By Rainer Heufers, Executive Director of Center for Indonesian Policy Studies

Do a little search on domestic news about education in Indonesia and be confronted by every conceivable government program to improve the quality of education in the country. From fierce debates on whether children should attend 5 school days instead of the usual 6, Indonesian President Widodo’s program to change the‘character’ of children in schools, to stamping down on ‘illegal’ students who did not go through the new and confusing government school registration process.
It seems that the government is becoming the overbearing parent anxious for it’s child to do well, overloading it’s children with too many regulations and interventions, and then chiding them for not being able to follow them.
What’s needed is a step back. Schools, parents and students need the space and the freedom to find what best suits them and to grow into their own.
CIPS has been looking into low-cost private schools now for the last two years. Our most recent research goes into the second poorest district of Jakarta, called Koja. We were amazed to find that in Koja there were far more private schools than public ones (85 private compared to 55 public). Of these 85 private schools – 51 charge less that 10% of the minimum wage, making them “low-cost” by our standards.
We visualized the location of these schools in a map, and decided to record their inspiring stories in a series of short videos.
Of these schools, we met Mr. Ignatius Meak, or as his students and teachers simply call him – Mr. Ig. He started the Bina Pusaka primary school for his community in 1975. As a Catholic, he was met with skepticism by many of the Muslim parents in area thinking it was a Catholic school. Now the school enrolls mostly Muslim children, and is a beautiful example of religious tolerance amongst a community dedicated to giving its children a bright future.
Or take the Al-Khairiyah vocational school that is doing more to secure better job prospects for its students than centralized government programs could ever achieve in a decade. The school teaches the children practical trade skills and are giving them access to job opportunities through cooperation with large automotive and logistics companies, and have even placed them in jobs abroad.
So why aren’t we doing more to recognize the hidden achievements of these schools?
Let low-income communities like the ones in Koja have the freedom to build their own schools, and let poor parents decide what education they want for their children. Then step back and watch children flourish.

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