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Students walk on dirty road after school in O'of village in West Timor, Indonesia. VOA

By Krithika Varagur

Indonesian students are among the lowest performers in Southeast Asia, according to a recent report, The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), released this month by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Indonesian 15-year-olds ranked in the bottom ten across 79 surveyed countries in all three subjects under consideration: math, reading, and science. The results point to education quality issues in the region’s most populous country.


“It’s a wake-up call for all of us in the education sector,” said Totok Amin Soefijanto, a policy expert at Paramadina University in Jakarta.

Imperfect incentives

Indonesia’s so-called demographic dividend, meaning its proportionally large youth population in a country of over 260 million, holds considerable potential for economic growth, but it is diminished by its low educational achievement to date.

Poorly qualified teachers are a major problem. Sixty-five percent of students surveyed by PISA said their teachers rarely provided direct feedback to them. One in five teachers are regularly absent, according to the World Bank in 2017. The government has run teacher competency tests and in 2015, the average score for the nearly three million teachers who took it was 53 percent, according to an analysis by University of Melbourne professor Andrew Rosser.


Among all the Southeast Asian countries, Indonesia lags behind in terms of education. VOA

“We have not repeated the competency assessment since 2015, which I think was another one of our mistakes, because if we don’t measure this, we don’t know where their skills are decreasing,” said Soefijanto.

Indonesian teachers also face chronically low salaries and are often appointed on the basis of cronyism or favor-trading, according to Rosser, which further decreases their competency.

Decentralization has been another challenge for improving education. Under the authoritarian regime of military general Suharto from 1965 to 1998, the school system was highly centralized. But after the regime ceded to a full democracy, Jakarta slowly yielded control of educational policy to regional governments. Given Indonesia’s geographic reach of over 15,000 islands, this spread has made it difficult to enforce things like standard curricula or teacher qualifications.

“We also have challenges when it comes to geographic inequities, as we have a lot of remote areas in the country,” said Jakarta-based social worker and activist Ryan Febrianto. “It’s a big country that has a lot of administrative areas, languages, and cultures, so what’s important is to develop policies that can accommodate that.”

Some recent advances

The OECD report itself notes that last year’s country results “must be seen in the context of the vast strides that Indonesia has made in increasing enrolment.” From 2001 to 2018, the PISA sample coverage leaped from 46 percent to 85 percent of 15-year-old students. According to the report’s authors, when accounting for the weakness of new entrants into a school system, the fact that Indonesia’s results have been relatively stable over this period actually indicates that “Indonesia has been able to raise the quality of its education system.”

Indonesia’s high-profile education minister, Nadiem Makarim, former CEO of the influential ride-hailing startup Go-Jek, told Indonesian newspaper Kompas that the PISA results “should not be packaged as good news” and called for a “paradigm shift” in educational standards. He announced this week that the country’s National Examination would be revamped as a Minimum Competency Assessment that tests students on math and literacy skills.


A teacher explains verses of the Quran imprinted on metal plates at a recital class during the holy fasting month of Ramadan at the Al-Ashriyyah Nurul Iman Islamic boarding school in Parung, West Java, Indonesia. VOA

Weak core subjects

Math was a particularly sore subject for Indonesian students, with only one percent of them performing at the highest levels, compared to 44 percent in mainland China and 37 percent in Singapore, according to the report. The World Bank has also claimed that 55 percent of Indonesians who complete school are functionally illiterate.

In recent years, some resources have been redirected from core subjects to religious studies. Almost two-thirds of the country’s secondary schools are private and the majority (about 90%) of them are Islamic in nature. Students at religious boarding schools typically score lower than students at nonreligious schools on exams, according to one 2017 study.

It is worth noting that Indonesia may not lack absolute resources to fund education, but rather that its allocation deserves further review. The country spent about 3.6 percent of its GDP on education in 2015, somewhat lower than regional neighbors like Malaysia and Vietnam, but in accordance with a constitutional mandate to spend 20 percent of its national budget on education.

