Editions : July-September 2013


When talk turns to the challenges facing Indonesia as its economic growth propels it onto the world stage, infrastructure often comes up first – especially if one has experienced the grinding traffic congestion on Jakarta’s streets and highways or the periodic bouts of flooding that plague the capital. Everywhere you look, there is a painfully evident lack of world-class highways, railways, ports, airports, bridges, public transportation and other fixtures of a modern economy. This deficit is easily understood because its physical manifestations are clear, even to the average citizen who may have no knowledge of, or interest in, the intricacies of public policymaking.

To be sure, Indonesia needs to invest in better infrastructure. That is a visible challenge. But longer term, it is not the greatest challenge. That challenge is education. There is no imperative more vital to ensuring the future of Indonesia than improving the country’s educational system. This may not be as obvious to the public or politicians as dealing with clogged roads or disconnected phone calls because education deficits lie hidden in the mind – gaps in skills, knowledge, understanding and wisdom that ultimately hamper a country’s ability to realize the full potential of its people and compete in an increasingly globalized world.

There are various well-known measurements highlighting the education deficits in Indonesia, and the figures are worrying. In the latest Pearson Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment, a respected measure of educational standing that assesses 39 countries and one territory, Indonesia ranked dead last. In the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s 2009 Education Rankings, Indonesia ranked 57th out of 65 countries in overall reading ability; 61st out of 65 in mathematics; and 60th out of 65 in science. Despite having the world’s fourth-largest population and one of its fastest growing economies, Indonesia in the 2009 United Nations Human Development Report ranked 104 out of 181 countries in its education index. Government spending on education – roughly 3 percent of gross domestic product – is also woefully inadequate, with Indonesia ranked 141st out of 173 countries by the “CIA World Factbook.”

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