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Affirmative Program in Indonesia’s Education

 Written by Zahra Annisa Fitri (81822200028)
for Ritsumeikan University PBL Program's Cross-Cultural Studies course

Indonesia's diversity is something we are usually proud of. However, it also creates a disparity in educational access, generating gaps in participation among people of different economic and geographical backgrounds, whereas Indonesia's Constitution stipulates that every citizen has an equal right to acquire a good education. Therefore, the government must provide and execute an education system with equal access for every Indonesian citizen. However, a "discriminatory policy" named affirmative action still must be taken because current circumstances in Indonesia still show inequality in education participation.

Affirmative action refers to policies and programs created to foster social equality. Education is one of the common sectors that implement affirmative action. It is done through the preferential treatment of disadvantaged people. So, it is a discriminatory policy but in a positive way. Ideally, it is transient only until particular community groups obtain the same chances as others.

Opposite parties, however, indeed exist. More people have thought that affirmative action needs to be abolished and mentioned that deciding on someone based on belonging to a protected group rather than on their capabilities can be counterproductive to society. Some members of protected groups also admit it because it constructs a presumption of lack of capability and preferential treatment that deprives them of the respect of their colleagues. Affirmative action also may lead to reverse discrimination as another problem.

Nonetheless, this essay aims to prove that Indonesia still needs to implement affirmative action in the education sector to actualize education equality as the Constitution stipulated. This essay will narrate the affirmative actions in Indonesia, explain the impacts, rebut the claims that reject Indonesia's affirmative action, and reaffirm why affirmative action in the education sector is still needed in Indonesia.

Affirmative actions in Indonesia could be found in primary to tertiary education. In Penerimaan Peserta Didik Baru (PPDB), or new student enrollment for primary and secondary education, there is a 15% quota for affirmative action. It is divided again into these categories: 7% for low-income families registered as recipients of government assistance, 5% for children of labourers registered as recipients of government assistance and having a trade union membership certificate, and 3% for persons with disabilities having a certificate from a psychologist, psychiatrist, or specialist doctor and a certificate from the previous school regarding the type of student's disability.

As for tertiary education, there are three main ways to enter the universities: SNMPTN, SBMPTN, and Mandiri. Seleksi Bersama Masuk Perguruan Tinggi Negeri or SBMPTN is an Indonesian college entrance system in public universities using written examinations nationally. However, for example, the distribution of students accepted at ITB (one of the top 3 universities in Indonesia) is still not evenly distributed. Most prospective students who passed are from West Java, Central Java, East Java, and DKI Jakarta. That fact is not unexpected because the quality of education in Java and non-Java is unequal. I have experienced it because I attended the best public junior high school in Bekasi, West Java, and Medan, North Sumatra. The difference was tangible. Thus, SBMPTN is perhaps not fair for students outside Java.

That is why besides SBMPTN, there are other ways to enter universities. One of them is SNMPTN. Universities should accept forthcoming students with outstanding academic accomplishments who are expected to finish their studies on time. Therefore, students who have excellent achievements and consistently show their triumphs in high school deserve the chance to become students through the SNMPTN, or National Selection for State Universities. Schools report school performance and students' academic achievement, then the Higher Education Entrance Test Institution (LTMPT) process and decide who can enter the universities. In 2019, while only 2 students from my high school passed the SBMPTN and entered ITB, 10 people passed the SNMPTN.

I want to say that even when two people get ready together with the same effort, the result may be different due to external factors, while external factors such as worse education facilities are not the students' fault. For example, because education quality in Sumatra is not as good as in Java, the number of students from outside Java who enter the top universities in Indonesia is fewer than the number of students from Java. Therefore, it is better to accept them first so they can get the same quality and the gap is not getting more significant.

That argument aligns with the reply in the Introducing Political Philosophy book, Affirmative Action and Discrimination chapter. It is said that while it is true that these individuals may not be the best qualified, this is sometimes the case only because this discrimination has set back their chances to develop their abilities. The further obstacles some socially salient groups' members encounter are another reason many practices fail to attach to the meritocracy's principle. Making decisions solely depending on an applicant's qualifications is similar to judging who is the fastest by examining who crossed the finish line without evaluating whether all runners started from the same line. Affirmative action can correct this error.

