Reforming teacher education in Indonesia:

published 9 November 2012 updated 18 December 2012
written by:

In particular, the Government has strived to increase Indonesian students’ performance on international student assessment tests to meet that of its neighbours and economic competitors, such as Malaysia and China. Teachers are increasingly being held accountable for poor student performance. As a result, the Government has focused its attention on upgrading its teacher workforce, which has presented a number of challenges. Quality teachers are essential to a successful educational system and, unfortunately, contract teachers are getting left behind in the reform process. The education reforms that are currently being implemented are inadequate in terms of sufficient teacher training facilities as well as poor consideration of teachers’ needs. Moreover, other factors that contribute to quality education, such as adequate funding for school infrastructure as well as teaching and learning materials, need to be considered in the context of reforms.

With a workforce of approximately 3.6 million teachers, and about 50 million students in 250,000 schools, Indonesia manages one of the largest and most diverse education systems in the world. This has consequently led to a number of challenges: while primary and secondary school enrolment has increased substantially at the national level, wide regional disparities continue to persist, not only between the provinces but also between districts within the provinces.  Children from low-income families in the rural, remote and, thus, poorer parts of the country, are more likely than those children who come from the wealthier districts to drop out of school at the secondary level, without having completed basic education. According to the World Bank, primary school net enrolment levels in Indonesia are below sixty per cent in poorer districts. While net enrolment rates have experienced a steady increase at the lower-secondary and upper-secondary levels, they are still very low compared to other countries in the region.

Uneven distribution of the teacher workforce

The majority of Indonesian teachers do not possess the minimum qualifications required by the Ministry of National Education, and it is estimated that around 600,000 contract teachers are employed throughout the country, largely in the more remote schools, arguably, in provinces and districts with the highest needs for an increased investment in education. Many of these contract teachers earn around a tenth of the salary of a regular teacher (sometimes as low as 5 Euros a month). While pupil-teacher ratios are on average relatively low in Indonesia, the distribution of teachers is highly uneven, resulting in a high number of multi-grade schools in more remote areas. The attempt to address the shortage of teachers by hiring contract teachers has resulted in an oversupply, many of whom are not well-qualified or are forced to share full-time contracts between them.

Contract teachers left behind

Many contract teachers are being excluded from teacher certification processes which aim to incentivise teachers to upgrade their qualifications and skills. Under Teacher Law No. 14 of 2005, teachers must have a minimum of a four-year post-secondary degree in addition to passing a certification examination, before becoming a certified teacher. Once certified, teachers receive professional allowances equal to their base salaries as well as additional allowances for working in remote areas, which may result in a doubling or tripling of their remuneration. Attendance to the certification process, however, requires current twenty-four hour per week employment contracts per teacher, thereby excluding those contract teachers that work less than 24 hours per week.

Many of these contract teachers are hired directly by schools on top of the quota allocation for civil servant teachers, which usually only covers retiring teachers. These contract teachers take up positions in the hope that they will be converted to civil servants, but many have been working on part-time contracts for ten years or more. Moreover, there are few institutional arrangements to support school-hired teachers. A World Bank representative commented that: “To get certified, teachers have to get qualified…because the country is very large, and teachers are very widely dispersed – for teachers who are teaching in remote areas, the possibility for them to get upgrading and to also get certified is much less” (Jakarta, October 2010). For contract teachers with a high-school diploma or less, upgrading to minimum qualification requirements and taking part in the certification process is simply not an option: limited access to training facilities, not being able to afford the upgrading programmes increasingly being delivered in private universities, the aforementioned sharing of full-time contracts, and alternatively working in under-staffed multi-grade schools and not being able to leave the classroom to participate in professional development programmes.

Faulty Teacher Law implementation

It is no surprise that in the recent years, following global education policy trends, the Indonesian government began to attribute poor performances by Indonesia students to their teachers’ capacity to provide ‘proper education’. Ambitious reforms, such as the Teacher Law No. 14 of 2005 and the World Bank supported ”Better Education through Reformed Management and Universal Upgrading” (BERMUTU) project, have been implemented across the country with the broad objective of improving the “quality and performance” of Indonesian teachers. However, these reforms have not necessarily contributed to an increase in education quality. This is due to the aforementioned inadequate implementation of the reforms, as well as, to the lack of attention being paid to the other factors contributing to quality education.

For many Indonesian teachers, increases in salary are major incentives for undertaking the certification process, though many must first obtain the minimum qualifications - this is where the major challenge lies. When the law was first implemented, the government estimated that  only sixteen per cent of practising primary teachers were eligible for certification; more than 25 per cent of all teachers were employed with a high school degree or lower, and many had not even met the minimum requirement of a two-year degree before the enactment of the law. With the implementation of Teacher Law No. 14, the issue of unqualified teachers became much larger, and it was estimated that around one million teachers needed to be upgraded to at least a four-year degree.

In 2010, five years after enactment of the law, there were a limited number of teacher training institutions and universities in Indonesia that were able to certify teachers; the majority of which have a limited capacity to provide the necessary training required by Teacher Law No. 14. The Directorate General for the Quality Improvement of Teachers and Education Personnel and the World Bank have all addressed the poor quality of Indonesia’s teacher training institutions and the lack of monitoring of their programmes. The Rector of the Jakarta State University commented: “Many institutions dealing with teachers’ qualifications have poor quality. To accelerate the teacher upgrading and certification process, the Government has tried to increase the number of universities that certify teachers, but the 2015 target is unlikely to be reached. With the current number of institutions, it could take up to 2029.”

Moreover, Indonesia’s spread-out archipelago means that many teachers working in small schools in the more remote, rural areas are beyond the reach of teacher training institutions. Distance learning through the Open University (Universitas Terbuka) has provided an alternative pathway for teachers in remote areas to meet qualification and certification requirements set by Teacher Law No. 14. However, these programmes also require major revisions of their teacher training courses. Finally, the certification process following qualification relies heavily on a portfolio review process that has been heavily criticised as a being insufficient and subject to manipulation. This raises a question as to its effectiveness in improving teachers’ skills and also presents the significant risk that quality will be compromised, rather than increased. “The certification process would benefit from the substitution of teacher portfolio reviews (which are often comprised of blatant forgeries) with an increased focus on the training process,” added the Rector of Jakarta State University.

Uncertain future

The Indonesian government intends to have only certified teachers allowed to teach in schools by 2015. Considering that almost two-thirds of all teachers did not possess adequate qualifications to be certified when the law was enacted, Indonesia has a long way to go in reaching its quality standards. One of EI’s national affiliates, the Teachers’ Association of the Republic of Indonesia (PGRI) commented that: “The Government is aware of what they are doing. The more teachers qualify and certify, the more they will have to pay. So they purposely slow the process down.”

PGRI has actively lobbied the government to increase contract teachers’ remuneration and upgrade their status: “Contract teachers are not PGRI members, but we fight for their right to access higher salaries. PGRI proposed a law for a minimum remuneration for all teachers. Many contract teachers are already teaching for 10-15 years without a secure career perspective.” The ambitious overhaul of the Indonesian education system is not likely to reach its 2015 target to have all teachers upgraded and certified. This is due to a poor implementation process and structures to provide support to teachers in pursuit of the minimum qualifications, particularly in rural hard-to-reach areas where teachers’ qualifications are generally lower. The training facilities, which are currently in place, do not have the capacity to provide all teachers with upgraded qualifications within the set time-frame, and the quality of the Indonesian teacher training institutions has been heavily criticised. Finally, those contract teachers which were hired at the school level over the last decade are being excluded from participating in the upgrading process, whereas they are arguably, and ironically, the ones who need the most training.