Working Paper


The Role of District-Level Political Elites in Education Planning in Indonesia: Evidence from Two Districts


Image of Daniel Dyonisius

Daniel Dyonisius

The Education Outcomes Fund

Focus on decentralisation as a way to improve service delivery has led to significant research on the processes of education-policy adoption and implementation at the district level. Much of this research has, however, focused on understanding the working of the district education bureaucracies and the impact of increased community participation on holding teachers to account. Despite recognition of the role of political elites in prioritising investment in education, studies examining this, especially at the district-government level, are rare. This paper explores the extent and nature of engagement of political elites in setting the education-reform agenda in two districts in the state of West Java in Indonesia: Karawang (urban district) and Purwakarta (rural district). The paper shows that for a country where the state schooling system faces a serious learning crisis, the district-level political elites do show considerable levels of engagement with education issues: governments in both districts under study allocate higher percentages of the district-government budget to education than mandated by the national legislation. However, the attitude of the political elites towards meeting challenges to the provision of good-quality education appears to be opportunistic and tokenistic: policies prioritised are those that promise immediate visibility and credit-taking, help to consolidate the authority of the bupati (the top political position in the district-government hierarchy), and align with the ruling party’s political positioning or ideology. A desire to appease growing community demand for investment in education rather than a commitment to improving learning outcomes seems to guide the process. Faced with public pressure for increased access to formal employment opportunities, the political elites in the urban district have invested in providing scholarships for secondary-school students to ensure secondary school completion, even though the district-government budget is meant for primary and junior secondary schools. The bupati in the rural district, has, on the other hand, prioritised investment in moral education; such prioritisation is in line with the community's preferences, but it is also opportunistic, as increased respect for tradition also preserves reverence for the post of the bupati—a position which was part of the traditional governance system before being absorbed into the modern democratic framework. The paper thus shows that decentralisation is enabling communities to make political elites recognise that they want the state to prioritise education, but that the response of the political elites remains piecemeal, with no evidence of a serious commitment to pursuing policies aimed at improving learning outcomes. Further, the paper shows that the political culture at the district level reproduces the problems associated with Indonesian democracy at the national level: the need for cross-party alliances to hold political office, and resulting pressure to share the spoils. Thus, based on the evidence from the two districts studied for this paper, we find that given the competitive and clientelist nature of political settlements in Indonesia, even the district level political elite do not seem pressured to prioritise policies aimed at improving learning outcomes.


Bano, M. and Dyonisius, D. 2022. The Role of District-Level Political Elites in Education Planning in Indonesia: Evidence from Two Districts. RISE Working Paper Series. 22/109.