Indonesian Vice Presidential Debate Shines Overdue Light on Education
In the first vice presidential debate in Indonesia leading up to the April 17 elections, both candidates — businessman Sandiaga Uno and renowned Islamic cleric Ma'ruf Amin — agreed on one problem: Indonesia's education system needs repairs.
The debate on Sunday involved four main themes: culture, public health, employment and education, with the goal of Indonesia becoming internationally competitive by 2025 and achieving the "industrial revolution 4.0" — delineating the increasingly competitive market for the country's workforce.
As raised in the debate or outlined by the Lowy Institute think tank's 2018 research titled "Beyond Access: Making Indonesia's Education System Work," the problems surrounding education in Indonesia include employment opportunities for vocational school graduates and the ineffectiveness of funds allocated for research.
According to data released by Statistics Indonesia (BPS), the country's main survey body, graduates of vocational schools number highest among the country's unemployed.
With the goal of reducing unemployment among young people by 2 million, Sandiaga, a former military commander and Prabowo Subianto presidential running mate, proposed creating a training hub for fresh graduates, providing incentives and co-working spaces.
"We see that the main issue is the absence of link and match between what an educational institution provides and what the workforce demands," he said.
Similarly, Ma'ruf, incumbent President Joko Widodo's running mate, identified two ways to remedy the problem.
"We'll revitalize vocational schools, polytechnics and academies, and we will adjust them to what the market will bear," he said.
If elected, Ma'ruf said, the team will release "a pre-work card" and provide incentives between six months and a year upon graduation from vocational schools.
Ma'ruf also reiterated his camp's program of "perpetual funds" for research purposes, initially announced earlier this year. Sandiaga proposed restructuring research institutions, noting that "collaboration" and "synergy" between the government and research bodies are key.
Child psychologist and education expert Najeela Shihab told VOA that the debate felt "incomplete." She said that topics surrounding education could have been given more attention.
"I've always understood that education isn't a priority yet," she said. "Education isn't just a political issue or fodder for political contestation. Whoever's elected needs to have a road map 20 to 30 years ahead. In Indonesia, our main problem with regards to policy surrounding education is that it changes. That's why there's a saying, 'With a new minister, there's a new curriculum.'"
Sunday's debate was the third of five leading up to the elections. Recent polls suggest that the ticket of Joko-Ma'ruf edges Prabowo-Sandiaga 57.6 percent to 31.8 percent, according to research center Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting.
According to the Lowy Institute, the primary problem with Indonesia's education system is not access but effectiveness. Problems such as a convoluted bureaucracy and a lack of teacher training continued to impair the troubled system.
"The country's education system has been a high-volume, low-quality enterprise that has fallen well short of the country's ambitions for an 'internationally competitive' system," Lowy Institute contributor Andrew Rosser wrote on the organization's website.
Shihab said that although Indonesia managed to get 56 million kids into schools, there are still outstanding problems with regards to access.
"There's a problem with the quality of education, too, like there are still teachers who don't show up to classes," she said. "And there are also kids who are not in school, especially those who are already working or those who don't have a birth certificate."
Solutions for other essential problems do not stop at this debate, Shihab added.
"There are still essential issues like the potential growth among students, basic rights and democratic values. I hope attention for education goes on."