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Economic Crisis Keeps Children Out of School in Indonesia
By Kanis Dursin
Inter Press Service

    JAKARTA, Apr 4 (IPS) - The prolonged economic crisis and limited financing have forced the Indonesian government to delay the completion of its nine-year compulsory education programme for elementary and junior high school children.
   ''Whether we like it or not, the realisation of the nine-year mandatory education programme has to be delayed due to the current economic crisis,'' says Indra Djati Sidi, director-general of elementary and secondary education of the Ministry of National Education.
   Under the programme, which was launched in 1994, children between seven and 15 years old are required to get grade school and junior high school education.
  In practice, it means all graduates of elementary school education, which was already mandatory, have to pursue their studies in the three-year junior high school programme.
   Since the mandatory education programme was introduced, Sidi says the number of children taking part in it continued to rise to up to 70 percent of children between seven and 15 years old.
   Data issued by the Ministry of National Education show the number of elementary and junior high school students went up steadily since 1990 before it decreased slowly in 1998, the second year of the economic crisis.
   The number of school children totalled 36.44 million in 1994, consisting of 29.46 million elementary school pupils, and 6.98 million junior high school students. The figure shot up to 39 million in 1997, comprising 29.27 million elementary school children and 9.73 million junior high school children.
   However, due to the economic crisis the figure went down to 38.64 million children in 1998. The net enrollment rate for both elementary and junior high schools also slumped because of the financial crisis.
  The enrollment rate for elementary school was recorded at 92.3 percent in 1990 and rose to 93.4 percent in 1994, 95 percent in 1997, before it declined to 93.74 percent in 1998. For junior high school, it was recorded at 39.24 percent in 1990 and shot up to 56.03 percent in 1997 but dipped to 53 percent in 1998.
   ''Since the economic crisis struck Indonesia, we have been only maintaining the level of students participation in elementary and junior high school programmes to prevent them from dropping out of school,'' Sidi says.
   The economic crisis, which also crippled other Asian economies, has effectively reduced both the government and private sectors' ability either to send children to school or to keep school education activities running.
   Latest data from Indonesia's Coordinating Ministry for People's Welfare and Poverty Eradication show the number of people living under the poverty line has almost doubled from 22 million people in 1997 to 40 million in 1998.
   ''The impact of the increasing number of poor people in the country is that parents can no longer afford to send their children to elementary and junior high schools,'' says Basri Hasanuddin, coordinating minister for people's welfare and poverty eradication.
   The number of school children coming from poor families accounted for 7.5 million during the 1998/99 fiscal year. Some 3.5 million of them were recipients of the government's social safety net programme, and another one million received scholarship from the so-called Foster Parents Movement.
   The remaining three million were forced to drop out of their schools or did not go to school at all due to a severe lack of financing. The dropout rate in both elementary and junior high schools has increased to six percent from the pre-crisis average of two percent.
   Sidi says the basic assumption when the mandatory programme was launched was that Indonesia would continue to book economic growth of six to seven percent annually, and that budget allocation for education would remain high.
   ''Now we have an economic growth of one to two percent and budget allocation for education has decreased as a whole. So we cannot run at a high speed as planned in 1994. The consequence is we have to delay the completion of the compulsory education program,'' he says.
   The government allocated over 12 trillion rupiahs (1.8 billion US dollars) for education programmes in budget year 2000-01beginning from April 1, down from around 16 trillion rupiahs (2.1billion US dollars) in the 1999/2000 budget.
   ''This will affect the quality of Indonesia's human resources, but financially we are limited. So we don't have many options,'' Sidi says.
   Some of the Education Ministry's projects that were geared toward the completion of the mandatory education such as construction of school buildings was suspended. The budget for the construction of school buildings was re-channelled for social safety net programmes, particularly for the scholarship of students and the schools' operational assistance funds.
   ''The philosophy of social safety net programmes is to maintain children's participation and quality of the education to at least its pre-crisis status. That situation has been going on for three years now,'' Sidi says.
   Sidi says the Ministry of National Education will maintain the social safety net programmes until Indonesia's economy fully recovers to prevent further deterioration of the quality of education. The government, he says, plans to assess next month the time it needs to complete the programme.
   ''But even after Indonesia's economy recovers, we cannot move very fast. It takes time. It may take three or more years,'' he says.
   To help the government in financing the education of school children, the Ministry of Education is encouraging more participation of the community and the private sector in the country's education program. Two private foundations, Supersemar and Orbit Foundations, have granted scholarship to more than one million pupils during the crisis.
   Djauzak Ahmad, an education expert who was the director for elementary education when the nine-year compulsory education policy was adopted in 1994, warns that the delay of the completion of the programme would severely affect the quality of the country's human resources.
     ''When the programme was launched, Indonesia was not yet ready for the nine-year compulsory education programme because at that time up to 20 percent of the total school-age children were unable to go to elementary schools.'' ''If Indonesia wants to improve the quality of its human resources, it has to ensure first that all school-age children undergo the six-year elementary education,'' Ahmad says.
  This article is free of copyright restrictions and can be reproduced provided that Inter Press Service is credited.
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