The Indonesian education system: An overview

29.08.17
5 minute read
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One important decision, if you’re moving to Indonesia with family, is how to ensure that your children have the best possible education. The public education system in Indonesia is ranked below average compared to other OECD countries, although school standards naturally vary significantly from place to place. As an expat, you might choose to put your child into the state system, or look for a suitable private or international school. International schools will teach in English or another major world language, and usually follow an internationally recognised syllabus, such as the International Baccalaureate.

If you’re considering your options, you can compare the standard of education in Indonesia with that available in your home country, with the PISA assessment framework from the OECD.

Whether you’ve already got your Indonesian work visa and have your move fully planned, or are just starting to think about life overseas, it helps to know a little about the education options in Indonesia.

Here is a quick guide to get you started.

The Indonesian education system

Many parents choose to send their children to a play group from the age of two, before pre-school (which is optional), is offered from age four. Pre-school (Taman Kanak-Kanak)*Sekolah Dasar)*, children move onto High School which is split into a ‘junior’ and ‘senior’ section.

If you’re planning on living in Jakarta or one of the other major cities, it’s a good idea to choose a school close to home, as commuting times are notoriously bad. Because of poor traffic conditions, many private schools offer bus services to their students, and some other expat families opt for hiring a driver to deal with the commute.

Taman Kanak-Kanak (Pre-school) Playgroups (which are privately run) offer places for children from two years oldPre-school is optional from ages four to sixThe vast majority of pre-schools are privately run and fees are payable
Sekolah Dasar (Primary School) Compulsory from age six to 11 for all childrenIn some cases, children are admitted age fiveEducation at primary level is free
Sekolah Menengah Pertama and Sekolah Menengah Atas (Secondary School) Secondary education is split into two sections, junior and senior.Both last three years, and senior secondary education isn't compulsory Junior high school is free, but some fees are levied for the senior programme

Pre-School (Taman Kanak-Kanak)

Pre-school in Indonesia isn't compulsory, and usually run by private enterprises, so if you want your child to attend you have to enrol directly with the school you have chosen. Places are available for children aged between four and five or six, with fees normally payable. Play groups for younger children, aged from two, are also popular.

Primary School (Sekolah Dasar)

From the age of five or six, it’s compulsory to attend primary school in Indonesia. This stage of schooling is provided free of charge. Schools are either secular, and government run, or religious establishments (typically Islamic Madrassas) which are regulated by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Religious schools are usually either private or partly private. Teaching is in Indonesian, although some smaller children will speak their local language in class when they first start school, as the first three years of primary can be delivered in a different tongue if it’s commonly used in the area.

Primary school lasts for six grades and the curriculum is broad, covering basic skills, physical education and languages. English language is often taught, alongside Indonesian, a local language if relevant, and sometimes other major languages such as Chinese. Religious education is normal, even in the non-sectarian schools, as education is viewed as a process of developing the morals of children, as well as their ability to take part in society.

Secondary School (Sekolah Menengah Pertama and Sekolah Menengah Atas)

Secondary education in Indonesia is split into Sekolah Menengah Pertama (junior high school), and Sekolah Menengah Atas (senior high school). Junior high is compulsory, and lasts three years. After that, students can choose to enter senior high school, where they choose a study stream, such as languages or social sciences. Otherwise, students might specialise in a subject area such as engineering or business. Vocational schools are also available, with more of a focus on teaching practical skills.

Some schools offer accelerated programs for gifted students which allow them to pass through the education system quicker than their peers. Some fees are typically charged for senior high school, as this isn’t mandated by the government. In all, around half of Indonesian high schools are public, and half private (including madrassas).

What’s the typical school calendar and hours?

The school year in the Indonesian state system is arranged into semesters, running from August to June, although the exact dates vary slightly according to the specific school preferences.

The school day runs usually during the morning, from as early as 6.30am, through to the early afternoon. Students attend school five or six mornings a week, according to a timetable which is decided by the individual school.

It’s worth noting that this calendar applies to state schools only - in private and international schools a different calendar might be adopted.

What’s the cost of education?

There are fees charged for play group, pre-school and higher secondary education under the state system, as well as additional costs for uniforms, transport and school materials. If you don’t choose the state system and decide to find a private international school, the costs are even higher.

Indonesia has many private and international schools, mainly in the major cities. International schools typically teach in English or other major world languages, and often use either the International Baccalaureate syllabus, or a variant of the United States standard curriculum. Alternatively, there are some ‘national plus’ schools which offer education in English, but might follow the Indonesian curriculum, and occasionally public schools have an international class which might follow an internationally recognised syllabus. It’s worth knowing that schools aren’t allowed to use the word ‘international’ in their title because of local legislation, although it’s usually clear which schools cater to the expat community, from a quick glance at the website.

International schools are generally of a high standard, and therefore typically competitive, with testing and interviews to secure admission. You can expect the fees to vary widely depending on the specific school and the programme they offer.

Whichever route you decide is best for your family, there will be costs involved, and you don’t want to pay more than you have to. If you’re funding your child’s education from your account back home, consider using TransferWise to get the real exchange rate and cut out expensive international bank transfer fees.

TransferWise is the smart, new way to send money abroad.

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