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Persistent Predation: The Politics of the Learning Crisis in Indonesia

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posted on 2023-07-18, 16:14 authored by RISE AdminRISE Admin, Communications Development Incorporated
Indonesia is in the midst of a learning crisis. Although the country has improved access to education in recent decades, it has done little to improve mastery of basic skills in literacy, numeracy, and science among primary and secondary students. A range of assessments suggest that students learn little at school. Indonesia’s learning crisis has reflected the political dominance during the New Order (1965–98) and post-New Order (1998–present) periods of predatory political, bureaucratic, and corporate elites. Rather than produce skilled workers and critical and inquiring minds, those elites have sought to use the country’s education system to accumulate resources, distribute patronage, mobilize political support, and exercise political control. Religious elites—some having supported the acquisition of basic skills in math, science, and literacy in line with Islamic traditions of learning—have been co-opted, harnessing them to predatory agendas and disabling them as a significant force for change. Parents and schoolchildren—the principal users/clients of education systems—have been at best minor players in contests over education policy and its implementation. Technocratic and progressive elements have supported a stronger focus on basic skills acquisition, with occasional success, but generally contestation has been settled in favor of predatory elites. Accordingly, efforts to improve learning outcomes in Indonesia are unlikely to produce significant results unless there is a fundamental reconfiguration of power relations between these elements. In the absence of such a shift, moves to increase funding, address human resource deficits, eliminate perverse incentive structures, and improve education management in accordance with technocratic templates of international best practice or progressive notions of equity and social justice—the sorts of measures that have been the focus of education reform efforts in Indonesia so far—are unlikely to produce the intended results. This does not mean there is no hope for the future. The emergence of more inclusive policymaking spaces as a result of democratization has created room for technocratic and progressive elements to exercise continuing influence over education policy and its implementation. This is especially so at the national level where these elements are strongest, though perhaps less so at the local level where predatory forces are in general vastly superior. At the same time, intensifying structural imperatives for Indonesia to improve its education system have emerged as the knowledge and technology sectors have become an increasingly important source of global economic growth. In this context, there may be some value in proponents of improved learning outcomes engaging more substantially with actors in the business community around issues of learning, particularly in “creative industries” such as information technology, software development, media, and film that are at the forefront of a knowledge/technology-based economy in Indonesia. By contrast, there is likely to be less value in seeking to promote improved learning through engagement with parents and schoolchildren given their weakness as political actors.

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FCDO, DFAT and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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Indonesia

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