The hard truth: Challenges of primary education in rural and remote Indonesia


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While Indonesia has achieved universal primary enrollment, the quality of education service delivery and student learning outcomes remain low. The World Bank recently published results of a survey in five districts ranked among the poorest in Indonesia.

The survey was conducted in 270 rural and remote primary schools between 2016-2017. Survey respondents included principals, teachers, students, school committees, parents, and village heads.

Most students tested were performing two grade levels below their current grades. For example, grade 5 students on average were reading at grade 3 level.

First, surveyed schools and villages face connectivity challenges that may discourage the best teachers from working in these areas. They are on average 149 km (92.5 miles) or five hours away from district capitals; on average only 29% are connected to the power grid; and only 17% have internet access. Survey results indicate a wide variety in resource allocation: 91% of schools have gender-balanced toilets; 54% have a library; and 39% have enough textbooks.

Observations indicate that gaps in these areas can be reduced by prioritizing funding allocation. Also, renovations of school facilities and housing for teachers can improve working conditions for teachers appointed to these areas.

Second, the quality of education services in surveyed schools is hindered by teacher qualifications, teacher composition, and the necessity for multi-grade teaching. Thirty-four percent of teachers and 18% of principals only have high school degrees. Permanent civil-servant teachers constitute 40% of the teaching force, with the shortfall being filled by short-term, contracted teachers (42.5% contracted by schools and 15.8 contracted by districts or provinces).

While permanent teachers earn on average $600 per month, those contracted by schools receive only $40. Contract teachers are more likely to have second jobs and have lower qualifications compared to their permanent peers. While class ratios compare well with national averages (20 students per class in surveyed areas compared with 23 at the national level), surveyed teachers often substitute absent teachers and must teach multiple grades (in 25% of the schools) despite lacking the training to do so.

The survey found 25% of classrooms did not have a teacher. In this class, an absent teacher assigned a student to copy math assignments for the students to work.
The survey found 25% of classrooms did not have a teacher. In this class, an absent teacher assigned a student to copy math assignments for the students to work.

Third, teacher absence is a serious problem, as it directly affects whether students learn in school. Unannounced visits to surveyed schools indicated that 25% of classrooms did not have a teacher, and 17% of teachers did not come to school on a given day.

Our analysis indicates that teacher absence is positively correlated with civil servant status, with being a male, and low supervision by the school principal. In other words, contracted and female teachers were teaching more often. Our analysis also shows, however, that teachers who are evaluated by the school principals tend to have higher presence in school. Hence, ensuring that teachers are monitored and supervised could reduce teacher absence.

To improve the quality of service delivery in remote areas, Indonesia needs to upgrade teacher qualifications and skills and improve its teacher performance management and accountability system. In the short run, capacity development trainings should prioritize more teachers in remote areas or require a set percentage of participants from these areas.

In the long run, qualified teachers – new and those already in the workforce – should be better incentivized to work in remote areas. While as a policy, working in remote areas earns teachers more credits towards becoming civil servants, the fact that placement in remote areas tends to be indefinite instead of for a fixed term discourages many teachers. Finally, KIAT Guru impact evaluation found that empowering communities to hold teachers accountable and making teacher remote area allowance contingent upon teacher presence improved learning outcomes.

Fourth, and most disconcertingly, most students tested were performing two grade levels below their current grades. Our analysis associates low student learning outcomes with low parental education; less time dedicated to their child’s schooling; and far less engagement with school committees and teachers.

Surprisingly, parents are satisfied with the quality of education and learning outcomes. This indicates that parents either have very moderate expectations of the education quality at schools or are not fully informed of the service standards that should be delivered by teachers. Improving parents’ knowledge and awareness will likely increase their demand for and engagement in quality education. Finally, collaboration between teachers and parents to support student learning will likely generate higher aspirations and career outlooks among students.



Rise working paper 20/035 - scores, camera, action? Incentivizing teachers in remote areas



Dewi Susanti

Senior Social Development Specialist, Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience (SURR) Global Practice

Join the Conversation

oene schreuder
March 09, 2020

I fully agree with the urgency to upgrade the system, quality and facilities of education in Indonesia.
Don't worry too much about the 'low' academic outcomes; these 'rural' children are generally a lot healthier than the 'urban' students in spiritual, emotional and physical sense. They do not yet suffer of NDD (Nature Deficit Disorder) and have more potential to grow up as strong motivated human beings and contributors to the society and economy.
academic performance in primary levels has proven to say so little about the future real life achievements.

abier alzoubi
March 24, 2020

Thank you for the great article. But, I don't think that only Indonesia suffers from ... But a lot of countries around the world .
And , it's not just a funding problem, it's more fundemantal then that .... Like : it's about the very vision that people have for education and how they see it .