Evaluating How Teacher Reforms in Decentralised Indonesia Can Promote Learning Gains – RISE Launches in Indonesia

© Mukti Mulyana

Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) officially launched in Indonesia on 26 September at an event held in Jakarta. Representatives from RISE, including RISE Research Director Lant Pritchett, introduced the Programme and described the need to conduct education systems research in Indonesia. The event enabled the team to engage with key stakeholders to discuss how research can be relevant for policy formulation and opened the door to create a forum to facilitate and build a knowledge sharing network for Indonesian policy makers and education researchers.

Attendees present included policy makers, legislators, think-tanks, academics, non-governmental organisations, development partners, and private sector representatives.

Why is RISE Conducting Education Systems Research in Indonesia?

Indonesia has achieved a gender-balanced, near-universal enrollment rate at the primary school level, and an estimated 80 percent of its students enroll in secondary school (PDSPK 2015). Despite this success, the country faces a learning crisis. Despite significant investments in education, the results of the Indonesia National Assessment Programme (INAP) 2016 show that 77 percent of elementary school students do not master basic mathematics, while roughly 73 percent of the students do not master science and almost 50 percent have low reading skills.

Learning outcomes between regions also show a high degree of inequality. The probability of second graders of elementary schools in Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, and Papua not being able to read is four times larger than the national average; the probability of those students not being able to read fluently and understand the content is half the national average (Stern and Nordstrum, 2014).

Teacher quality is a major concern - most of the nation’s 3 million teachers did not pass a recent test in basic subjects (World Bank, 2015) – and as research has found, high-quality teachers are needed for an education system to thrive (Bruns and Luque, 2014). Thus, a major issue to be addressed involves finding ways to effectively use resources in order to improve teaching quality and, in turn, student learning in both urban and rural settings.

Over the last decade, the most significant reform undertaken by the government to improve teaching quality was the 2005 Teacher Law. The Law stipulates that teachers go through a series of procedural certification processes that leads to a doubling of their base pay. This effort continues to cost the government billions of pounds due to the increase in teacher salaries, and yet has failed to improve learning outcomes (de Ree et al., 2015). Despite the significant investments in improving teacher quality, equipping schools, and hiring teachers; Indonesian teachers struggle to tackle Indonesia’s learning crisis.

In order to address these challenges, the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture (MoEC) has outlined a vision to reform five areas related to teachers, comprising of: (1) teacher distribution, (2) teacher recruitment, (3) teacher professional development, and (4) identifying and rewarding the best teachers. Another aspect of the reform is the implementation of computer-based testing (CBT). The reforms have the potential to generate significant, system-level changes in how teachers are hired, recruited, managed, and incentivised – and, as a result, the reforms hold the potential to impact student learning. At the same time, district policies will also affect teachers’ performances.

The RISE Programme in Indonesia is designed to generate evidence on the results of these reforms implemented by the Ministry. The research team will analyse the policies, investigate their origins, assess how they are associated with student learning, and explore the coherence – or lack of coherence – between national initiatives and their execution ‘on the ground’ in local districts. The research team will scrutinise the effects of a wide range of reforms to understand whether they are effective in improving learning, and, if so, why. Overall, the work in Indonesia is intended to provide insights into the underlying reasons why policy levers intended to improve student achievement work or fail – and to use these insights to inform policies both within Indonesia and globally.

"The RISE Programme in Indonesia will generate knowledge to help Indonesia’s quest to transition its education focus from access to learning," added Sudarno Sumarto, the Team Leader of the RISE Country Research Team in Indonesia.

"Indonesia has increased spending on education, and there is a meaningful drive for more results in education. I hope that this research will help in ensuring that this additional spending will translate into improvements in learning outcomes," said Menno Pradhan, the RISE country team’s lead researcher. He is a professor in project and programme evaluation for international development, at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the University of Amsterdam.

The RISE Programme in Indonesia is led by the SMERU Research Institute (SMERU), an Indonesian, independent institution that conducts research and public policy studies on socioeconomic and poverty specific issues. SMERU, together with the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development and Mathematica Policy Research, will conduct a five-year research program that will examine how national and district governments in decentralised Indonesia support and learn from each other in the implementation of policy towards teachers and national exams in order to improve students’ education levels.

"As an Indonesian, I would like to see this research project contribute to the improvement of the Indonesian school system so that children will really learn," said Heni Kurniasih, a political scientist working on the project, and a senior researcher at SMERU. "I think there is a lot of potential for cross learning. I hope that an understanding of what elements in the system actually contribute to better learning can also lead other countries to improve."

"The fact that nearly every child is in school represents an enormous victory for humankind," said Lant Pritchett, RISE Research Director, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, and a professor of the practice of international development at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He continued, "Now that they are there, let’s continue that momentum to make sure that every child in school is learning."


The Country Research Team in Indonesia, together with teams in Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Tanzania, and Vietnam, is a part of the RISE Programme, an in-depth, multi-year research on education system that aims to shed light on ways to address a global learning crisis. The RISE agenda emphasises the need to make changes that can provide children with the education they require to be successful adults in their local, national, and global communities. This research has been made possible through funding from the UK and Australian governments.