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“In recent years, I think the government has been focusing on maintaining and improving enrollment levels as well as improving school facilities… but we [still] have issues in terms of quality improvement,” said Febrianto.

There is much low-hanging fruit for Indonesia’s education budget in coming years, from incentivizing absentee teachers to fine-tuning its domestic national examinations. In the meantime, there is one area in which Indonesian students already score undeniably high: 91 percent of them reported “sometimes or always feeling happy,” a full six points higher than the global average. (VOA)


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Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Char Dham Yatra resumed on Friday with more than 16,000 devotees resuming the pilgrimage from the Rishikesh camp.

As weather cleared up in Uttarakhand, Char Dham Yatra restored on Friday with more than 16,000 devotees resuming the pilgrimage from the Rishikesh camp.

According to sources, road leading to Badrinath has been repaired and helicopter service has also resumed.

Meanwhile, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami visited Dungi village and met families of people who were missing after the landslip incident, and consoled them.

Dhami assured them of all possible assistance. Two people from the village are still reported to be missing.

Pilgrims were seen leaving from Rishikesh Char Dham Bus terminal and Haridwar bus station for the pilgrimage since morning.

As per the state government, various departments -- Devasthanam Board, police are assisting the pilgrims.

Police Chowki Yatra Bus Terminal, Rishikesh, was announcing passenger-information via loudspeaker.

Free RT-PCR tests of pilgrims were being conducted at Rishikesh bus terminal.

Uttarakhand Char Dham Devasthanam Management Board's media in-charge Dr Harish Gaur said pilgrimage was on in Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, while for Kedarnath, helicopter service was also available.

Though the weather was cold in all dhams, thankfully there was no rain, he added.

Portals of the temple in Badrinath will close on November 20, Gangotri on November 5, while that of Kedarnath and Yamunotri on November 6.

Uttarakhand floods, triggered by a major downpour from October 17 to 19, have claimed 65 lives so far, 3,500 people have been rescued while 16,000 evacuated to safety.

Seventeen teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), seven teams of State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), 15 companies of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and 5,000 police personnel have been engaged in rescue and relief operations.

The state has already been provided with Rs 250 crore Disaster Fund which is being used for relief works.

To prevent spread of the diseases, the Central and state governments have decided to send medical teams to the affected areas.

Snapped power lines will be restored at the earliest, the government assured.

The state government said that as soon as alert for heavy rainfall was issued, the Incident Response System was activated at state and district levels, and pilgrims were halted at safer places. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: Uttarakhand, India, Char Dham Yatra, PushkarDhami, Rishikesh.


Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Naga leaders are adamant in their main demands for a separate Constitution and flag.

The Centre has continued the Naga peace talks with the Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) leaders, but negotiations face roadblocks as the Naga leaders are adamant in their main demands for a separate Constitution and flag.

The sources aware of these developments said that the Centre was hopeful that a successful solution of the six decades-long peace talks would arrive at a logical conclusion, but in the recent statements, Naga leaders have accused the Centre of offering post-solution options.

Sources quoting the stand of Naga leaders said that NSCN's stand was loud and clear that it would not follow the forbidden route to the Naga solution that was linked to foregoing the Naga national flag and Constitution, which is the face of the Naga political struggle and identity.

The Naga leaders have also said that the Centre has been using divisive policy and flattery in the name of finding the Naga political solution when the matters heated up.

When the Centre resumed the peace process in September this year and sent the former special director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) A.K. Mishra as the Ministry of Home Affairs' emissary to the rebel outfit's chief negotiator and general secretary T. Muivah, he assured him (Muivah) that the peace talks would be initiated under the original framework signed in 2015, a source in the Naga rebel group said.

"Here we are talking about the Naga national flag and Yehzabo (Constitution), the two issues that are holding up the Naga solution under the ongoing Indo-Naga political talks in Delhi.

