Why did Indonesia fare badly in PISA 2018?

This file photo shows deaf school children studying at an elementary school at Bengkala village in Singaraja regency on Bali island. (AFP Photo)

In August last year, The ASEAN Post asked a question: How will Indonesia fare in PISA 2018? Recently, local Indonesian news reports revealed the answer to that question and it was, unfortunately, unsurprising.

This is not to say that Indonesia had not put in efforts to increase the quality of its students. On 23 July 2018, Indonesia’s Minister of Education and Culture, Professor Muhadjir Effendy held a bilateral meeting with Vietnam’s Minister of Education and Training, Professor Phung Xuan Nha at the Vietnamese Education Ministry in Hanoi.

The bilateral meeting reaffirmed the commitment of the two countries to continue the implementation of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on education cooperation signed on 23 August, 2017. The hope is that out of these meetings, cooperation between the two countries in terms of education will be strengthened, especially in vocational training and teachers’ capacity building.

In August last year, Indonesia’s Research, Technology and Higher Education Ministry subscribed to a database of scientific e-journals which can be accessed by researchers, university lecturers, students and non-ministerial government agencies for free. The subscription, which costs 14.8 billion rupiah (US$1 million) for this year alone, will hopefully help Indonesian academics produce original scientific research and journals.

Despite these and numerous other efforts, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), run by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), showed that Indonesia suffered a decline in all three assessed abilities in 2018, with reading experiencing the greatest drop from 397 to 371. 

Mathematics also saw a decline from 386 to 379 and science from 403 to 396. All scores were below the OECD's average scores of 487 for reading and mathematics and 489 for science.  These scores put Indonesia within the ninth lowest rank in each assessed ability, placing it below four other Southeast Asian countries, namely Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Thailand.

The survey was carried out on 15-year-old students in 79 countries, including 12,098 students from 397 schools across Indonesia. The figure represented Indonesia's 3.7 million students who are aged 15 years.

Indonesia PISA score
Source: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development

Teachers of quality

Some experts believe that in order for Indonesia to ensure that its students receive the best education they can, a lot more focus has to be placed on providing quality teachers. 

Education expert, Totok Amin Soefijanto of Paramadina University told the local media that the government would have to reform its education system if it wanted to make the best use of the demographic dividend. He said it should start by equipping teachers with more training and pre-service preparation, including reforming the recruitment process.

"Our children are being taught by teachers who are never trained and whose knowledge is never updated. As a result, their delivery and content are also not updated, so it's no wonder that our PISA scores declined," he was quoted as saying.

The PISA report revealed that 60 percent of Indonesian students felt their Indonesian language teachers had never or seldom directly helped them when they had difficulties learning or changed the teaching material according to the students' needs. In addition, 65 percent of them said their teachers rarely gave them feedback.

Indonesian Teachers Alliance (IGI) chairman, Muhammad Ramli Rahim agreed that teachers may be the problem, adding this was something the government needed to address. Speaking to the media, Muhammad Ramli said that the Education and Culture Ministry should learn from these failures to accelerate education reforms in the country, starting with the improvement of teachers' competency and budget efficiency.

"The training of teachers and school principals that has been run by the ministry should be evaluated because it tends to waste the funds without any real results as seen by Indonesia's education, which is going nowhere, at least as shown by the PISA results," he said.

Indonesia is at an advantageous position when compared to countries like Thailand and Singapore because, unlike these ASEAN counterparts, Indonesia has a large number of youths. Unfortunately, this will mean very little if the youth aren’t able to meet future job demands. If upgrading teachers is what is needed to ensure this, then that is what the government should be focusing the brunt of its attention on.

Related articles:

How will Indonesia fare in PISA 2018?

Critical thinking needed to upgrade skills