The Jakarta Post
Age is more than just a number for aspiring high school students in Jakarta.
Last week, the city administration rolled out the zoning system for this year’s public school enrollment (PPDB). Unlike previous years, a potential student’s age is now a main factor in the registration process, sparking protests from parents caught unaware.
Before 8 a.m. on Thursday morning, 60-year-old Sugiharto and his wife sat down at their computer to register their youngest daughter at three state senior high schools (SMA) within their designated enrollment zone, based on proximity to their residence in the Kebayoran Lama subdistrict of South Jakarta.
At first, the registration appeared to be going smoothly. Their daughter was placed on all three of the schools’ enrollment lists. Two hours later, however, Sugiharto found that his daughter’s name had been removed and replaced by the names of other potential students.
Soon it became apparent that their daughter’s age had cost her a spot, even though her average grades were higher than some of the older students who had pushed her off the list.
“It’s unfair that age has become a main factor in school enrollment. How do you even explain that? “Why can older kids get into the same schools [at the expense of] younger students?” Sugiharto told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.
The couple’s daughter is 15 years and three months old.
There has been no clear explanation from the provincial government about why the age policy was adopted, Sugiharto said.
Some parents have heard arguments that age cannot be manipulated, unlike the distance between home and school. “But just because it can’t be manipulated doesn’t mean it’s the fairest measurement,” Sugiharto said.
Now the couple’s only hope is for their daughter to try her luck enrolling through the academic merit system, which fills only 20 percent of school seats and where potential students from throughout the city must compete for spots.
The Jakarta administration has allocated 40 percent of the total school seats to be filled by the zoning system, compared to 5 percent for non-academic achievers, 25 percent for poverty preference admissions, 20 percent for Jakarta-based high achievers and another 5 percent for non-Jakarta high achievers. The remaining 5 percent is reserved for the children of state officials.
Prior to this year, the proximity of a student’s residence to a school was considered an important criterion for enrollment. Schools used Google Maps to locate and verify a student’s home address to ensure that those living in the vicinity had priority in enrollment.
This year, the Jakarta education agency has argued for the use of age in enrollment because of Jakarta’s complex demographic makeup.
The head of the agency, Nahdiana, said the distribution of schools was different in each area and schools had varying intake capacities.
“Population density is not the same in every community of Jakarta, and then we also have vertical housing,” she said in a recent online briefing.
Age was used instead because it was a “neutral variable” that could not be manipulated, she said.
In a later response, the agency argued that students from lower income families would lose out on spots through the zoning system because of lower average grades, hence the switch to the age-based policy, Kompas.com reported.
Some 31,000 students have been accepted to state junior high schools (SMP) and 12,684 students have enrolled in public senior high schools through the zoning track this year, the city administration reported.
About 52 percent of the SMA students who entered through the zoning track were 16 year-olds, followed by 15-year-olds (39.7 percent), 17-year-olds (6 percent) and 18-to-20-year-olds (1.4 percent), according this year’s data.
Despite strong protests from parents and education experts, Nahdiana confirmed that the agency would continue to use age in its zoning system and would only evaluate it after this year’s enrollment concluded.
“They called it the zoning track and said it would be based on proximity, but now they’re using age to screen students for enrollment?” said Dian Priandini, 35, a parent who lives in Pekayon, East Jakarta.
Dian tried to register two of her children at every public high school in her zoning area – to no avail.
“I’m so disappointed with this policy. [...] I need them to go to a public school. I’m a single parent and can’t afford to send my kids to a private school,” she said.
Retno Listyarti, a commissioner with the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI), said that her office had received many complaints about the school enrollment policy.
She said the commission had met with the Jakarta education agency on Thursday to address the problem and added that the agency would seek to mediate with students who were not accepted because of their age.
Satriawan Salim, the deputy secretary general of the Federation of Indonesian Teachers Associations (FSGI), said Jakarta’s zoning system possibly violated Education and Culture Ministerial Decree No. 44/2019 on student enrollment.
He said the decree stipulated that age could only be used if the entire quota for seats had been filled and there were students on the waiting list whose homes were located a similar distance from a particular school.
“Using age as the main requirement in enrollment could potentially violate the decree,” Satria said in a statement.
The zoning system, which aims to end elitism at certain schools favored by well-off families, has remained controversial since its introduction in 2016. In 2018, it was discovered that some parents had falsified their wealth and income information so that their children would be included in the special quota for underprivileged families in certain school districts.