As the nation commemorated National Education Day, which falls every May 2, Education and Culture Minister Mohammad Nuh apologized for the national exam fiasco, saying the incident had taught the ministry a valuable lesson.
The minister, down played the mess, saying that the much-criticized national examination was only a minor part of the country's education system, and that the public should not exaggerate the exam delays in 5,109 senior high schools in 11 provinces.
'The national exam plays only a little part in the country's education system. The most important thing is to ensure that all children receive education services,' the minister told reporters in a press conference on Thursday.
Nuh said this year's National Educatiob Day theme was 'Improving quality and fair access [to education]'. The ministry allocated Rp 7.3 trillion ( US$ 751.9 million ) for unfortunate students to ensure they had equal access to education. 'The ministry also provided Schools Operational Assistance [BOS] for elementary and high schools, State University Operational Assistance [BOPTN], as well as scholarships,' he said.
As the minister delivered his apology, teachers from the Indonesian teachers Union Federation ( FSGI ) staged a rally in front of his office, urging the ministry to immediately scrap the national examination.
'The minister always said the national examination is important to map out the country's education equality, but they never publish the report publicly,' said Retno Listyarti, FSGI secretary general.
During the rally, FSGI also urged the president to sack Nuh, due to his incompetency in improving the country's education quality.
'I wonder why the average score of the national examination is getting higher every year, but our country remains at the bottom in the global education ranking,' she added.
Retno was referring to a report by Pearson Education that was released in 2012, which ranked Indonesia 40th place out of 40 countries in terms of cognitive skills and educational attainment. According to Pearson, Indonesia had a lower education quality compared to Mexico and Brazil, which were ranked the 38th and 39th, respectively.
Retno said the report by Pearson Education was proof that the national examination as a graduation requirement over the past ten years did not play a significant role in improving education quality.
A member of the House of Representatives Commission X overseeing education, Surahman Hidayat, agreed, saying that the country's education was still below standard.
Surahman, who is also a Prosperous Justice Party ( PKS ) lawmaker, said that in order to improve the country's education quality, the ministry should have improved the quality of teachers. 'I encourage [the ministry] to add more training for teachers to improve their quality,' Surahman said in a written statement.
Previously, lawmakers asked Nuh to annul the exams and declare all students to have passed because the ministry had failed to hold the exams simultaneously, which put the legitimacy of the exam results into question. The ministry refused to grant the request, saying that the exam had been conducted based on the ministry's standard operating procedures.
An online petition against the national exam was also launched on National Education Day. As of Thursday evening, the petition on change.org had drawn more than 3,700 signatories.
The website also hosted a petition calling on the ministry to return the authority to determine student graduation to teachers and schools.