Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Minister of Education and Culture: No More Favorite Schools

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The crux of the matter was none other than the new student admission (PPDB) regulation requiring schools to allocate 80 percent of its capacity to students living around their environs. The regulation left many students particularly those who scored outstanding national exam results, and their parents, vexed as they failed to get in the schools of their choice.

    However, Muhadjir, who put the mechanism into force via the ministerial regulation No. 20/2019, a revision of the ministerial regulation No. 51/2018 stipulating 90 percent allocation for zone-based admission - seems resigned to the consequence of being a scapegoat. Almost every night until before a midnight prayer, he faced the music from parents via Facebook or WhatsApp messages. “Nowadays it’s not hard to get a minister’s cellphone number, (laughs)...,” Muhadjir said with a laugh during a special interview with Tempo in his office last Thursday.

    Muhadjir, 62, said that the zone-based admission system has been running for three years. However, until 2017, schools were allowed to use the national exam result as a criterion for new student selection. The ministry drew strong reactions when it tightened the regulation in 2018. The same happened this year. “We’ve anticipated criticisms because this is a structural change,” he added.

    He opined that one of the causes behind the chaotic admission process was some regional governments’ non-compliance to the ministry’s regulation by making their own irregular derivative regulations. He cited Jakarta, which still refers to the national exam scores in accepting new students, as an example. “They have deviated too far from the ministry’s regulation,” pointed out the rector of Malang’s Muhammadiyah University for the period 2008-2016.  

    Despite being confronted with protests and problems, Muhadjir ascertains that the zone-based new student admission scheme will remain in force in the coming years regardless of who the minister is. He explained to Tempo’s Sapto Yunus and Angelina Anjar that the scheme was the first step to equitable distribution of education. The next is the redistribution of teachers and equal distribution of infrastructure and facilities.

    What is the result of your evaluation of the zone-based PPDB system?

    The system has been running in its third year. We applied it phase by phase, tightening it from year to year. Now that it has become tighter, naturally the public’s protests also become louder.

    Given the relatively similar quota of more or less 90 percent, why are the reactions different every year?

    We relaxed the regulation at the beginning. For example, we allowed schools to use national exam scores. So, the regional governments could still negotiate the percentage. That’s the reason why there was no strong rejection. Then, in 2018, we began to tighten a bit and cases of enrollment using fake poverty certificates emerged. This year, the regulation became stricter. But we did anticipate criticisms because this is a structural change, meaning it entails forced compliance.

    Isn’t the 90 percent quota too high?

    It was based on the agreement between the ministry and the departments. They did not feel there was any issues. Actually, the majority of the local governments - except a few, also did not protest it. Evidently, even after we increased the performance-based quota to 15 percent, not all the regions applied it.

    Many parents protest the 90 percent requirement that deprived their kids of the chance to get admission to their favorite schools...

    That happened because the regions misinterpreted it. Actually, the performance-based scheme allows a prospective student to choose more than one schools including those outside the zone. So, even though the quota is only 5 percent, they have more opportunities as they have more options.

    Parents also complained about the minimum dissemination on the zone-based policy. Your defense?

    There are two possibilities. First, the dissemination was indeed minimal so parents were not properly familiarized. Or some parents pretended not to be aware in hopes of getting what they wanted. But, certainly, we have to be patient. I also received a lot of complaints.

    How did they complain?

    Some via Facebook, some via WhatsApp. Nowadays, it’s not hard to get a minister’s cell phone number, (laughs)... Usually, I read them before the midnight prayer and responded one by one. It took almost an hour sometimes.

    How extensively did the ministry carry out the dissemination process?

    We issued the ministerial regulation No. 51/2018 December last year, well ahead of the new student enrolment time in June. We believed that six months would give us enough time to get the public acquainted with the system. In fact, even before December, we already had meetings with education departments across Indonesia to prepare the regulation including establishing the zones.

    So, the confusion around the student enrollment is caused by the unpreparedness of the regional governments?

    The majority were ready. Just a few were not.

    What hindered those who were not ready?

    We invited them to meetings in Jakarta during the period December-June. We also traveled to the regions. But the attendees were different every time. To one meeting, a department head came and another person came to the next meeting. I’m quite sure that the attendees did not share the meeting results with others. That situation greatly influenced their understanding (of the regulation). So, it’s kind of disorganized, (laughs)... But there are regions which do have problems, for example, politics. I know many interests were upset by this policy. For example, certain schools reserved seat quota for certain people. They can no longer do that now.

    Why are some regions allowed to implement a different system, for example, the Jakarta provincial administration, which still uses the national exam result as the primary criterion?

    I have issued a warning because their discretion has deviated too far from the regulation. I also found irregularities during my visit to one of the vocational high schools in the Thousand Islands. A parent complained that his kid was not accepted but many people from the mainland were looking for boarding houses for their children. So, I called Pak Governor (Anies Baswedan) and asked that island kids be given first priority.

    Read the full interview in Tempo English Magazine