Besides the affirmative quota in general student enrollment in Indonesia, there is the ADIK scholarship program, which provides financial assistance in higher education specifically for students from Papua, West Papua, and frontier, outermost, and disadvantaged (3T) areas, as well as children of Indonesian migrant workers.

The condition of education in Papua and 3T areas are different compared to Sumatra, where I live, and more different if compared to Java as the centre of Indonesia. The education is still minimal because so many children do not go to school, while some who go to school do not continue their education due to financial limitations, limited school equipment, and lack of facilities and infrastructure. School infrastructure and the quality of teaching staff or teachers lag behind other areas.

In addition to the ADIK, there is also the ADEM (Secondary Education Affirmation) program. The ADEM is a form of scholarship intended for students currently studying for high school and is included in the top 10 rankings, which will then be registered and selected with very tight competition among fellow students in the Papua region. ADEM is connected to ADIK as the follow-up program from ADEM in which students who receive both scholarships will be distributed to overseas areas in Indonesia, especially in Java and Bali, so that the students can experience proportional learning in educational institutions outside the land of Papua or 3T areas.

We all know that education improves people's cognition of themselves and the world. It enhances the quality of life and provides comprehensive social benefits to individuals and society because it boosts productivity and creativity, promoting entrepreneurship and technological advancements. Thus, education is crucial in securing economic and social progress and improving income distribution. In short, when affirmative action is pushing equal distribution of education, it is also pushing economic equality, which drives the equitable distribution of community welfare.

Another benefit of affirmative actions in Indonesia is that underdeveloped regions will have graduates with superior quality and qualified human resources. They will be on par with other students in Indonesia and expected to make suitable development in their hometowns, so those underdeveloped regions will be developed too, thanks to putra daerah ("son of the region", a person who is indigenous to a specific locality or region).

Like the question Introducing Political Philosophy book raised, is there some sense that a student from a specific group is better to enter the university? In Bakke's case, the black students are under-represented, so whereas the two students contribute equally to the academic environment, the black student is better able than the white student to advance the university's goal of having a racially diverse student population. In Indonesia's case, students from Papua and 3T areas are better able than others to support the creation of equal distribution of education in Indonesia. I do not know whether those affirmative programs have this kind of requirement, but the Indonesian Education Scholarship (BPI), a scholarship program funded by the Indonesian government to finance higher education in Indonesian or overseas institutions, require the scholars to return to Indonesia after finishing studies on time and use the knowledge and experience they obtain from their studies in advancing Indonesia—a virtuous mission to help the country as a devotion. At least, as the native of Papua and 3T areas, they have immense potential to contribute back to their area and become role models, which in the future triggers development so that it is equal, whose final goal is after the error is corrected, affirmative action will not exist because it is no longer relevant.

Nevertheless, affirmative action is still relevant as there is still a gap in Indonesia's education quality due to economic and country development inequality. It has even widened due to the pandemic.

Besides the "affirmative action in Indonesia is no longer relevant" argument (tackled in the previous paragraph), another rejection is arisen concerning that it might miss the target. I can not deny that some affirmative quota is taken by a student who does not deserve it. Because one of the requirements is based on the economic level and region, some students fake their condition—for example, fake Certificates of Poverty. However, I think the solution is not to abolish the affirmative program but to eliminate document falsification with tighter regulation and punishment. Then, as for the region, Indonesia has defined underdeveloped areas based on specific criteria, so it should be clear that only students from those certain regions have the right to get opportunities from this program, who indeed have received injustice due to the inequality in the quality of education in their regions. Besides, the merit system is still used in affirmative programs, but the students compete with those with the same condition. So, still, the chosen one is the one who can perform.

In conclusion, Indonesia still needs to implement affirmative action in education. The implementations can be found in affirmative quota in general student enrollment as well as financial assistance provisions for affirmative students. Affirmative programs are expected to push equal distribution of education that can create economic equality, which drives the equitable distribution of community welfare. It is still relevant, and as long as the selection system includes a merit system and the regulation can be tightened, Indonesia should not abolish affirmative actions for now.

Word count: 1,710 words

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