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Indonesia: Constitutional Court Rules Against International-Standard Schools

(Jan. 11, 2013) On January 8, 2013, <?Indonesia's Constitutional Court determined that existing international standard pilot-project schools (known as RSBIs) and international-standard schools (SBIs) are unconstitutional, because they provide unequal access to educational opportunities. According to Chief Justice Mohammad Mahfud, article 50 (3) of the National Educational System Law, the provision that governs these schools, is unconstitutional. (Ina Parlina & Margareth S. Aritonang, Court Rules International-Standard Schools Illegal for Unequal Access, THE JAKARTA POST (Jan. 9, 2013).)

The provision in question states, “[t]he Government and local governments organize at least a unit of education [one school] at all levels of education, to be developed further as a unit having international standards of education.” (Act of the Republic of Indonesia Number 20, Year 2003 on National Education System, July 8, 2003, UNESCO website; Undang-Undang Republik Indonesia Nomor 20 Tahun 2003 Tentang Sistem Pendidikan Nasional, July 8, 2003, Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare website.)

RSBIs have been described as those educational institutions undergoing the process of being certified as meeting international standards. SBIs have presumably met those standards. (Dessy Sagita, International Standards for Indonesian Schools Seen as Failure, THE JAKARTA GLOBE (Nov. 29, 2010).) Both types of schools give lessons in both Indonesian and English, have smaller class sizes than other schools, and rely on national and international education standards, including those used in developed countries, in developing curriculum. The RSBI and SBI schools have received block grants of from Rp300-500 million (about US$30,870-$51,450) a year from the national government. (Id.)

Mahfud pointed out that school fees are imposed on students at these special schools, leading to “the commercialization of the education sector.” He added that “[q]uality education would become an expensive item that only the rich could afford” were the schools to continue. (Parlina & Aritonang, supra.)

The case had been brought to the Court by a coalition of civil society groups, including education experts, parents of students, and the organization Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW). In addition to stating that funds had been disproportionately spent on the international standards schools, the groups argued that there was corruption connected with the program. (Id.) The plaintiffs also argued that students at the special schools have not performed any better than students at ordinary public schools. (Dessy Sagita, Constitutional Court Brings End to Era of RSBI Schools, THE JAKARATA GLOBE (Jan. 9, 2013).)

ICW is now urging the Indonesian government to act on the Court decision. (Press Release, ICW, Pemerintah Harus PatuhiPutusan MK! [Government Must Obey the Constitutional Court Decision!] (Jan. 9, 2013).) The government has argued that these special schools were designed to be models and were established with the idea of raising the level of education throughout the country. (Parlina & Aritonang, supra.) In Mahfud’s view, “if the state wants to improve the quality of the public schools, the state must treat schools equally by improving their facilities and infrastructure, as well as providing more funds for all public schools,” and that such equal treatment “will remove the differences in the quality of our schools.” (Id.)

According to Muhammad Nuh, the Minister for Education and Culture, the ruling does not mean that the existing RSBI and SBI schools will be dismantled. (Id.)