Jakarta (ANTARA) - The new-fangled cabinet lineup of President Joko Widodo’s (Jokowi’s) government sprang a few surprises, one of them being young and successful startup entrepreneur Nadiem Makarim entrusted with leading the Education and Culture Ministry.

Jokowi chose Makarim, 35, to help him prepare quality human resources, as his second-term administration is chiefly prioritizing the development of human resources, following infrastructure development in the first term.

Makarim, holding a Master's degree in business administration from Harvard Business School, is the founder and former CEO of App-based Go-Jek ride startup. In December 2016, The Straits Times bestowed the Asians of the Year title on him along with six other people operating on the frontiers of technology's interface with business, collectively called "The Disruptors".

His capability in innovating technological breakthrough has impressed Jokowi, who believes that Indonesian human resources must be improved to stay abreast of the swift changes brought about by technological advancements. Jokowi suggested to usher in significant reform in the school curricula of the country to produce quality human resources.

Jokowi has called on Makarim to develop a technology-based application for the national education system to improve the quality of education evenly across the country that has some 17 thousand islands, as well as 514 districts and municipalities.

“Hence, improving the quality of education can really equitably benefit students across Indonesia. Use digital technology to expand, speed up, and ease access (to education),” the president emphasized.

The application is also projected to help simplify education management that involves some 300 thousand schools, 50 million students, and 3.5 million teachers nationally. Makarim sought a 100-day timeline from the president to develop the application.

Makarim admitted to it being a huge honor to be trusted by the president to reform the development of human resources through education. In 2017, he had once stated that in order to be successful in the digital era, Indonesia must invest in the development of human resources.

The development of human resources is a short-term investment of five to 10 years.

Furthermore, to be able to compete internationally, he believes that Indonesian students must be able to converse in English; master computer programming, statistics, and psychology; uphold good character; and be critical thinkers.

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The minister also spoke of his keen intent to give students, from elementary school to university level, the freedom to learn in line with their aspirations, capabilities, and interests.

"University students should study in accordance with their respective aspirations and interests. We must make this change," the minister noted in his remarks at the inauguration of the new rector of the University of Indonesia (UI) Prof. Ari Kuncoro at the UI Campus, Depok, recently.

The minister highlighted the need to offer university students the freedom to conduct various activities that transcend the realm of education programs.

Streamlining regulations and bureaucracy are deemed necessary for freedom in study, from the lowest educational level until university, Makarim remarked.

A university capable of providing quality education to students plays a critical role in realizing President Jokowi’s vision to produce sound human resources, he emphasized.

"The president's vision has two interpretations, specifically freedom in learning and teachers as activators," he stated.

To this end, Makarim stressed on the need for teachers and lecturers, as the stimuli, to be relentless in their pursuit of knowledge and science to bring about improvements in learning activities in classes.

He appealed to teachers to begin with small changes in their classrooms that will in turn help to move Indonesia forward.

"Changes cannot be started from the top. It begins and ends in the teachers' hand. Do not wait for a command. Take the first step," Makarim noted in his speech during the commemoration of National Teachers' Day on Nov 25, 2019.

The minister appealed to teachers to not waste time in class and to encourage student engagement in discussions instead of expecting them to remain mere listeners, offer them an opportunity to teach in class, initiate a social program that involves all students, assist students with confidence issues discover their talents, and provide guidance to other teachers in need.

"Within the next five years, indeed, it would not be convenient at all for various education institutions. However, the change must be brought about," he stated.

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Earlier, while speaking at the commemoration of the 107th anniversary of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia's second-largest Muslim organization, Makarim also echoed his commitment to freeing the country's education system to drive novel innovations in the education sector.

"In accordance with the president's directives, our mission in the Education and Culture Ministry is to free the education unit, to free teachers, and to free students. This is my commitment," he remarked.

Freedom is paramount to materializing innovations in every education unit, he stated.

To prepare future national leaders, he also vowed to further promote character building education.

However, character building education cannot merely be taught but must be applied on an ongoing basis.

"Character education cannot be taught. The best character education is to give example and to lead by it," he noted.

In the meantime, the Commission for Protection of Indonesian Children (KPAI) has sought concrete actions to realize freedom in study as highlighted by the minister.

"Creating class freedom just by giving a speech is not sufficient, but Minister Nadien should take concrete actions," Retno Listyari, the KPAI commissioner-in-charge of education, noted in a statement.

Efforts to improve the teachers' capacity by organizing various trainings is paramount to realizing the minister's idea for freedom in study.

"Results of a study showed no changes were made in how teachers teach in classrooms over the last 25 years," she remarked.

Teacher training should not merely concern methods but should also entail other materials that can support freedom at schools, such as pertaining to the Child Right Convention and efforts to develop child-friendly schools.

Schools need teachers that are not restrained by curriculum and teaching administrative obligations.

Based on the 2017/2018 data of the Education and Culture Ministry, Indonesia had 307,655 schools comprising 148,244 elementary schools, 38,960 junior high schools, 13,495 senior high schools, and 13,710 vocational high schools. Of the total, 169,378 are state-run schools and 138,277 private schools.

She called for further development of high schools, so elementary school graduates would have broader access to continue their studies.

However, serious challenges including issues concerning bureaucracy, communication, and lack of education facilities, particularly in a few regions, would be faced in materializing those ideas, according to Muhammad Ramli Rahim, chairman of the Indonesian Teachers Association (IGI).

Another bold step to be taken by the government is to scrapg national exams for elementary and high school students from 2021.

Jokowi expounded that instead of the nationwide exam, a minimum competency assessment for schools and teachers as well as a character survey would be conducted to evaluate students.

The students' character evaluation would be based on the teachers’ observations of their behavior and outlook in accordance with values of the state ideology of Pancasila.

Several arguments and counterarguments arise over whether exams should be abolished. Undoubtedly, final exams cause stress to both students and their parents.

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Editor: Sri Haryati
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