Many international schools in Jakarta have questioned a 2009 education ministerial decree that they said could affect their operation and create legal uncertainty concerning the future of international education in the country.
Bruce Ferres, principal of the Australian International School (AIS) in Kemang, South Jakarta, said international schools, including the AIS, had sent a letter to the National Education Ministry, protesting the new decree.
"It is impossible for us to oblige students who are foreign citizens to learn Bahasa Indonesia, religion and civics," he told The Jakarta Post.
A 2009 education ministerial, which will come into force on March 30, 2010, stipulates that the curricula applied at international schools must cover the teaching of religion, civics and the Indonesian language. The teaching of these three subjects must be conducted in Indonesian.
Bambang Indrianto, the secretary of the directorate general for primary and secondary education at the National Education Ministry, clarified that the ministerial decree would apply only to Indonesian students studying at international schools, not foreign citizens there.
He noted that the decree was not aimed at creating difficulty for international schools but rather to protect the fundamental rights of Indonesian students studying at the schools.
"Indonesian students at the international schools have their constitutional right to obtain a proper education and they will lack pride as Indonesian citizens if they cannot speak Bahasa Indonesia, do not learn further about their religion and know nothing about the nation and its political system," he said.
In addition to the subject matter, the ministerial decree also requires international schools to employ a certain number of graduate- and doctorate-degree (S2 and S3) teachers: 10 percent for elementary schools, 20 percent for junior high schools and 30 for senior high schools.
In addition, administrative staff at international schools must be Indonesian citizens.
Ferres of the AIS said that the requirements for S2 and S3 teachers would be too burdensome for international schools in Indonesia and could disturb their operation.
He said he was suspicious that the issuance of the ministerial decree was based on the absence of a clear-cut differentiation between genuine international schools and Indonesian schools using "international" labels, which have also raised confusion among the public.
He suggested that the government make a clear distinction between the two. He further explained that the genuine international schools adopt curricula, teaching standards and teaching staff qualification from their countries of origins.
"If clear criteria is used to distinguish between international schools and national plus or "international standard" schools then it is possible to differentiate between the implementation and the wording of the provisions in the decree so that its spirit and intention is met without unintended consequence. "It will also be possible to introduce a further set of regulations pertaining only to genuine international schools," he said.
Muhammad Amin, personnel manager of the Jakarta Japanese School in Jombang, Banten, said the elementary, junior and senior high schools on the campus had the same standards and graduation quality as those in Japan and other countries, though they had also admitted students of Indonesian citizens.
"We are confused as the new regulation requires us to recruit up to 30 percent of Indonesian teachers with S2 and S3 qualifications from accredited universities, from the total teaching staff. The requirements must be met by the end of this month," he said.
Both Amin and Bruce Ferres warned that if the new decree was arbitrarily enforced to the genuine international schools, it would jeopardize foreign investment in the education sector.
Ferres said the AIS had planned to spend up to US$20 million in the next six years to construct its
new campuses in Pejaten and Denpasar, Bali, carry out its CSR programs in the forms of workshops and courses for Indonesian teachers and parents.
The presence of genuine international schools such as the AIS, Ferres said, would benefit the Indonesian economy both directly and indirectly and create an environment in which Indonesian and foreign students could learn English from native teachers.
"All of this will be put in jeopardy if the ministerial decree is applied to all schools," he said.
Bambang Indrianto from the National Education Ministry said the ministerial decree was not a holy book that could not be revised.
"The government will be ready to hold dialogue with all stakeholders to revise the decree and facilitate foreign embassies and companies to provide education for their employees' children."