Better governance key to tackling Indonesia's education inequality
December 16, 2013 00:00 By Samer Al-Samarrai
In its bid to deliver equal educational opportunities to its people, Indonesia is focusing its attention on better local government.
A report by the World Bank entitled “Local Governance and Education Performance: A Survey of the Quality of Local Education Governance in 50 Indonesian Districts”, has concluded that strengthening the capacity of local government to manage their education system effectively is vital if efforts to raise education quality are to be successful.
The study uses a unique survey of 50 local governments conducted in 2009 and 2012 coupled with district level information from household surveys, to identify patterns and explore trends in the relationship between governance and education.
The report also explores the effects of a large donor supported programme that aim to strengthen the capacity of local governments. The findings of the Indonesian Local Education Governance (ILEG) survey demonstrate the importance of the quality of local governance in improving district education performance. Recent governments have demonstrated a commitment to education that has been backed up by substantial increases in public investment.
The challenge for the education sector is to translate this commitment and increased investment into better education outcomes. The report has shown that strengthening the capacity of local governments to deliver basic quality education services needs to be at the heart of efforts to address this challenge.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, commenting on the goals in Jakarta last June, stressed that the principle of “no one left behind” was central to the UN’s High Level Panel’s vision, and that each of the UN’s goals for the post-2015 development agenda in May, focused on tackling inequality. The proposed education goals, in fact, include a commitment to “ensure every child, regardless of circumstance, completes primary education able to read, write and count well enough to meet minimum learning standards”.
Efforts to narrow education inequality are vital and can lay a foundation for more inclusive growth. Differences in the quality and duration of the education children receive can fundamentally affect their future livelihoods. Children who fail to master basic skills are more likely to end up in an insecure, low-paid job, as compared to children who leave school equipped with the skills needed in current labour markets.
Yet in most countries, large disparities in educational attainment remain the norm. Indonesia is no exception. A poor child born in Papua leaves school with approximately 6 years of education, compared to a child in Jakarta who can expect to complete 11 years of schooling. Differences in learning achievement can be equally stark; junior secondary school students in Bali averaged 80 per cent in the national examination, compared to students in parts of Kalimantan who scored less than 60 per cent.
Much of the global discourse highlights the lack of resources and their unequal distribution as a key cause of education inequality. But this is only part of the story in Indonesia. In the last decade, public investment in education has tripled in real terms – a rate of increase not seen in many other countries. Some of the poorest districts spend large sums on education for each school-aged child. For example, some districts in Papua, one of the poorest provinces in Indonesia, spend nearly as much as countries in Eastern Europe that rank far higher on international assessments of learning achievement.
So, what can a middle income country like Indonesia do to address education inequality?
The World Bank’s Indonesia country office recently released a survey of education governance quality in 50 Indonesian districts that argues that any attempt to narrow inequality must focus on strengthening the capacity of local government to deliver quality education services to all children.
Since decentralisation reforms were introduced in 1999, district governments have been responsible for the provision and most of the financing of basic education. The report shows that priority given to education, the quality of input supplied, and their distribution tend to be better in districts with higher-quality governance. Moreover, districts that enable local participation in the planning process build more transparent and accountable systems of management; improve incentives for educational staff that tend to produce better outcomes; and ensure teachers are better equipped to provide quality education for all.
However, the study also found that local education governance has improved little over the last three years. In some areas, governance has even backtracked. For example, the number of districts with effective systems for documenting and disseminating good practices, appear to have declined significantly. Planning practices also appear to circumvent efforts to increase local community participation. For example, in 2012, only 12 per cent of districts consolidated school development plans to use in their district education planning process.
The districts participating in the study also took part in a Ministry of Education programme designed to strengthen capacity. While the study highlights some gains at the school level, improvements in district-level management were more modest. Two important lessons emerged from the experience of implementing a capacity building programme of this kind:
First, a multi-sectoral approach to capacity building is needed. District education officers recognised that many key challenges are related to district-level systems (e.g. planning and budgeting systems) rather than specifically to the education system. However, the district education office is often powerless to address these broader constraints.
Second, capacity building efforts need to be tailored to local circumstances. Strengthening governance is easier in some districts than others. For example, publicising information on the education budget is much easier in a well-connected district with a vibrant local media than in a remote location with limited infrastructure. To be successful, future capacity-building programmes need to take account of the specific constraints that districts face.
The big message is that strengthening the management and governance of district education systems can help narrow education inequality. It can also help Indonesia lay the groundwork to ensure that no child is left behind as the new development agenda gets under way.