient readers.

Given that basic literacy is the key to taking up knowledge and skills that will also have an impact on a person's academic achievement and adult life, the current state of Indonesian students’ reading comprehension is exceedingly alarming.

The new bill must be able to outline a comprehensive foundational development for individuals from an early age until well into their adulthood. It must mandate compulsory foundational skills development for every individual and a comprehensive program that accommodates those who are yet to attain the necessary skills required.

Lessons learned from the pandemic have demonstrated that the education sector and technology cannot be separated and will continue to merge. The bill must ensure that students develop the necessary skills to navigate technology from an early age.

While primary school is focused on developing foundational skills, the technology aspect remains missing at the secondary level. Article 81 does not even include information and communication technology as a subject that is required for either primary- or secondary-level education.

The absence of technology-related subjects may stem from the difficulties in ensuring access to technology across Indonesia. Indonesia’s unique geographical differences present challenges for the government to provide equitable access to technology.

Learning from the pandemic where unequal access to technology became the primary obstacle to fulfillment of education for all, the government needs to commit to improving technology and infrastructure, particularly in rural areas.

The National Education System Bill is missing from the national legislation program priorities for 2023, according to recent news. However, now is the appropriate time to engage in constructive discussions with education stakeholders to comb through each article and revise it accordingly.

Hopefully, the bill, when passed into law, will be able to transform Indonesia's education system for the better.


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