Over the past decade, Indonesia has been trying to improve its education system by allocating 20 percent of the state budget for this purpose. There are 62 million students and 3,5 million teachers and lecturers. These massive efforts and numbers, however, fail to guarantee equal distribution and quality.
The education system in the western part of Indonesia is generally much better than in the eastern regions, such as Papua, where many children still do not have access to proper schools.
According to the Central Statistics Agency (BPS), there were 117,529 elementary school students and 39,529 junior high school students in West Papua, and 336,644 elementary school students and 94,897 junior high school students in Papua during the 2013/2014 school year. The numbers look good, but the truth is far from that.
Economic conditions, culture and geographical accessibility have barred many in the easternmost province from accessing even elementary education. Many people are not aware of the importance of educating their children, or they succumb to economic difficulties and are unable to afford it.
The BPS reported that West Papua and Papua scored the lowest of all Indonesian provinces in the 2010-2015 Human Development Index (HDI). West Papua’s HDI was 61.73 and Papua’s 57.25, while the Indonesian average stood at 69.55.
The HDI measures average achievements of citizens in terms of human development. The variables include general health and life expectancy, education and living standards. Besides low HDI scores, the inflation rate in West Papua and Papua is exceptionally high. Children are often forced to abandon their studies to go to work in order to support their families.
Sudarwati, the principal of state-run elementary school Abeale I said, Papuans who live in big cities won’t question the importance of education and send their children to school. It’s different in rural areas, where they can’t go to school because they need to work to help their parents.
Meanwhile, Edi, a former teacher at a Catholic school in Surabaya, East Java, who has been living in Sentani for the past 11 years said, many Papuan people are too lazy to work. They have been way too comfortable living off natural resources. The locals often get drunk and do not care about education. This is the reason they lose the competition to outsiders and move back to the highlands.
Data from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) shows that 30 percent of Papuan students do not complete their elementary and junior high education. In rural areas, up to 50 percent of elementary school students and 73 percent of junior high school students are dropouts. Geographical conditions contribute to difficulties in accessing education and to high levels of absenteeism.