Over 5m school dropouts yearly

INDONESIA IN TRANSITION

Indonesia fears the problem could affect economic recovery and political stability in the long term

MORE than five million Indonesians are dropping out of school every year, given the crippling economic crisis, Education and Culture Minister Juwono Sudarsono said yesterday.

The government is facing a “major problem” which could rebound on economic recovery and political stability in the long term if it is not tackled immediately, he told The Straits Times.

“We are facing something similar to what countries like Egypt, India and Nigeria and to a lesser extent, the Philippines, are experiencing.

“Most of those who quit come from families who cannot cope with the crisis. They are the poorest of the poor.”

He also said that the government will allow student demonstrations to continue indefinitely – “until they are tired of it and give up”.

Apart from dealing with pupils in the 120,000 primary and secondary schools, the Education Ministry has also had to grapple with university students who were more preoccupied with organising regular demonstrations than with their studies.

“Many university students just want to have their 15 seconds on the six o’clock news to show that clenched fist of defiance to the government.

“Well, we will let them continue doing that. We will let them have their say until they are tired of daily protests and just give up,” he said.

He said the No 1 concern now is to reduce the dropout rates at pre-tertiary levels.

Many students at that level are expected to form the backbone of the manufacturing industry – responsible for 40 per cent of Indonesia’s exports in the past.

“If we are looking at recovery in two to three years’ time, then we will need to have a trained workforce to cope with the demands of the economy,” he said.

The government would tap its annual 900-billion-rupiah (S$180-million) education budget to help schools and the 48 million students.

It would also turn to its “social-safety-net programme” to disburse 1.7 trillion rupiah for various welfare projects.

It has also received funds from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and the United Nations. Among other things, the money was being used to:

* Rehabilitate and rebuild some 60,000 schools.
* Provide free textbooks to three million students.
* Give annual scholarships worth 120,000 rupiah to at least a million needy students in primary schools. Bursaries worth 240,000 rupiah would also be given to students in junior high schools, the equivalent of secondary schools in Singapore.

Prof Juwono said there was increasing pressure on the government to make education available and affordable. “I sometimes get phone calls from housewives who scold me for the state of Indonesia’s education system which they say is going down the drain.” Jakarta was also keen to improve the quality of education. “The previous government … provided education to many people even in the outlying areas,” he said.

“The challenge now is to balance populist pressures with quality control and meeting the demands of market forces. The government also has come to the realisation that it cannot save them all because it does not have enough money.”

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