One of the most popular songs by Iwan Fals goes:
Oemar Bakri, Oemar Bakri, the civil servant.
Oemar Bakri, Oemar Bakri, 40 years of tenure
Being an honest and dedicated teacher is painful
Oemar Bakri, Oemar Bakri generates a lot of ministers
Also professors, physicians, engineers
But why is the teacher's salary cut?
The image of Oemar Bakri, who rides his bicycle to school, has been the best representation of teachers in previous eras. Many teachers had to moonlight in other professions and do odd jobs just to make ends meet. As the song correctly identifies, salary cuts were pervasive at the time.
Both the Sukarno and Soeharto regimes were considered low-spenders in education. Tempo (2000) reported that for a time, Indonesia was among the lowest ranking countries in the world in terms of its education budget.
Moreover, education spending was focused on building infrastructure while neglecting teacher salaries. The Teachers' Hymn, which designates them as 'heroes without medals', was an accurate expression of teachers' hard work without proper reward.
The whole landscape of education changed following reformasi. Law No. 20/2003 on the National Education System (with judicial review from the Constitutional Court) and Law No. 14/2005 on Teachers and Lecturers ensured that education spending is more than sufficient and introduced a shift away from infrastructure towards salaries, handsome allowances and recognizing qualifications. Paying professional allowances is believed to motivate teachers to upgrade their academic qualifications to a bachelor's degree level, and thus improve teaching quality and, eventually, student performance.
Nine years later, an assessment of this teacher certification system is crucial, particularly because of its consequences for public spending. In the 2015 budget, the expenditure for professional allowances is projected to reach Rp 70 trillion, more than six times the allocation in 2010.
Against total education spending, professional allowances have increased from 5 percent in 2010 to 17 percent in 2015. Doubling the salary of all of Indonesia's three million teachers ' which is what the professional allowance scheme entails ' would certainly expand spending significantly. In the context of public spending, does the impact justify the expense?
Unfortunately, the World Bank's 2014 quantitative study demonstrated an insignificant impact in both teacher quality and student learning outcomes. These findings come from a rigorous impact evaluation study conducted in 2009, 2011 and 2012 involving 360 schools.
Consider further the perceptions of non-teacher stakeholders at the local level. Recent research by SMERU Research Insitute found that in general, officials from regional education offices to local legislative councils highly doubt that a doubling of teachers' wages would motivate teachers to perform better. Many said the uncertified teachers were more motivated than the certified ones.
The impact of the certification program was mostly associated with an increase in car ownership, expansion of school garages, and traffic jams caused by teachers travelling to school meetings. This is because banks and vehicle dealers at the local level have been more aggressive in offering lavish consumption credit to certified teachers.
Car loans, for example, can be paid flexibly, depending on the transfer of allowance. No penalty is applied for late payment. Predictably enough, the teacher certification program has been well tapped by the commercial sector as an opportunity to boost business profits.
Meanwhile, the impact in terms of student learning outcomes was not apparent to non-teacher stakeholders as the passing rate of National Exam had reached 100 percent even before the certification program.
Non-teacher stakeholders also explained that the certified teachers rarely use the allowances to buy computers, laptops, or books to improve teaching quality. This might help explain why professional allowances bear little impact on teacher quality.
These rather cynical responses could be interpreted as an expression of social envy towards teachers. As the biggest component of the civil service, teachers are the most visible group at the local level. Many families have relatives working as teachers. Thus, any improvements in their welfare are certainly noticed, particularly when husbands and wives are certified teachers.
A teacher's working hours are another issue among civil servants. Government regulation No. 74/2008 stipulates that teachers should have at least 24 hours face-to-face teaching per week. Since this is the basis for claiming certification allowance, many teachers believe that their obligatory working hours are only 24 hours a week.
However, the education minister's 2010 decree on minimum service standards for basic education also stipulates that a permanent teacher is expected to work 37.5 hours per week, which is similar to that of other civil servants.
Teachers are expected to spend the other 13.5 hours doing other non-teaching tasks in addition to 24 hours face-to-face teaching. Meanwhile the calculation of 37.5 hours becomes more complicated where teachers have to teach in more than one school.
The ministerial decree urging 37.5 hours per week is indeed very difficult to enforce. A SMERU study in 2013 found that school principals were resistant to comply with this regulation.
According to the 2014 SMERU study in South Sulawesi, 41 percent of teachers at the primary school level, and 57 percent of teachers at the secondary level, work less than 37.5 hours a week. Many teachers, particularly those with sufficient classes to teach, believe that their obligatory hours are only 24 per week. Taking into account numerous holidays, teachers might work for fewer months a year compared to other civil servants. This luxury also generates social envy.
The teacher certification program has given qualified teachers a stronger bargaining position by reducing their economic vulnerability. Any future effort to improve education policy will have to factor in the issue of teacher certification.
One example is teacher distribution. Certified teachers would be extremely resistant to be moved to schools lacking in teachers.
Similarly, schools with an undersupply of civil servant teachers would find it extremely difficult to accommodate civil servant teachers if non-civil servant teachers in those schools already receive professional allowances.
In any case, the transfer of teachers will affect the state of affairs of teaching hours at the school level. This is the main issue for professional allowances. It could be difficult to correct. While allowances are a positive thing in that they provide for a teacher's livelihood and address a longstanding undervaluation of teachers, they also make teachers less inclined to accept government direction.
The image of Oemar Bakri riding his bicycle is no longer relevant in today's context. But his honesty and dedication is an indispensible reference in our goal to improve education. The certification program for teachers should shift motivation away from the appeal of a lifetime job as a civil servant, and instead encourage men and women to consider teaching as a profession in itself.
The writer is a researcher at the SMERU Research Institute. The opinions expressed are her own.