It started with colonialism's need for skilled workers. The
Dutch East Indies government then opened education to the Indonesian people.
Who would have guessed that the seeds of nationalism would sprout in an
unexpected place, namely boarding and rented rooms?
On February 24, 1817, the Dutch East Indies established its
first modern schools. There were two schools in Batavia: Weltevreden and
Molenvlier. Unfortunately, the schools were only available to the families of
the Java regents.
It took 31 years for the Dutch East Indies government to
allow schools to be opened to the public or, more accurately, to natives, on
December 30, 1848. In the regency capitals and central business cities, the
locations were more dispersed. Although the level was only elementary school,
the cost was so high that it was only available to children from aristocratic
and wealthy families.
Secondary schools were established 12 years later, in 1860.
Only in the twentieth century were university-level high schools made available
to the public. In 1902, one of them was the indigenous medical school.
This means that it took the Dutch East Indies government
half a century to allow the start of basic education for the people and nearly
a century to open a permit to operate universities. So don't be surprised if
this country, like other ex-colonial countries, falls behind in the modern
world. Colonialism not only robbed the colony of its land and natural
resources, but it also deprived the colonized of access to modern education.
When Queen Wilhelmina delivered a speech on ethical politics
to the Dutch parliament in 1901, she did not know that her policy, which
resulted in the establishment of high schools in the Dutch East Indies, would
create a situation of change that would shake her colonial nails.
The Dutch-founded higher education eventually brought
together the youth of the archipelago, who were descendants of the nobles, the
wealthy, or those with thin minds and were sponsored by the Dutch.
Discrimination in the Dutch school system and governance,
which Ki Hajar Dewantara experienced, heightened their awareness of
nationalism. Similarly, various prohibitions on all ideas and expressions
opposing colonialism's tyranny.
As a result, a movement arose in the students' boarding
rooms and rented rooms, as happened with Soegondo Djojopuspito and
Kartosoewirjo in Tjokroaminoto's boarding room. Similarly, Soetomo, a boarding
house youth in Madiun and the Netherlands, was the first to use the term
Indonesia in activism in 1922, when he changed Indische Vereeniging to
It was thanks to the boarding house youth that Indonesia was
born as a national entity and became the focal point of the struggle of all
Indonesians who took the Youth Pledge.
The Irony of Education and Youth a Century Later
Indonesia is now a century after Soetomo introduced the term
"Indonesia" to the independence movement. It also marked the 94th
anniversary of the Youth Pledge. The ideas and sweat of the youth and students
propelled them to independence. However, not in terms of access to education,
particularly higher education.
According to data from the statistics agency, as of 2020,
the net enrollment rate (NER) for universities in Indonesia was still low, with
a significant disparity between rural and urban areas. The NER in urban areas
is only 24.9%, while it is only 11.54% in rural areas. This shows that only
about a quarter of urban residents have access to tertiary education, while
only about a tenth of rural residents attend school.
The NER measures school-age children's participation. The
higher the number, the better.
Amid limited access to higher education, bad news has hit
the world of Indonesian education with the continued decline in the quality of
their higher education, according to Times Higher Education's world university
rankings. Their five flagship universities still cannot compete in the global
arena and face being pushed into the 1,000+ position next year. For example,
the University of Indonesia was ranked 601–800 in
2016 but has dropped to 800–1,000 this year.
Because access to basic education in Indonesia is not dispersed,
the situation is deteriorating. The national primary school NER is only 97.7%,
while the junior high school NER is only 80.1%. This means that not everyone in
Indonesia has access to basic education.
Those who have not received a basic education are mostly
concentrated in eastern Indonesia. There are three provinces with the highest
percentages of illiterate people: Papua, West Nusa Tenggara, and West Sulawesi.
Despite the gap in access to education, educational outcomes
remain poor. Consider the PISA score, which lagged far behind other countries
in 2018 and never reached the average of developed countries. The results of
the most recent PISA survey, conducted in 2018, because the 2021 survey was
postponed because of the pandemic, placed Indonesia at 74th place, or sixth
from the bottom. The reading ability of Indonesian students is 371, the math
ability is 379, and the science ability is 396.
The Demographic Advantage Is Merely a Marketing Ploy
When we talk about youth, we often hear rumors about the
demographic advantage of a large proportion of youth in the population’s
pyramid. It is referred to as a bonus because Indonesia has an abundance of
The proportion of the productive age population that is
considered an important asset to driving the economy far outnumbers the
proportion of the unproductive age population that is considered an economic
According to statistics, the dependency ratio in Indonesia
between the productive and non-productive age groups has fallen below 50%. The
lower the dependency ratio, the greater the economic impact. According to the
predictions of the Indonesian development planning agency, it will have a
window of opportunity between 2010 and 2030 with a very low dependency ratio,
reaching its lowest point in 2030.
During this time, Indonesia's population is expected to be
293 million, with a productive-age population of 200.3 million. This productive
population bonus is thought to be the basic capital required to turn the
economic and development engine.
According to the most recent data from Statistics Indonesia,
Indonesia has 144 million people working. 135.6 million people are employed,
while the remaining 8.4 million are unemployed. Then, how much do young people
contribute to the workforce?
Statistics Indonesia did not elaborate. However, data from
taxpayers at the Ministry of Finance can provide indications of the magnitude
of the contribution of the younger generation. Between 1981 and 2012,
Generation Y and Generation Z accounted for 47% of Indonesia's taxpayers.
Because the data only includes personal income taxpayers,
the percentage in the real world is almost certainly higher. This means that
only those who work in the formal sector are recorded. Youth contribute
significantly more to the economy in the informal sector, particularly in the
digital economy, where they dominate but have not yet been taxed.
The dominance of the productive generation in a country
allows the economy to spin faster. The more people earn, the more purchasing
power there is in an economy, which encourages more consumption and investment.
As is well known, public consumption accounts for 53% of
Indonesia's GDP, while investment accounts for 30%. Both become the main
engines of the economy, with a significant impact on the speed of the national
However, there is currently an alarming situation in the
financial structure of Indonesian youth, emphasizing the added value of the
demographic bonus, namely the amount of money they spend to support the living
of family members.
The younger generation is known as the "sandwich
generation" because they are forced to pay for their family's routine
expenses, resulting in their purchasing power not being used optimally to
According to data from Indonesia's millennial report prior
to the pandemic, the average millennial expenditure for family needs reached
51.1% of their monthly routine expenditure. Meanwhile, only 2% of funds are
allocated for investment.
Not to mention the competitiveness of today's youth in the
digital age. One simple example is the scarcity of qualified workers in
critical positions, such as programmers and data scientists. It's no surprise
that Indonesian startups must outsource their work to India.
According to the Greek philosopher Diogenes, Indonesia's foundation is not yet strong enough because education for its youth is still limited. As a result, their opportunities are limited, and they are now caught in a sandwich-generation dilemma.