Monday, October 27, 2014

For New Minister of Education, a Mission to Relish
By Kennial Caroline Laia

Man for the Job: Anies Baswedan will continue where he left off with ‘Indonesia Mengajar’ — by ensuring access to schools for all

President Joko Widodo, center, followed by Anies Baswedan, left, emerge from Friday prayer at a mosque at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on Oct. 24, 2014. (AFP Photo/Romeo Gacad)

Jakarta. Anies Baswedan, the hugely popular rector of Jakarta’s Paramadina University and a pioneering educator, was widely expected to become Indonesia’s next education minister under President Joko Widodo, and Sunday’s cabinet announcement laid to rest any doubt that he would be passed over for the post.

“I accept this responsibility,” Anies said on Monday after his inauguration as minister for primary and secondary education. “My principle is: I don’t fight to get a job, but I fight to do my job,” he added.

Anies, whose “ Indonesia Mengajar ” (“Indonesia Teaches”) program sends promising young university graduates out to remote parts of the country to teach for a year, praised Joko’s decision to spin off tertiary education to the ministry for research and technology, which he argues would allow his now-leaner ministry to put more focus on improving access to primary and secondary education for students nationwide.

“I will push for openness and active public participation,” he said.

“There are many issues surrounding education. I want to encourage everyone to own these issues and together actively become involved in finding the solutions.”

Mohammad Abduhzen, the executive director of the Institute for Education Reform, agreed that ensuring universal education to all school-aged Indonesians remained a huge challenge.

“Access to schools is still a serious problem that needs to be addressed, particularly in remote areas,” he said.

“This is important for Joko because that was one of his main campaign promises.”

Joko pledged during the campaign to expand the Jakarta Smart Card program, which he introduced while governor of the capital to provide students with monthly stipends to buy books and uniforms, to the national level.

Although public schools in Indonesia are ostensibly free of charge, students are still required to pay for a range of ancillary items and services, including books and uniforms, which education observers have long argued add up to hinder access to education for the country’s poor.

“There must be a blueprint for education that address problems like access to and quality of education in Indonesia,” Abduhzen said.

Joko has also touted extending the current nine-year mandatory basic education program to 12 years — something that his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, also attempted but failed to achieve.

Also on Sunday, Joko named Muhammad Nasir, the little-known rector of Diponegoro University in Semarang, Central Java, as minister of tertiary education and research and technology.

Abduhzen said he was skeptical that the merger was the best solution for improving the performance of Indonesia’s institutes of higher education.

“It’s hard to say whether the merger will bring advancements in both sectors, universities and research,” he said.

“The downside is that now universities will be more focused on research activities. While research is indeed important, universities should ideally be more focused on theoretical and scientific advancements.”

Joko’s justification for the merger was to get Indonesian universities to work with the private sector in generating research and technology that could be applied in real-world situations.

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