Universal access to education remains far from reality in Indonesia, as educational institutes grow ever further out of the reach of the poor. What should the government and the institutes do to address the problem? The Jakarta Post's Arghea Desafti Hapsari asked Anies Baswedan, rector of Paramadina University, his views on the challenges the national education system faces in contributing to the country's development. The following are excerpts from the interview.
Question: What is the main problem with our education system today?
Answer: Education should be designed as a scheme from which the nation can prosper. Today, that process is impeded because the education cost getting more and more expensive, such that only a few people can afford it.
I'm worried that in 20 years, we will see the same middle class that we see today, meaning many from the lower classes will have failed to improve their social status.
Why is social mobility so important?
If we fail to bring those from the lower classes to a higher social level, there will be a huge disparity between the haves and the have-nots, the knows and the know-nots and the employed and the unemployed. This kind of situation is a destabilizing force, a time bomb.
But as soon as you join the middle class, you don't need the government to take care of you. You no longer need jamkesmas (health insurance for the poor) or use public health centers with limited facilities. This way, everyone in the country will take care of themselves.
What is the contribution of educational institutes in ensuring this social mobility?
People have the chance to rise to a higher social status if they have a university education. Therefore those who manage institutes of higher education are the architects. It is they who shape the future of this country.
Universities must never see students as consumers of education services. Once that happens, only those with money can afford education.
Universities must serve as a conduit to take someone to a higher social level. And they have to find the energy to do it themselves.
I personally agree that universities have to generate their own money, but they must never use their students as a source of funding; be creative, be innovative, there are many other ways.
Furthermore, they have to realize the role of their institutes doesn't stop at educating, but taking those who are underprivileged to a better livelihood. Of course it takes extra- ill and extra works to think and actually do things to better serve their purpose as architects of the future, but it is their job.
And the government's role?
The government has a constitutional duty to educate the people and ensure they can prosper through a state university education. But it also has to make sure private universities do their share of the work.
I think it's impossible to rely entirely on the government to handle the 46 million students from the elementary to university levels in Indonesia. Corporations and NGOs must also play a role.
Corporations are the ones that benefit the most from the smart graduates the country produces. They should pay back the universities, maybe through CSR programs, providing books or lending bikes to children in remote areas.
You talk a lot about the higher education system, but what do you think of major problems in our elementary and secondary education?
I think the main problem is the unequal access to education, but there are also concerns over the low participation rate. The higher the education level, the lower the participation rate.
Those who go to university or other institute of higher education are only those who have the money or maybe those who have the talent, through scholarships.
But we must remember the number of people who are without money or talent is quite huge.
So what do we do with them?
Not everyone needs a university education. In other countries, the number of people who have a bachelor's degree is not that high either, but those people learn other skills that help them earn their bread and butter.
We need to do that in Indonesia, teach them skills and maybe put them in vocational institutes.
What is your dream for our education system?
I have an obsession that in the near future Indonesia will have accessible, affordable and good-quality education, so our children won't have to leave their home villages to get quality education, or at least not go too far away, because we should have good schools in every corner of the country.
If we make education affordable, the potential for people to become frustrated will decrease.