Published on Voices

Girls’ education and the future of a nation

School girls in Berastagi, North Sumatra, Indonesia. © Axel Drainville via CreativeCommons
School girls in Berastagi, North Sumatra, Indonesia. © Axel Drainville via Creative Commons

In 1978, we both started our high school education in our home city of Semarang. Our alma mater is located on a major artery in the heart of the city, and occupies a beautiful Dutch colonial building. The robustness of its architecture befits the reputation of our school at that time: a school led by a passionate principal who promoted discipline and effective learning.

In our school, every boy and girl had an equal opportunity to learn and thrive . This is something Raden Ajeng Kartini –national heroine and a pioneer for girls and women’s rights in Indonesia– had fought for. The school was fully equipped with labs for chemistry, physics, biology, and foreign languages. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to receive quality education at one of the best public schools in Semarang. Our school also fared well at the provincial and national level. 

Not only did we thrive academically, we also enjoyed the various extra-curricular activities the school had to offer. This included being part of the basketball and volleyball teams, folk song choir, karate club, Pasukan Pengibar Bendera Pusaka (Flag Hoisting Troop) –as well as student council leadership. Girls were never discriminated upon and had the same opportunity to excel.

Forty years ago, we could never have imagined that we would be serving in the same Cabinet led by President Joko Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla. If one school can produce the first female Finance Minister and the first female Foreign Minister in this Republic, then our alma mater and its educators must be doing something right. Many of our former classmates also excelled in their respective fields.

In addition to the support from our parents, we must admit that our teachers were extremely committed to their role . They made the effort to be attentive to all their students and considered each individual to have the potential to thrive when sprinkled with knowledge and inspiration. They knew how to motivate, educate, and push us to be outstanding. Furthermore, they kept reminding us that boys and girls have the same opportunity to reach for the stars.

Because we came from a large family with many siblings, our parents could only afford to send us to a public school. Nevertheless, they motivated us to study hard so we could attend the best public school and consistently get good grades. In addition to the academic rigors, we enjoyed being part of school organizations that helped us hone our soft skills to interact and collaborate within a team to achieve collective goals. After three years in high school, we graduated with honors and continued our dreams at different higher education institutions, to pursue our respective interests.

Today, the government is making a strong effort to invest in our human capital . The education sector has consistently been allocated as much as 20 percent of our national budget or around Rp440 trillion. Furthermore, the participation of girls in education has been good with a one-to-one ratio between boys and girls enrolled in our education system. The population of Indonesia has reached around 260 million people, half of which are female . There is tremendous potential from their economic participation, in addition to their strategic role within the family.

Currently, around 45 percent of Indonesia’s work force are employed by small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs). There is a proliferation of SMEs started by women –almost 50 percent of the total business in this sector . Although women’s participation in the formal sector only reaches 32 percent, their contribution in job creation through SMEs is very significant.

Recently, the World Development Report concluded that significant investments in human capital will drive long-term economic growth and promote shared prosperity in a country. Additionally, the report also reiterated that schooling without learning deprives students from reaching their fullest potential.

President Jokowi fully understands that the high budget allocation for education must be supported with an effective learning process. It will equip our populace for the opportunities and challenges of tomorrow, especially for girls. Enhancing the quality of education will be a main focus, such as improving school management, teacher quality, learning processes, and the curriculum.

The government is committed to not allow individual financial constraints to be in the way of Indonesian children pursuing their education. When a family faces financial constraints, they normally prioritize their sons over their daughters when it comes to educational opportunities. A series of programs were introduced to support the poorest and most vulnerable. The Indonesia Pintar flagship education initiative provides cash support from the national budget to 20.3 million children between the ages of 6 to 21 to help fund their education.

Investing in human capital will unlock the future for our nation.  With the onset of various technological innovations, Indonesian talents will need to prepare themselves for the jobs of tomorrow. They will be the main economic driver towards a more inclusive growth and an ever-expanding middle class. The role of women is key in this quest to promote shared prosperity for all.

Investments made in our education several decades ago have opened opportunities for both of us to serve Indonesia, the country that we love. In our recent school reunion, we conveyed appreciation to our passionate teachers for spreading the seeds of knowledge and inspiration. There are many women who have proved that they can excel and be a great mother to their children at the same time.

The government is working hard to build a foundation for our nation to thrive by investing in Indonesia’s human capital. We hope there will be more capable women to take our nation to its golden ages. 

Originally published in Tempo magazine and also on LinkedIn


Sri Mulyani Indrawati

Former Managing Director and COO

Retno Marsudi

Retno Marsudi, Foreign Minister of Indonesia

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