Andra Wisnu , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Mon, 05/05/2008 11:25 AM | National
Indonesia's ability to provide skilled information technology workers remains in doubt, even as it approaches its 100th year of "national awakening".
Indonesia ranked 67th out of 69 countries in an e-readiness study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), faring little better than Azerbaijan and Iran as one of the least IT-prepared countries on the list.
The EIU ranking was based on consumer and business adoption of IT, connectivity and technology infrastructure, business environment, social and cultural environments, government policy and vision, and legal and policy environments.
In a separate survey by the United Nations, Indonesia ranked 106th out of 189 countries in terms of government Internet-based service usage.
And despite gold medal-winning performances in several international Physics, Biology and Astronomics Olympiads (including last year's Asian Physics Olympiads), Indonesian students have yet to distinguish themselves in the IT category.
According to Maria Widyati, deputy marketing director for the ComputerStar learning center, there are only three or four large private education institutions in Jakarta that provide IT-based education for students from elementary through to high school levels.
She said, "This is very sad, because we believe programmers will be the ones moving this world."
ComputerStar provides computer-based education from elementary to high school levels, and since its inception 20 years ago, some 330 schools across the country use its curriculum.
According to Maria, computer-based learning centers see an annual increase in the number of participating schools of only 7 to 10 percent. She added that most of the recipients were private schools, "because giving computer lessons is expensive".
In addition to the government-issued computer-based curriculum, ComputerStar also gives lessons on using image editing applications like Photoshop, and computer programming applications like C++.
Maria added, "We teach what is stipulated in the Education Ministry's curriculum, but we also feel it's important for the students to keep up with current trends."
In 2003, the government revised the 1989 law on education, giving schools more freedom in allocating their government funding.
Education Minister Bambang Sudibyo said the reluctance of schools to enhance the quality of IT education by improving their curriculum is part of a trial and error process.
"The schools are just surprised with having to handle so much money. They don't know what to do with it yet," he said.
He added, "We feel we should stop telling schools what to do with their money. We cut out that government bureaucracy because public school students tend to become rigid, it doesn't help their creativity. We want schools to allocate funds for whatever field they need to concentrate on."
The new law also replaced the old curriculum with a new competence-based curriculum that requires students to pass several subjects, including moral studies. In IT studies, the curriculum only requires students to have basic word processing skills and an understanding of computer icons.
"Basically we're allowing each school to compete with each other," Bambang said. "But in 10 or 15 years, we should see some results from democratizing the curriculum."
Bambang said the government had also taken steps to provide IT education by providing an e-learning system, which connects schools to the Internet to highlight IT education.
In 1997, the government created a distance-learning program, which was the basis for the development of an e-learning system. Then in 2006, the ministry launched a national education network, which connected about 750 public schools to the Internet.
Heru Sutadi, a telecommunications observer, argues that this has not translated into a wider use of network services.
"There is an improvement in terms of our online services, both in the business and government sectors," he said. "But those services still can't function as a main service center, because the infrastructure is not evenly spread out, there is limited troubleshooting expertise and limited IT awareness."
"Also, the available broadband services are limited, and are fairly expensive," he added.
According to the Indonesian Association of Internet Service Providers, only 10 percent of the population is connected to the Internet, compared to 90 percent in neighboring Singapore.
Heru said Indonesia had to start increasing the quality of IT education.
"It's our duty to ensure that future Indonesian workers master IT across the board, through formal and non-formal means," he said.
He added, "If we don't start now, when will our position change from simply using or seeing all these foreign products coming in and out, to actually being the producers?"