The chief of an open learning center for the poor and a city councilor have joined critics who say that international-standard schools not only widen the gap between the haves and have-nots but also encourage other institutions to join them, purely for the sake of making money.
Jakarta city councilor Imam Satria said on Friday that since the enactment of the 2003 law on the national education system, the council had received a barrage of requests from state schools seeking to become international-standard institutions.
The law says international-standard schools (SBI) and state schools in the process of attaining international standard (RSBI) can charge students more for the higher-quality education.
“State schools with the RSBI label can actually begin to charge students extra fees in order to attain international standards,” Imam said.
“In addition, these schools also benefit from a separate grant from the government to help them achieve international standards of education.”
Every district or city in the country, according to law, is obliged to turn at least one state school into an international-standard institution, with lessons in two languages, smaller classes and a curriculum integrating national and international educational standards, including adopting a curriculum from a developed nation.
Some observers have demanded that the schools be scrapped because they threaten to price low-income students out of a quality education.
“This will actually widen the gap between the rich and the poor,” Imam said.
“For instance, we received a request from a state junior high school in Pademangan, North Jakarta. That’s ridiculous. The area is filled with families from low-income households. If we turn that school into an RSBI, children in the area would never be able to study there.”
Imam added he had received reports that many children in the capital were quitting school because their parents were no longer able to afford the extra fees.
“City councilors are working to slow the growth of RSBI schools,” he said.
“We are urging the education agency to focus on pilot school projects, and to provide at least one qualified school in every subdistrict instead where talented students can study for free.”
Ade Pujiati, chief of an open learning center for the poor managed by the Setiabudi SMP 67 junior high school in South Jakarta, said as state schools competed to attain so-called international standards, children from low-income households ended up with fewer options to attain education at good state schools.
They had to rely on good Samaritans to teach them, she said.
“Today my center, the Ibu Pertiwi, has 37 students and 16 volunteer teachers,” Ade said, adding that the children all came from low-income households.
“I was inspired to set up the open learning center in 2005 when my foster kids began asking me to pay all sorts of extra fees for their studies, even though the Jakarta Education Agency had put out public service ads on TV claiming that education was supposed to be free.”
Government funds, like the School Operational Aid (BOS) and the Educational Operational Aid (BOP), are allocated to Indonesia’s open learning centers for the poor.
Ade said the aid her center received was nothing compared to the block grants given to RSBI-labeled schools.
“The government may say our country is progressing, but I think we’re going backward rather than forward,” she said.
According to data provided by Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW), last year the amount of BOS funding was Rp 525 billion for 3,980 schools and Rp 850 billion for BOP, distributed across 2,545 schools.
But a single RSBI school receives a Rp 200 million block grant.
ICW’s Ade Irawan said on Friday that the National Education Ministry regarded education as a commodity.
“Schools are seen as factories that have to compete with one other in order to receive incentives from the government,” Ade said. “Rich people have options. They can go to private schools here or abroad. Poor people can’t. They need the help.”