The Need to Educate, Not Calculate

The Jakarta Post, 1 September 2007
Tobias Basuki

Hakin Naja, deputy chairman of the National Education Commission, has called Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Inrawati’s proposed formula to calculate national educational expenditure “a breach against the law on the national education system.”

The formula attempts to include teachers’ wages and other components to calculate the national education budget. However, Law No. 49/2004 makes it clear that education spending should account for at least 20 percent of the state budget, not including teachers’ salaries.

As Hakim points out, the finance minister’s proposal not only violates the law, but also shows the government’s lack of understanding of education a key pillar of nation building. There are well-founded reasons why lawmakers have specified that at least 20 percent of the state budget should be allocated to education.

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Comparative Research in the Social Sciences (ICCR) has set an internationally accepted standard for public expenditure on education, which takes into account the costs that educational institutions directly deal with, such as scholarships and student loans. Teachers’ salaries are not included.

Therefore, the government’s claim that “educational expenditure will increase when this new formula gets implemented” (Koran Tempo, Aug. 18) is in direct contradiction the true purpose and rationale of the 2004 education law.

The government’s lack of understanding of the purposes of the law and its continuous attempts to manipulate the education budget to meet the 20 percent mark reveal the bureaucracy’s short-sightedness.

Indonesia as a nation is facing multiple challenges. There have been various attempts to build a prosperous Indonesia through the fight against corruption, the promotion of human rights and campaigns for efficiency, to name just a few.

However, the improvement of education has been the most overlooked aspect of development. In the 2006 Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Indonesia ranked below Southeast Asian neighbours Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia in terms of commitment to education. Even smaller and less well known countries such as Saint Lucia, Western Samoa and Grenada outclassed Indonesia in education.

The importance of education cannot be underestimated – it shapes individuals, constructs societies and directs the nature and form of a nation.

The English word “education” comes from the Latin word ducare, which means “to lead”, which at its root meaning is an activity of “leading out”. If the etymology of education is to be taken explicitly, then education should produce strong, capable and ethical leaders that will pave the way of Indonesia to escape from the bondage of its problems.

John Dewey in his book Democracy and Education emphasizes the importance of education to prepare good citizens for a progressive democratic society. He insists that “conscious, directed education is necessary to establish the conditions to cultivate democracy.”

According to Thomas Cleary, the classics in ancient Chinese philosophy also point to view that “social reform must begin with the individual and the implication that inward renewal of conscience is ultimately more effective than the external imposition of law.” Chinese philosophers, Cleary points out, underlined the importance of education for the society as a whole.

The significance of education in developing Indonesia should be unquestionable, but the definition of what education means and how it is implemented and imparted is equally crucial.

Indonesia does not lack intelligent and talented citizens. A brief look into Indonesian high schools will find champions and geniuses in any hard science subject. Many of them have won international scientific competitions such as Physics Olympics.

The main issue should not be how to make our educational expenditure look substantial. The emphasis should rather be on genuine increases in the capacity and quality of our education system.

A multidimensional education is needed that encompasses all fields of academia: Hard sciences, social sciences and the arts. We need a well-balanced education system that procedures passionate students, scholars, scientists and artists. These people will serve as the backbone of the country and lead it to continuing progress.

Tobias Basuki, The writer holds a Masters degree in political science from Northern Illinois University and is a researcher at the Reformed Center for Religion and Society

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