The extent to which a nation has been successful in improving its education serves as a barometer for measuring the level of its advancement. Indonesia should give heed to this hard fact due to the fact that we still lag far behind most other countries, even within ASEAN, except newly born Timor Leste. The retardation in the progress in our education sector is reflected in the Human Development Index report 2007, which ranked Indonesia number 107 with a score of 0.728. This is far exceeded by the neighboring countries: Singapore ranked 25th with a score of 0.894, Malaysia 63rd and Thailand 78th with the scores 0.811 and 0.781 respectively. The Human Development Index is an indicator designed to measure a nation's quality of life, access to proper education, life expectancy, living standards and the level of literacy.
There have been some significant efforts taken in Indonesia in developing formal education at all levels; from elementary to university education. These are expected to implement education according to Law No. 20/2003 on the national education system, Chapter II, Article 3 as follows: The functions of national education are to develop the people's abilities and to enhance a strong and well-developed civilization, in the framework of developing living conditions, leading to the realization of the learners' potentials to become individuals with faith and strong belief in God Almighty, who are noble, healthy, knowledgeable, skillful, creative, independent and ultimately become democratic, responsible citizens.
On the quantity angle, there have been significant developments in education in the last 10 years. However, in terms of quality, not much advancement has been made. The quality level is not equal among educational institutions. Only institutions with strong financial support can provide high quality teaching and learning systems. They are able to attract upper class students to study at their campuses. As a result, they can charge high tuition fees, and get more money to finance the institutions. Less financially viable institutions cannot compete. They still face difficulties in offering good education, let alone making any expansion. If this problem is not resolved soon, the quality of the Indonesian education system will sink further, and be unable to keep pace with the rapid advancements in this era of globalization.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the wave of globalization is getting mightier and more inclusive. Advancements in technology and the dynamic global changes have raised a new public awareness in Indonesia, that this nation cannot survive on its own. Indonesia stands in the middle of a new open world, in which individuals have the right to compare their lives with other nations.
To improve the quality of education in Indonesia, a deep analysis is required to find out the factors affecting it. Education as a system consists of three key components: raw input, education or learning process, and the output. Other components that need to be considered include the macro environment (ideology, politics, economy, social and cultural powers and work ethics) and the instructional environment (infrastructure, natural resource, human resources, work mechanism, curriculum and other supporting agents).
Considering the above factors, the vision of quality education must be laid out primarily in the aspirations of society as its customers and stakeholders above anything else: "putting customers first". Education providers must know their customers, so that they will be able to identify customers' needs and wants. Based on customers' needs and wants, education providers can decide what kind of education system should be applied. This includes the curriculum, lecturers'/teachers' requirements, teaching and learning process, materials, and so on. All the efforts should be made in the hope that the Indonesian education system will meet the international quality assurance, as well as satisfy customers' expectations, or indeed exceed their expectations.
To encourage quality education aiming to reach international standards, educational institutions are obliged to have outstanding leadership, a leader who can perform the pivotal role as a driving force for the organization in achieving its competitive advantages through the organization's profound awareness of the need for maintaining competitive strengths within the strategy for winning in the competitive arena and sustaining long-term competitive results. Therefore, leadership and competitive strength results are extremely important variables for promoting the competitive advantages of an education institution.
The leaders' capability should include personal integrity, the ability to be proactive, resourcefulness and professional management skills. A leader who possesses these attributes will assuredly behave consistently, honestly, reliably. They will put the highest priority on the organizational interests over their own. They will abide to the principles of democracy by being open, polite, ethical and visionary, creating a healthy competitive atmosphere within the organization and encouraging and mobilizing the organization's resources in order to gain competitive advantages.
In the education area, a leader must have the ability to promote competitive strengths. The competitive strengths may include relevance of curriculum content, teaching and learning process, teaching staff welfare, quality of teaching staff, financial capabilities, networking and quality of graduates.
In terms of curriculum content relevancy, it must match and link with the industry needs and the needs of the public at large; there must be a match and link between elementary, secondary and college/university education. This relevancy must be continuously updated and reviewed, so there will be no more gaps between the industry requirements and the educational institutions' offerings. In order to keep pace with the fast growing industry, educational institutions should adopt and focus on the competency-based curriculum. This kind of curriculum emphasizes performance, in which students are encouraged to demonstrate their area of competence, and to perform a real job.
To uphold the quality of the curriculum, the teaching and learning process must be conducted up to ISO (the International Organization for Standardization) standards. We have to admit that ISO standards have worldwide recognition and a distinguished reputation. These standards are able to maintain quality in the education institution.
The other major aspect that equally needs our attention is lecturers'/teachers' welfare. Lecturers/teachers must have specialized skills or competencies in order to deliver quality teaching. The competencies include personal competency, social competency and professional competency. It is fully justifiable that lecturers/teachers earn better remuneration to match their heavy duties in ensuring the quality education process. Lecturers/teachers' performances hopefully will increase in line with the better remuneration.
To maintain an organization's sustainability, a leader of an educational institution should have assiduous concern over the continuous improvement of financial capabilities. By having good financial capabilities, the institution will always be able to develop, grow and survive in the face of a dynamic external environment. Many options are available to increase financial capabilities; both through concerted internal and external efforts. Therefore, an institution should maintain relationships and develop networks with other educational institutions and industry.
The output derived from the competitive strengths is highly qualified graduates. If this can be sustained, we can absolutely win in the competitive arena and will not face any difficulties in recruiting students with high emotional and intellectual intelligence, due to the institution's brand image that has already been well developed in the minds of the public.
The writer is dean of the Faculty of Economics, Binus University.