"The chequered history of the Indo-Naga political issue is clear enough before us, with accords and agreements that were never meant to be implemented in letter and spirit", an important office-bearer of the rebel outfit said while criticizing the governments' stand.

Accusing the Centre, he further accused the Centre of persuading the Naga people again to accept whatever is being offered to hurry up the Naga talks.

On the invitation of the Centre, the senior leaders of the NSCN-IM including T. Muivah arrived in the national capital on October 6 this year to hold another round of talks with the Centre.

Both, the Centre and the Naga leaders had indicated their keenness on resolving this long pending issue by the end of this year in an amicable manner.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma, who is also chairman of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), and Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio had been actively involved in the resumption of the peace talks and taking it forward to a logical conclusion.

Soon after the transfer of Nagaland Governor R.N. Ravi, who was appointed as the Centre's interlocutor for the Naga peace talks on August 29, 2014, to Tamil Nadu, the peace talks resumed on September 20 in Kohima when the Centre representative met the Naga leaders and invited them to visit Delhi for further rounds of peace talks.

The NSCN-IM and the other outfits entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Government of India in 1997 and over 80 rounds of negotiations with the Centre have been held in the past in successive governments. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: Nagaland, India, Constitution, Politics, Flag.


Photo by Wikimedia Commons

India-England test series will now be played next year from July 1 at Edgbaston Stadium

The series decider for the Test series between England and India will now be played at Edgbaston from July 1 next year, said the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Friday. India is currently leading the series 2-1 before the fifth Test at Old Trafford was cancelled hours before the start due to concerns over COVID-19 outbreak in the tourists' camp.

"The fifth match of the LV= Insurance Test Series between England Men and India Men has been rescheduled and will now take place in July 2022. The match, which was due to take place last month at Emirates Old Trafford, was called off when India were unable to field a team due to fears of a further increase in the number of Covid-19 cases inside the camp," said an ECB statement.

"With India leading the series 2-1, the concluding fifth match will now take place from July 1, 2022, at Edgbaston, following an agreement between the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)," added the statement.

ECB also said that due to the rescheduled Test, the white-ball series between England and India will now start six days later than originally planned. The T20I series will begin on July 7 at Ageas Bowl with Edgbaston and Trent Bridge hosting the second and third matches respectively on July 9 and 10. It will be followed by the ODI series starting on July 12 at The Oval followed by Lord's and Old Trafford hosting the second and third ODI on July 14 and 17 respectively.

"Ticket holders do not have to take any action as all tickets will remain valid for the equivalent rearranged matchday at their host venue. Host venues will communicate the new fixture details to ticket purchasers and the options available to them, including the timeframe for requesting a refund if they are not able to attend the new match day," further said the statement.

"We are very pleased that we have reached an agreement with BCCI to creating a fitting end to what has been a brilliant series so far. I'm very grateful to all the venues involved for the cooperation they've shown in allowing us to reschedule this match. I'd also like to thank Cricket South Africa for their support and understanding to allow these changes to be possible," said Tom Harrison, the CEO of the ECB.

"We would like to apologise again to fans for the disruption and disappointment of September events. We know it was a day that so many had planned long in advance. We recognise that accommodating this extra match means a tighter schedule for the white ball series. We will continue to manage our players' welfare and workloads through next year while we also continue to seek the optimum schedule for fans, players and our partners across the game."

"I am delighted that the England-India Test series will now have its rightful conclusion. The four Test matches were riveting, and we needed a fitting finale. The BCCI recognizes and respects the traditional form of the game and is also mindful of its role and obligations towards fellow Board Members. In the last two months, both BCCI and the ECB have been engaged in discussions and our efforts were aimed at finding a suitable window. I thank the ECB for their understanding and patience in finding an amicable solution," said BCCI Secretary Jay Shah. (IANS/JB)

Keywords: India, Britain, BCCI, Test Match, Cricket.