The Jakarta Post
Studying in a state high school was the norm for me and most people I've known since childhood. Coming from a middle class family, born in Bandung, West Java, but having relocated to the small town of Cimahi as an infant, a good state high school was the best option for me.
I grew up thinking that if I study well, I should be able to be accepted at one of the top state high schools in Bandung.
None of the state high schools in Cimahi were an option, although I was proud to have graduated from state junior high school SMPN 1 Cimahi.
I had a dream to see the world and I thought studying in Bandung could be the first step to make it come true. In junior school I studied hard and my parents worked hard to enroll me into a private institute to take extra classes to help me ace my final examinations.
Hard work at school and the extra classes finally paid off. My final exam score was the third highest at school. I could go to any state high school I wanted in Bandung and chose SMAN 3 Bandung.
While I didn’t become a top student there, my father said the school would shape my way of thinking no matter what and that is the most important thing about studying in a good school.
So that is what top state schools mean to middle class people. They are affordable and they can be accessed through honest, hard work.
Now a mother of two residing in South Tangerang, Banten, I do my best to encourage my sons to study well to be able to go to top state schools.
My firstborn graduated from a nearby junior high school this year and he did his best in the national exam, outscoring many of his classmates.
I was relieved, thinking that securing a slot in a nearby state high school would not be a problem.
The school, however, is to verify the distance to the home of each student enrolling, using the student’s family card as reference. (JP/Muthi Kautsar)
However, now there is the zoning system, which considers the proximity of a student’s house to the school.
No worries, I thought, as the desired school is only about 1 kilometer away from home.
The distance from the student’s house to the school are given scores. The highest score, which is 500, would be given to those whose houses are up to 500 meters away from school. The score lowers by 5 for each 500 meters further.
The school that my son had eyes on has a quota to accept 360 new students, with 90 percent taken from those who enroll through the zoning system. That means 324 students from nearby houses would be accepted.
What if there are, for instance, 400 students enrolling through the zoning system with a score of 500? The earlier they register, the higher the chance to be accepted. This explains the registration queues that started at 3 a.m. on the morning of June 17, while the official registration time started at 8 a.m.
My son and I arrived at the school at about 9 a.m. and he became the 583rd to register.
Is the national exam score going to be considered? As far as I know at the time of writing, no.
The school, however, is to verify the distance to the home of each student enrolling, using the student’s family card as reference. How long the students have lived at the addresses according to the family cards would reportedly be taken into consideration, which brings some relief as my family has been living in our house for more than 10 years.
When queuing at the school, I heard that many students still had to update their family cards. I wonder if any of them had included themselves in the family cards of their relatives or acquaintances living near the school to meet the “close proximity” requirement.
While the information that academic merit would not be considered for the zoning system has broken my heart and my son’s too, what hurts more is that we were told students are not allowed to register for more than one public school as back-up, whereas we were allowed to have a second public school option before this year’s zoning system came into effect in my area.
Worse, while the academic merit channel is available for 5 percent of the new student quota in South Tangerang, it is reserved for those from outside the municipality. But why would anyone from outside South Tangerang, on Jakarta’s outskirts, register for a public school here?
I am deeply heartbroken for top students who have scored high in the national exam, who then lost their chance to study at the top state schools because of the zoning system.
It is said that the zoning system aims to end elitism among certain schools favored by well-off families. However, what I have known about top state schools all along is their assured quality education that is accessible to anyone from any social and economic background who works hard for academic excellence.
Meanwhile, the zoning system my son and I are now experiencing only kills the motivation to strive for academic excellence.
When the head of the West Java Education Agency, Dewi Sartika, told The Jakarta Post that parents should send their children to private schools if they were unable to be enrolled in a public school, I thought:What if a middle-class top student lost the chance to study in a top state school and study in a mediocre private school instead?
We should know that the best private schools may not always be affordable for honest, hard-working middle-class parents in Indonesia, whereas top state schools that are accessible through academic merit can spark healthy competition for academic excellence.
The writer is a journalist at The Jakarta Post.