Too Poor for School: Economic Barriers to Education in Banten

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  • Five-year-old Ayu beams after sharing that she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. Photo by: Hannah Orr.

    Five-year-old Ayu beams after sharing that she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. Photo by: Hannah Orr.

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Susi Saodah, a resident of Tangerang, only wants the best for her daughter, Ayu. Five-year-old Ayu wants to help heal people, to become formally trained and educated as a doctor. Due to the family’s low income, it’s unlikely Ayu will be given the opportunity. 

    In Susi and Ayu’s home province of Banten, one of the Greater Jakarta Metropolitan Area’s poorest neighborhoods, more than 60 percent of locals has only received an education equivalent to an elementary school level. 

    The United Nations defines education as a fundamental human right that is expected and assumed to be given and received in a modern society, but in Jakarta, the world’s fifth largest mega city, this expectation is far from a reality. 

    Susi received a highly coveted education after being awarded a scholarship to a private high school, Sekolah Menengah Kejuruan, in Garut, West Java.

    Despite graduating, marrying, and beginning a family, after a requirement to relocate, she was unable to find any work other than as a housemaid.

    As a result, Susi’s daughter, Ayu, may not be granted the same educational opportunities. Although the elementary school is free, Ayu will probably not be able to attend middle or high school, because her family simply cannot afford it.

    Ayu currently follows Susi all day at work, as babysitting is too expensive. She will soon be old enough for elementary schooling, which is free, but once that finishes, the entry and monthly fees for a local junior high school, SMPN 7, cost an average of Rp 200,000 per month. This is far more than the struggling family can bear.

    Susi earns only Rp 1,200,000 per month. Her husband’s work as a rubbish collector is irregular. Although he sometimes earns slightly more than Susi, he can potentially earn less than she does.

    Susi and her husband’s combined earnings are not substantially greater than Banten’s regional minimum wage of Rp 2.1million per month for an individual worker. The minimum wage reflects ‘Needs of Decent Living’, which is an estimate of how much it costs for one adult to live in a physically fit state.

    Ayu has a passion for education, just like her mother had at the same age. However, with the family’s income so far below the ‘Needs of Decent Living’ for three people, her dream to learn is likely no more than wishful thinking – but that doesn’t stop the family from praying.

    “I’m hoping that she can get to the highest level of education,” Susi says. “I hope she can use all of her knowledge and become someone ... so she won’t be like me.”

    Susi Saodah and her daughter walk to their home in South Tangerang holding hands. Photo by: Hannah Orr.