Ardi Mandiri, Dessy Sagita, Ronna Nirmala & Markus Sihaloho
Despite a recent Constitutional Court ruling, the government will continue to provide special funding for international-standard state schools, saying they will change in name but not in spirit.
“We don’t lose any spirit to provide better quality for the national education system,” Education and Culture Minister Muhammad Nuh said during a visit to the BeritaSatu Media Holdings office.
“Efforts for quality education must not be abandoned, particularly with quite a sizeable investment [made over the years] and years of nurturing. There is also much potential for growth [in the schools].”
In a judicial review ruling handed down on Tuesday, the court struck down an article in the 2003 National Education Law that required all municipalities and districts in the country to have at least one such school, known as an RSBI.
Mahfud M.D., the court’s chief justice, said in his ruling that not only was the requirement unconstitutional, there was also no sound legal basis for RSBIs to exist.
The judicial review had been sought by a coalition of parents’ and teachers’ organizations as well as the antigraft group Indonesia Corruption Watch.
In their filing, they contended that RSBIs were unconstitutional because they were allowed to charge much higher fees than other public schools, thereby making it less likely for students from disadvantaged families to enroll.
They also said the creation of such schools was tantamount to the liberalization of the public education sector.
In addition, they pointed out that test results since the schools were first established in 2003 showed that despite following a highly touted bilingual curriculum, RSBI students generally performed the same or even worse than students at regular public schools.
The government has formed 1,343 RSBI schools from the elementary to high school level and earmarked Rp 200 million to Rp 300 million ($20,700 to $31,000) per school each year. Such funding, Nuh said, “will not necessarily be stopped” due to the court ruling, arguing that cutting the funding down would hamper the schools’ day to day operations. “It has been decided so we respect it,” he said.
ICW activist Febri Hendri called on the minister to enforce the court ruling. “All RSBI schools must return to normal status as national schools. All of the funds earmarked for it [RSBIs] must be returned to the people,” he said. “This fund also cannot be diverted to other programs.”
Febri added the group would continue to monitor the ministry’s action as well as the schools’ that had been charging students hidden and unofficial fees despite receiving large grants from the government.
Retno Listyarti, secretary general of the Indonesian Teachers Union Federation (FSGI), said there was no limit on the fees RSBI schools could charge their students. “They raked in millions of rupiah a month on the pretext of improving education, but in reality the money was going toward auxiliary expenses,” she said.
But Nuh said such practices are isolated cases and only affect a small number of RSBI schools.
Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo aired his support for the disbandment of RSBI schools, saying that it was never made clear that they are better than regular schools.
“Costlier does not necessarily mean of greater quality. I agree that [RSBIs] should be banned,” he said adding that the government should focus on improving teachers’s capacities and building better school facilities.
Politicians were also quick to back the court ruling and called on the ministry to avoid similar programs in the future. “We don’t want [RSBIs] to simply change into another name that does not reflect equality in education,” said House of Representatives deputy speaker Taufik Kurniawan.