Muhadjir Effendy, Minister of Education and Culture: No More Favorite Schools
EDUCATION and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy saw himself becoming the bane of some parents’ life in the past month.
THE crux of the matter was none other than the new student admission (PPDB) regulation requiring schools to allocate 80 percent of the 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 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 the schools to use the 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 a 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 issue. 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 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 cellphone 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.
The school also used the exam scores for admission?
Yes. Actually, the national exam scores may be considered; however, they should first try to accommodate the local kids, particularly the poor. After all, Jakarta is the region that meets the criteria the most to fully implement this regulation since the qualities of the schools here are relatively even. Next are Yogyakarta and Bangka Belitung.
What type of problems do you often see in the new student admission process this year?
They vary. Some zones have schools with the capacity smaller than the student population. To that, I suggested zone expansion. For example, in Yogyakarta, schools from an adjoining zone can be included in the above-mentioned zones. Actually, such cases could be minimized if the regions complied with our recommendations. When the regulation was issued, they immediately carried out the mapping in order to adjust the school capacity with the student population. In addition, there are also blank spots, the areas with no school at all. There is also the issue of state and private schools. Given the high capacity of (state schools), some private schools did not get their share of students. So, they screamed.
What is the solution?
This is a dilemma. In some zones, good private schools have so many applicants that they have to turn them down. The problem is the sub-par private schools that don’t get students. They should not be sitting idle while hoping for spillover from state schools. The government has given more than enough support to private schools: from the same operational assistance given to state schools, certification allowance for teachers to physical assistance from the special allocation fund. In addition, private schools should not be established indiscriminately. Local governments must limit permits. If there are no more space for schools in a given zone, then don’t issue permits.
Do you suggest that private schools should not be business-oriented?
Business depends on the market. If something is good, it will be sought after. But there are also many without the intention to do business but only interested in seeking operational assistance fund. So, such schools should change their mission and vision and create a quality school. Otherwise, stop parroting the slogan ‘to educate the nation’ because they would instead make the nation stupid.
Why did problems always arise in the three years of running the zone-based PPDB system?
Problems are not the same. The problem in 2018 was the large-scale falsification of poverty certificate. After we detected that weak point, we eliminated it. Our current bases to identify poor families is the Family Hope Program (PKH), Indonesia Smart Card (KIP) and other social assistance from the regional government. This year’s problem meanwhile is the use of fake family card or falsified address change. Therefore, they cannot be handled on reflex.
Muhadjir Effendy, Minister of Education and Culture: No More Favorite Schools/TEMPO/STR/Nofika Dian Nugroho
Has the policy achieved its purpose?
Its main objective is to serve as a foundation to create even distribution of quality education. We have not achieved 100 percent but we are heading in that direction. Therefore, the zone-based PPDB scheme is an initial step towards equitable access to quality education. Soon, we will initiate redistribution of teachers and even distribution of facilities and infrastructure by phases. All these measures are to overcome the quite crucial and long-running issue of ‘caste system’ or ‘segregation’ in public schools. That runs counter to social justice principles.
When will the teacher redistribution begin?
This year. We’ve already drafted it. After the PPDB process is done, we will immediately launch the program.
We will look at the disparity level in each zone. Perhaps one third or may be only a quarter of the teachers need to be rotated.
What are the considerations for rotation?
First, the quality of the teacher. Second, the status; whether the teacher is a civil servant or on an honorary status. So, there should no more schools where all the teachers are on honorary status.
There is an assumption that a school gains popularity not because of the teachers’ performance, but because of the high quality of the students themselves...
That’s the problem. It’s difficult for us to find out if the achievements of a given school can be attributed to the teachers’ performance or in deed it is the quality of the ‘input’. One teacher of a favorite school confessed that he can even go to sleep because his students are already smart, (laughs)...
Can such a perception be changed through the zoning system?
I visited a popular school in Riau. Previously, the lowest national exam score it accepted was 9.3. Now, with the zone-based PPDB, it dived to 3.6, (laughs)... Then the teachers said, “Well, now, we have to work hard, Sir.” That’s how it should be, really. But, in my opinion, on average, teachers understand this policy. Some teachers even feel challenged and want to prove that it is their performance that contributes to the school’s success.
Does it mean there are no more favorite schools now?
Yes. There are no more favorite schools in terms of input. No more school with only smart students. Well, now it’s the teachers’ turn to be rotated. This practice is common in the countries that apply this system. For instance, Japan where teachers are rotated after a maximum of four years.
How about Indonesia?
Unlimited. There are those who stay in one school from the start of the career until death, never once transferred. There was no regulation. That’s why we regulate it now.
What does the mechanism look like?
Rotations within the same zones to avoid harsh reactions. That way, the new school would still be around their homes. The maximum distance may be around 2 kilometers, so it is still easily accessible.
How are the efforts for even distribution of facilities and infrastructure being made?
As of now, public works and housing ministry has the task of revitalizing schools starting this year in line with President Joko Widodo’s advice. The President doesn’t want minor revitalization here and there but major overhauls that yield good long-term results. So, there is no need for assistance in the next 10 years. In the past, the education ministry’s revitalization assistance was classroom-based although schools have not only classrooms, but also toilets, yards, fences and so on.
Will you continue to enforce the zone-based PPDB system?
I can ascertain that the system will remain in force. The ministerial regulation will be upgraded to become the presidential regulation. The draft is being finalized currently. Hopefully, it will already be in effect before the cabinet shuffle.
Is the presidential regulation needed for inter-ministerial coordination?
Yes, but we begin to see improvements after three years. Problems will still exist, for sure. Even Australia which applied the zoning system for 20 years still face the problem of people moving houses so as to get into good schools.
Is it possible to implement the scheme 100 percent?
It certainly should be 100 percent, but it can go in phases. For example, 100 percent in primary schools while still allowing some flexibility in middle, high and vocational schools.
Place and date of birth: Madiun, East Java, July 19, 1956 | Education: Bachelors of Social Education, Institute of Science and Teaching, Malang (1982) Masters of Public Administration, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta (1996) Doctor of Social Science, Airlangga University, Surabaya (2008) | Career and organization: Ministry of Education and Culture (2016-now) Rector, Muhammadiyah University, Malang (2000-2016) Chairman, Higher Education, Research and Development Division, Muhammadiyah Central Board, (2015-2020) Member, East Java Regional Research Council (2014-now) Member, Central Supervisory Board, Maarif Institute (2010-now)