TEACHER SHORTAGE ON THE HORIZON: A looming crisis threatens to derail Jokowi’s human capital vision

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Jakarta, IO – The importance of excellent teachers in school cannot be overstated. In the hands of good teachers, a bad curriculum will generate good graduates, and vice versa. Finland is noted for its exceptional education due to its highly skilled teachers. Teachers in Finland are just as smart and skilled as doctors and engineers. They, like doctors and engineers, are highly regarded. This encourages intelligent, high-achieving young people to undergo training and persue a teaching career. Those who opt to enroll in the country’s teacher training institutions (LPTK) are not among the top ten best high school graduates, unlike here in Indonesia. 

The country is currently dealing with a shortage of both quality and quantity of teachers. A shortage of civil servant (PNS) teachers has existed for the past ten years. If someone claims that we have an overabundance of teachers, they are clearly unaware of the reality. Our teacher-to-student ratio (1:20) was appropriate prior to 2012, but it has been on the decline since then. 

We do have a surplus of teachers, but they are honorary (non-formal) teachers with a wide range of incomes and competency criteria, so they cannot be expected to be at the vanguard of increasing the nation’s educational quality. They are unable to better their own lives, much less the quality of national education. They are “shackled” by powerlessness, low welfare, and uncertain employment status, so what concerns them every day is not the inadequate quality of education, but rather how to make ends meet and secure their own future. 

Why are we only talking about PNS teachers? This is a question that is frequently asked by those who are unaware of the issue. This is why. 

First, PNS teachers are recruited through a fairly strict selection process; they have to undergo several screening stages. So quality wise, they are supposedly more superior. Secondly, being paid fixed monthly salaries and allowances enable them to stay focused at work and have peace of mind because they have certainty in life. Thirdly, they have a clear career path (rank system) so they are encouraged to perform in order to advance their career, including to become a school principal. Fourthly, they also receive retirement benefits so they do not have to worry too much about their future. 

All the positive things that are enjoyed by PNS teachers are not possessed by contract-based government employees (PPPK) teachers. Despite being part of the state civil apparatus (ASN), the benefits they enjoy are vastly different from that of PNS teachers. They do not have job security because their contract can be terminated at any time if the school no longer needs them. They also do not receive pension. Let alone honorary teachers, who teach at public and private schools. They are even more vulnerable: they can be terminated at any time, especially if they demand transparency in the management of school finances (mainly public schools) they will almost certainly not be given teaching hours in the following semester, and that means unilateral termination of employment. There have never been any lawsuits by honorary teachers who were arbitrarily terminated. 

Acute shortage 

The strategic importance of PNS teachers has been described above, that with a clear status, fixed income, and certain future, they will have peace of mind in doing their job so they are expected to produce better graduates. This is not just an assumption; it has been proven that the majority of junior high school graduates accepted at public senior high schools (SMAN) prior to the school zoning system were graduates of public junior high schools. Likewise, most of those accepted into state universities (PTN) are also SMAN graduates. This shows that the quality of public schools taught by PNS teachers is indeed better than private schools taught by honorary teachers. Unfortunately, the Jokowi administration seems less aware of this problem, paying less attention to the recruitment of new PNS teachers. On the contrary, it increases the recruitment of PPPK teachers. 

The shortage of PNS teachers is happening across the country, not only outside Java, but even in West Java, which is notably closer to the center of power. Sukabumi regency, West Java, for example, is 7,980 teachers short. Elementary schools currently have 4,220 PNS teachers, while they need 11,300. In junior high schools, there are 1,100 PNS teachers, while the demand is 6,000. Complicating the matters, in West Java alone, around 50% of PNS teachers will retire in 2023. This means that the province will experience an acute shortage of PNS teachers. 

Why are we experiencing a PNS teacher crisis? First, the massive recruitment of teachers for SD Inpres occurred between 1974- 1984 following the widespread establishment of hundreds of thousands of elementary schools on a presidential decree issued by then president Soeharto after the country enjoyed an oil boom. At that time, Indonesia was still one of the major oil exporting countries. The induction of junior and senior high school teachers took place on a large scale between the 1980s and 1990s following the implementation of the six-year compulsory education (1984) and the nine-year compulsory education (1994). In the 1980s, the government through Teacher Training and Education Institute (IKIP) opened Diploma I, II, and III programs to prepare produce junior high, senior high and vocational school teachers. In accordance with the retirement age limit of 60, those teachers have gradually entered their retirement period since 2012, as what we saw happening in West Java.