The End of International Schools in Indonesia?

A rule change in the way international schools in Indonesia operate has generated confusion and frustration among education stakeholders, who say it is characteristic of the government’s lack of a global vision for the country’s education system.

Under the Education Ministry regulation issued in May this year, and taking effect as of last Monday, Indonesian-owned international schools must drop the “international” from their name, while Indonesian students at these schools will be required to study a host of additional subjects and take part in the widely panned national examinations that students of state schools must undergo.

A day before the changes went into effect, a spokesman for the ministry said all schools with “international” in their name would be affected, including those affiliated with foreign embassies.

On Thursday, however, the ministry’s director general for primary education, Hamid Muhammad, said the latter schools were exempt from the name change.

There are only six such schools in Indonesia, including the British International School, the Jakarta International Korean School and Lycée International Français. These schools, however, are barred from accepting Indonesian students or students from any nationality other than that of the foreign mission with which they are affiliated, Hamid said.

Oh boy. The dreaded Education Ministry strikes again. You have to hand it to the ministry formerly known as Diknas; when they make a mess of something, there are no half measures. They just go ahead and drop a nuclear bomb.

There are international schools all over the world, even in poor developing countries like Sudan, Cambodia and Mozambique. They are called international precisely because that’s what they are. They provide a place for expats to school their children. Typically, they also accept local students whose parents want their children to have a more international or global education. This is part of the modern world. Yet in its infinite wisdom Diknas has decided that what’s good for the rest of the world is not good for Indonesia. Indonesian students must, as a matter of law, study the Indonesian curriculum. Yet how good is the system which Diknas runs?

Placed 64th out of 65 Countries

There is an international ranking system called PISA which compares the ability of students in Matha, Science and Reading. How did Indonesians do compared to their international peers. Here are the sad results:

Indonesia is ranked at 64 from 65 countries participated in the three-year cycle test. The average scores for Indonesian students are: mathematics, 375, reading, 396 and 382 for science. This is just slightly better compared with Peru which is at the bottom of the list.

So Diknas is forcing Indonesian students to study a local system which is generating some of the worst educational outcomes in the world. They are actively getting in the way of Indonesians who want to study the International Baccalaureate, a well-respected international qualification, and forcing them to engage with a poor local version which is resulting in low literacy, numeracy and reasoning skills.

In addition, it is worth noting the lack of professionalism evident here. Diknas first said that no school can use the word ‘international’ and then back-flipped on this where ’embassy schools’ are concerned. In short, they are making up policy on the run. There is no deep rationale for any of this and they are just chopping and changing as they go, with the only real motivation behind any of this being the ministry’s famed hatred of Westerners. They absolutely refuse to deal with non-Indonesians when negotiating anything. What a sad, embarrassing mess they have made.

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