Imanuddin Razak , Jakarta | Thu, 05/22/2008 11:23 AM | Opinion
Three high-ranking officials from three different countries addressed a seminar on education, recently organized by The Jakarta Post in conjunction with National Education Day, which fell on May 2.
Representing the opinions and policies of their respective countries, the three — South Korea’s former education minister and deputy prime minister Kim Shinil, Singapore’s former education minister and current finance minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Indonesia’s Director General for Higher Learning Institutions Fasli Djalal — presented the seminar audience with the latest developments in their countries’ education systems.
The three speakers all agreed that education played a significant role in a country’s human resources advancement and subsequent success in science and technology, as well as economic influence in the current globalized international community.
The three also had one thing in common in that they represented three countries that were seriously affected by either prolonged colonization or civil war and also World War II, but managed to mobilize their own people to work hard and strive for the betterment of their countries.
The three officials also represented three countries that suffered from the 1997/1998 economic crisis.
But unlike the three countries’ shared drive toward development in the post-World War II era, after the economic crisis the three had taken different paths. While Singapore and South Korea had, if not completely, managed to emerge from the crisis, Indonesia is still struggling to recover from its serious impacts due to its weak economic and political fundamentals and lack of commitment to combat practices that hamper our development programs, such as corruption, collusion and nepotism.
As a consequence, South Korea and Singapore have managed to smoothly progress through their economic growth and development, with the education sector as the backbone and being behind all their success.
And while South Korea and Singapore are striving to become important global players in all sectors, including education, Indonesia is still struggling to provide equal education opportunities for all its school-age citizens.
So, what should Indonesia do to improve its education system, because while we are effectively standing in place, other nations are catching up and passing us when it comes to educational achievement?
There are many things the Indonesian government, and the Indonesian people, could do to improve the education system.
To start with, the government should be committed to comply with the requirement to allocate 20 percent of the state budget for the education sector, as mandated by the Constitution.
Another thing, which is apparently a difficult but not impossible task, as it has been successfully carried out by South Korea, is generating national commitment that education is a top priority on the national agenda.
Significant attention should also be paid to the promotion of reading habits among the Indonesian people, which is considerably low even among developing countries. It is worth noting that developed countries are those which, among other things, have managed to promote good reading habits among their citizens.
And to promote such habits, it is the high time for the government to start providing cheap, if not free, reading materials for its people, especially students. To many Indonesians, it is still difficult for them to have healthy and regular meals, so they are unlikely to save money for books when they are just trying to eat every day.
For primary and secondary education, the government could start by avoiding printing different textbooks each new academic year. And for tertiary education, perhaps the Indonesian government could duplicate what the Indian government has done in the past by re-publishing modern foreign textbooks on cheap, low-quality paper, popularly known under the label “Asian Edition”, so that they are affordable for university students.
We also need to think how to again provide scholarships for our best, but poor students, as practiced by the New Order government, in an attempt to provide equal educational opportunities for citizens.
Some people say that talk is cheap, or easier said than done. But the Indonesian government and the people should start somewhere to catch up. Otherwise, we will continue to be left behind and remain mere spectators to the games played by developed nations.
Enough is enough. We need to progress and prosper anyhow.
The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.