04 Mei 2010

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Editorial: Weighing the balance

Does anyone on the planet deny the importance of education in character building, sustainability and the excellence of a nation? If we look at the data on public opinion, we may take it that there is a majority – if not unanimous agreement in favor of the importance of education for a nation.

This hypothetical conclusion is undeniably also valid for the Indonesian nation, which celebrated National Education Day on Sunday. The problem is that our education system has not yet been able to provide equal opportunity for all elements of the nation and satisfy our needs for affordable but quality education for all our children.
It goes without saying that our education system is still far from perfect and has been the subject of trial and error of each successive government since the birth of the Republic of Indonesia in August 1945. It is true that we cannot expect so much from a country which is less than 100 years old, while other countries with excellent education systems are mostly those looking back over hundreds of years of history.
But to use this as an excuse is not really valid, either. Take a look at our neighbors Malaysia and Singapore, which are relatively speaking just as old or young as Indonesia. Their education systems have made their universities, for example, among the best in the world — their world rankings are better than those for Indonesia’s best universities.
There have been numerous seminars and discourses held to discuss efforts to improve ourselves and seek the best applicable education system for Indonesia. So interrelated is our education system with business interests — including the sustainability and excellence of educational institutions — that we have yet to find a system that is equal and fair for everybody, taking into account that people are coming from different socio-economic strata. At the same time we have to be capable of producing quality school and university graduates who can compete with those of advanced nations.
One recent case in point is the Constitutional Court’s ruling last month repealing the 2009 law on incorporating educational institutions. The ruling will likely force some of the country’s best universities to revert to the old practice of relying on state subsidies to manage and finance their activities to deliver quantity as well as ensure quality excellence. Meanwhile, the current selection process at state universities has been criticized for discriminating against poor but intelligently eligible students, leaving a smaller proportion of university places open to students from poorer backgrounds.
The most current educational controversy concerns the annual national exams (UAN) for elementary as well as junior and senior high school students. While being relatively new in our education evaluation system, the UAN has drawn strong criticism from the general public and critics after it had been reported that 7 percent of high school students who took this year’s exams failed, up from 4.71 percent in 2007 — indicating a drop in the number of graduates this year. There have also been media reports that a number of failed students attempted to commit suicide in a number of cities nationwide. On the other hand, the government also has a point in defending the UAN system while backing its commitment to promote quality Indonesian education on a par with advanced countries.
Apart from all those controversies, we believe that there is still room for a middle way where quality education can be ensured, but not at the expense of less fortunate Indonesians. The trick is how to weigh the balance.
opini the jakarta post 05 mei 2010