Jakarta. A little-known but far-reaching regulation kicks in today that threatens to water down the quality of education at some of Indonesia’s top schools, and could see the schools shut down unless they drop the “international” from their name.
Under an Education Ministry regulation issued in May this year, all international schools in the country have until Dec. 1 to comply with sweeping changes in how they can operate, which the ministry contends is aimed at weeding out low-quality schools that charge a premium by adding “international” to their name.
“The regulation was issued because many schools here claim to be international schools, when in fact their quality and what they teach are no different from what regular schools offer,” Ibnu Hamad, a ministry spokesman, said on Sunday.
He added that this applied even if the schools really did offer an international curriculum or were internationally accredited.
“They can explain elsewhere that they use an international curriculum or whatever, but they can’t use ‘international’ in their name,” Ibnu told the Jakarta Globe.
This would apply to the Jakarta International School, widely considered the best school in the country, and also the likes of the British and Australian international schools, Ibnu said.
However, the ministerial regulation states that existing international schools will be split into two categories: LPA, or foreign education institutions, and SPK, or joint cooperation schools.
A school like the British International School would qualify as an LPA because it is affiliated with a foreign entity, in this case the British Embassy, and hence would be permitted to keep the “international” in its name.
SPK schools, which are locally owned but employ an international curriculum or are internationally accredited, like JIS or Sekolah Pelita Harapan International, would no longer be allowed to call themselves “international.” Ibnu said JIS could be renamed “Joint Cooperation School Indonesia-America, Australia and Britain,” although this seems highly unlikely.
For schools like JIS that have built a strong international brand, the name-change regulation could have an adverse effect. However, other stipulations in the regulation threaten to exacerbate the problem.
For instance, the regulation obliges SPK schools to provide lessons in Islam, Indonesian language, civic education and Indonesian history to their Indonesian students.
These same students will also have to take the much-despised national exams at the end of the sixth, ninth and 12th grades — something they have been spared so far as students at schools running international curricula.
Indonesian students will also be barred from LPA schools, which will only be open to citizens of the foreign entity/embassy affiliated with the school.
Foreign students at SPK schools, meanwhile, will be required to study Indonesian language and culture.
“That will allow them to have an intercultural and multicultural understanding of Indonesia,” Ibnu said.
In addition, any SPK wanting to teach subjects involving a religion outside of the six officially recognized by the government must obtain permission from the Religious Affairs Ministry.
While the deadline for schools to comply with all the changes is today, the Education Ministry has said nothing about accommodating those affected by the changes — especially the students.
It is unclear whether Indonesian students at LPA schools like British International or Australian International will now have to drop out, or whether 12th graders at SPK schools like JIS and SPH will have to take the national exams in May, on top of having to complete their International Baccalaureate program.
The new education minister, Anies Baswedan, has indicated he will not stop the new rules from going into place, saying on Saturday that he had not received any objections from schools affected by the regulation.
The regulation, conceived at least two years ago, was part of a wider push by the Education Ministry in the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono administration to make the national education system reflect “Indonesian values,” including by putting more emphasis on civics, morality and Islamic education, as in the new and much-criticized curriculum introduced in 2013.
Critics say the new direction that the Indonesian education system is being dragged toward essentially dumbs down the system, threatening to undermine the competitiveness of Indonesian graduates in an increasingly globalized world.