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A mother takes her son to state elementary school SD Negeri Panaikang 1 in Makassar, South Sulawesi. Antara/Dewi Fajriani
The new school year has just begun. The Jakarta Post’s Nani Afrida reports on the annual hunt for the best and most affordable school to meet the different needs of families.
Seven-year-old Ikram could not wait to start the day at his new school. He couldn’t even sleep the night before, eager to wear his new uniform and a new school bag adorned with a picture from Transformers, the popular kids cartoon and movie.
“Seeing Ikram so excited makes me happy. I’ve even forgotten how difficult it was to find a good school for him,” Aryati, Ikram’s mother, said.
Aryati collected information about the school from friends, relatives and neighbors before deciding that the state school in West Jakarta was the best choice for Ikram. Being unfamiliar with the Internet, she asked her nephew to help register Ikram for school.
Luckily, registration and tuition is now free for state schools in Jakarta, though many additional fees remain a burden to many. Text books are also provided at the state schools.
Yanti, an employee of a private company, asked for two days off to register her son in a state elementary school in North Jakarta. It was “totally exhausting”, she said, as she tried to reamin on top of all the different requirements at different schools, in case her son was not accepted at their preferred school. State schools are mostly preferred for their lower costs compared to private schools.
Next year Yanti will start the process all over again as her next child enters elementary school. In the old days, Yanti said, “my mother just went to a junior high school near my house, registered me, and that was it, without waiting a number of days for an announcement and without needing a back-up plan to register at other schools”.
“As long as there is no uniform rule regarding school registration, all parents will be haunted by the process,” she said.
Though free of tuition fees and expenses for books, state schools still ask for various additional costs to be covered by the parents, such as for alms, school uniforms or fees for extra, mandatory courses. These additional costs in state schools are often higher than the total tuition fees and book costs combined, as Dwi Geumala, a mother of three, discovered.
Uniforms include at least the standard white and red set, a batik to be worn once a week, the scout’s uniform for another day and a sports uniform. One parent said the batik and sports uniforms alone cost her Rp 300,000 (US$31.73).
For Dwi, there was no tuition fee for her child’s school in South Jakarta, but there were still enrollment fees, determined each year by the school committee.
School committees consist of parents and other concerned citizens. Based on the Law No. 20, 2003 on the education system, the committee’s tasks include raising funds to improve school services. “The parents are usually informed as to whether the school plans to build a new building or install new facilities such as air conditioners, so the fee is different every year,” Dwi said.
Even though the enrollment process is quite complicated for parents, with the additional burden of extra costs, they don’t have any choice but to follow the rules.
“I just want my children to have a good future, better than their parents today,” Aryati said.
Gurat is now 6 years and eight months old, or just short of the 7-year minimum age requirement for selected elementary schools.
Surata, Gurat’s father, said the school had finally agreed to allow Gurat to attend the school under the condition that Rp 800,000 in enrollment fees was paid.
Surata was happy, until he heard that another would-be student with the same problem as his daughter had been accepted by the school after the parents paid Rp 1 million — and Gurat was not accepted.
“Who paid the most received to attend, and I lost,” Surata, a creative designer, told The Jakarta Post in a recent interview. He has no plans to sue the school, but may let his daughter wait another year.
Bribes and illegal fees are still realities in education in Indonesia today, especially ahead of the new school year. Such practices are, of course, officially banned as stipulated in an education ministerial regulation on elementary and junior high schools issued last year.
However, a ministry ruling in June this year was viewed as providing school principals the opportunity to demand illegal payments. Schools are still allowed to raise funds if School Operational Assistance (BOS) funds are considered insufficient. Furthermore, state schools may accept donations from any party.
As the ministry authorizes school committees to set fees, this further opens up opportunities to demand extra and illegal fees, said Febri Hendri of Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW).
The government has increased the amount of BOS funds for elementary, junior and senior high schools, reaching Rp 23 trillion this year, from Rp 16 trillion in 2011.
Based on a survey this year by ICW and Ombudsman Indonesia, at least 112 violations occurred at 108 schools during the student selection process. The survey was conducted in 21 districts in seven provinces.
The violations were dominated by illegal fees during the new student selection process, or 60 of the above cases.
The survey also revealed that extra fees ranged from Rp 1.3 million for elementary schools to Rp 2 million and Rp 2.4 million for junior high and senior high, respectively. These fees were for registration, uniforms, books, Internet access, operational costs and other things.
Febri confirmed that fees at state schools were even higher than those charged at several private schools and suggested that harsh penalties be dolled out to school authorities who broke the rules.
Education and Culture Minister Mohammad Nuh has said that his ministry would not tolerate illegal fees at schools. He said that among operational, investment and personal education costs, illegal fees usually occurred regarding personal costs such as school uniforms. These costs, he acknowledged, were difficult to control.
“The most important thing is that the costs do not burden students,” he said recently. But if they do, parents opt to settle all fees anyway for peace of mind, until the next school year.
Five reasons parents pay more to enroll children at state schools
• Would-be students are younger than official minimum age requirement
• Residential address is outside the designated area for attendance at selected school
• Parents are late to register their children
• Student’s score is below the school’s requirement
• Costs on top of enrollment fees include uniforms, books, stationery and extracurricular programs.