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EENET asia Newsletters :6th issue content

Non-Attendance in Eastern Indonesia

Kym Holthouse

Save the Children UK undertook a participatory research project with 22 schools and communities in 3 districts in the eastern Indonesian province of Nusa Tenggara Timor [NTT], to better understand barriers to enrolment and regular school attendance.

Indonesia has been widely recognized as having achieved universal primary education for more than a decade. Participation rates exploded in Indonesia during the ‘70s and ‘80s when the government undertook the most rapid program of school construction seen anywhere in the world.

Since 1994, Indonesian law has required that every child between the ages of 7 and 15 must be enrolled in school, extending the period of compulsory basic education to include 3 years of junior secondary school. In introducing the law, the government set a target of 96% junior secondary enrolment by 2009. The latest official figures available [2005/06] show there is still some work to be done: 87% of 13-15 year olds enrolled, but only 62% at junior high.

The difference between the 2 figures mainly reflects the number of children aged 13-15 who are still at primary school. These are children who either started primary school late, or have since repeated a grade or two. Repeating grades is common in Indonesia and places considerable extra pressure on the education system.

A major factor in students repeating grades is absenteeism, as students who attend irregularly inevitably fall further and further behind. In spite of its multiple impacts, absenteeism is rarely captured in statistical representations of school participation. Yet, widespread, chronic absenteeism can obviously make the most impressive enrolment figures almost meaningless.

To better understand the causes of persistent non-enrolment and absenteeism, Save the Children UK recently launched a participatory research project in the eastern Indonesian province of NTT. Not surprisingly, in a country as large, and economically diverse, as Indonesia, school participation rates are not uniform, and can vary even more within provinces than between them. As discussed below, rural and remote schools face multiple additional challenges in getting children to school, and invariably do so with fewer resources.

NTT Province
Government figures [2005/06] show that in NTT only 94% of 7-12 year olds, and only 77% of 13-15 year olds, were enrolled, significantly below the national averages for both age groups.

NTT is one of the poorest provinces in Indonesia. Schools, teaching personnel and resources in many parts of the province, in particular rural and remote areas, are insufficient to meet demand. Since Indonesia embarked on a radical decentralization program in 2002, district governments have been responsible for supplying education services. However, NTT’s district education departments are still heavily reliant on central government funding, which is insufficient to meet their budgetary needs.

At the household level, income in NTT is ⅓ of the national average. Although mandatory school fees were recently abolished in Indonesia, the associated costs of schooling - uniforms, books, transport and lunch money - continue to impact more heavily on parents’ ability to keep their children in school in poorer areas.

Three districts - Sumba Barat Daya [SBD], Kupang and Belu - were included in the study. SBD had by far the most serious problems both in terms of enrolment and absenteeism. SCUK’s own survey found only 89% of 7-12 year olds in SBD were enrolled at any level of school, compared with 95% in Belu and 99% for Kupang. This gap widened further when 13 and 14 year olds were also included.

The difference was even starker for absenteeism. At the schools surveyed in SBD, on average one out of every five student days was lost. Put another way, the average student missed 48 days, or 8 weeks, of school between July 2007 and May 2008. By contrast, in Kupang the average student missed only 6 days over the same period.

What do these different figures reflect about schools in these communities? In many ways the communities appear quite similar: they were all rural or remote; have similar climates; and measured in terms of cash income at least, have similar levels of wealth. However, from our survey of parents, and from focus group discussions with parents, teachers and children, several points of difference emerged that help explain why school participation is less entrenched in SBD.

Causes of Absenteeism/ Dropping Out

In addition, schools in all districts did not actively create opportunities for parents to become involved in the school, or to take pride in their children’s progress. Communication between teachers and parents was minimal, made difficult by distance, lack of communications infrastructure, and the demands of an agrarian lifestyle, but also by a cultural separation of the school and school-based knowledge from other aspects of village life.

School committees had been enlisted to encourage parents to ensure their children went to school, but the effect of home visits was often short-lived. In many cases, parents and teachers claimed that the child simply did not want to go to school. The challenge for organizations working with schools and school communities, then, must be to find out, if true, why children do not want to go to school, and then work to make the classroom experience a more meaningful, and enjoyable one.

Save the Children is continuing to support the schools involved in the research to find and implement their own solutions to overcome barriers to participation.

Ms. Kym Holthouse, consultant with Save the Children UK. Email: or post to
Save the Children UK
Educarion Unit
Jalan Pejatan Barat No. 8
Jakarta Selatan 12550