Universal Education: Reaching The Utopia

Kunto Nurcahyoko
Oct 13, 2018 · 4 min read

“Education For All” is a global dream. In the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Universal Education is one priority; that basic education is the main tool to foster a civilization. Hence, all nations put their best effort to realize accessible Education for everyone.

Universal education basically refers to a system of education which provides equal chance to all human beings regardless their ethnicity, sex, religion, age and physical ability. Universal Education aims at providing sufficient knowledge to all human necessary for their life and enabling people to positively contribute within society.

Indonesia itself declared twelve-year compulsory education program (from elementary to high schools) in 2016. The policy replaced the previous nine-year compulsory education created in 1994. The compulsory education in Indonesia creates opportunity for all children to adolescents to receive free education.

Concomitant with the policy, Indonesian government has undergone several steps in realizing the target, especially dealing with the education budget. In 2007, spending on education was above other sectors for government expenditure, reaching an equivalent of US$14 billion. The number keeps being higher every year up until now. The education expenditure is spent to improve the quality of teachers, education infrastructures, and operational needs of students to make sure that all children are able to go to school.

Unfortunately, the reality is almost like living in a dream world. In 2016, UNICEF stated that there are still 2.5 million Indonesian children who could not access primary education. Those numbers include 600 thousand children for elementary school (SD) and 1.9 million children for junior high school (SMP).

The numbers of dropouts and out-of-school kids are also considerably high. The 2016 report from National Socio-Economic Survey also mentions that 3.6 million adolescents between 16–18 years old are out of school. Such number exhibits the fact that despite the progress we make in education, we are still far from achieving Universal Education. Thus, is reaching universal education really a utopia?

We have to acknowledge that we still encounter several problems. The problems with our education include: the high cost of school payment. The tuition and education cost contributes to a child’s lack of interest to attend primary and secondary education and impacts families’ decision to attend schools, especially those from low-income background. Although there has been school operational assistance funding (BOS), in facts, there are many schools which still require their students to pay certain amount of money because the operational cost is high and ineffective management of budget mechanism.

According to World Bank, Primary school net enrollment rates in Indonesia are below 60% in poor districts compared to more well-off districts that have universal enrollment. And although Indonesia has steady improvement on enrollment rates for secondary education (currently 66% in Junior Secondary and 45% in Senior Secondary), the number is still low as compared to other countries in the region.

Second problem deals with the difficult access and location of schools. In some areas of Indonesia, particularly outside Java Island, there are still many schools which are geographically challenging. In some rural areas of Kalimantan and most eastern Indonesia, the access of road, electricity and even health care facilities are inadequate to support children’s education. A UNESCO report estimates that children in the rural areas are 3-times more likely to be out-of-school compared to those in the urban areas.

The next problem is related to the lackadaisical awareness of citizens on the importance of education. Some communities have “culture” assuming that education is less important than helping parents to do the jobs. UNICEF states that 2.7 million Indonesian children are involved in some form of child labor. In some area, women also do not even receive support from their family to get higher education as they think women will eventually end up doing the household chores.

With so many challenges hindering us from achieving universal education, it is time to join forces. There are some steps that all stakeholders can do. Firstly, it is necessary to foster people’s awareness on education. Government officers, schools, teachers, society and even media must go hand in hand in inculcating the importance of education.

Next thing to do is to improve education infrastructure development. Besides, provision of quality professional educators, infrastructure is also central for our education. The existing education budget must be governed effectively and efficiently with better monitoring.

The role of non-formal education must also be improved. Non formal education, which refers to various structured learning situations without the level of curriculum and certification is very effective to be implemented in some inaccessible and isolated areas. The approach of non-formal education is also appropriate for marginalized and unfortunate group of people such as street children and refugees.

Eventually, the synergy among government, school and society must be better encouraged. Universal Education, once again, is not a mere responsibility of school and government. Society, family and even the media should also continue improving their contribution for the education including providing inputs for curriculum and non-curriculum contents and also monitoring the implementation of education activities.

Those steps are expected to direct this nation to achieve Universal Education. And The Sustainable Development Goals by 2016 precisely targets that year 2030, basic education must be fully free and non-discriminatory. Some says that this target is too ambitious. However, we also need to understand that every great civilization always emerges from a utopic dream. Done correctly and with commitment from all, Universal Education is within our grasp.