The Jakarta Post
Parents and students in Jakarta applied on Monday to state junior high and senior high schools, following registration for the new school year for areas outside the capital. Worries have overshadowed the process, the results of which will be announced Wednesday, that high performing students eyeing certain schools might not make it to them, losing out to students with lower academic achievements but who live nearer to the schools.
Controversy marks the school zoning policy. Introduced in 2016, it has been enforced more strictly this year. Parents have howled at the system that they say could kill the motivation to study hard to be admitted to the best schools.
Education and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy has insisted the policy is here to stay, as it aims to improve all children’s access to quality education regardless of social and economic background.
This is why we support the school zoning policy, though all its shortcomings should be addressed as soon as possible. It is far from wise to strictly enforce the policy in areas where choices of schools are limited, unlike in the capital. Even in cities like Washington, DC and Sydney, families find they must have high incomes to be able to live near the best schools.
Following parents’ protests, the ministry increased the quota for high achieving students from 5 to 15 percent across several provinces, with the remaining 5 percent for transfer students and the majority for students living nearest to the schools.
Along with ending the preference for “popular” schools, the policy also requires that schools shed their tendency to win the market in the education business — often forgetting the state schools’ function to meet the constitutional need of education for all.
Certain state schools have maintained their reputation not only because of good teachers, but because they tend to attract families who can afford adequate nutrition and extra lessons for their children.
Although state schools in many areas are officially free, poor families still struggle with their children’s transportation costs. Meanwhile, students who have studied hard throughout the school year and do well in the final exam should expect that they can enter the best available schools.
Some officials have dismissed families’ frustrations, citing the alternative of private schools. Yet admission fees to reputable private schools reach into the dozens of millions of rupiah, while good ones for the poor are almost nonexistent. Unfortunately, only a few private schools retain their excellent practice of cross-subsidizing, which should be adopted at a wider level. Unequal access to good schools thus perpetuates national inequality.
Improving schools and teaching is the task of the government and a requirement to apply the zoning policy. Of course we all want children to go to school and return home safely without having to send them off so early to distant schools where they barely have time for breakfast.
However, this is exactly what some parents do, as no one wants their young spending their formative years in a mediocre school.