Finding a Good School the Hard Way

City News – Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Agnes Winarti, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta


Private schools that set high tuition fees — and tag themselves with “national plus” and “international standards” labels — are easy to find nowadays.


The question remains, however, whether the tags portray the schools’ determination to provide quality education or are merely a device to attract wealthy parents.


“Parents must be careful because these tags might be just a gimmick,” said Sahat Panggabean, parent of a student at the private national plus school John Calvin International School (JCIS) in East Jakarta, recently closed due to bankruptcy.


“Before enrolling we knew the school did have classes with English instruction and an international curriculum from some foreign educational institution. But we couldn’t be certain about the commitment of the school management.”


The school, which applied Cambridge International Examinations as its curriculum since establishing itself last year, closed in mid-May due to failure to pay rent on its 8,185 square-meter school building.


Financial difficulties led to the school’s inability to pay two months of salary to 18 of its elementary and secondary teachers.


“The school management blamed financial difficulties for JCIS’ closure. They later persuaded parents to move students to their other school, Saint Peter’s School, still under construction. How could they do that with ease?” Panggabean said.


“Clearly, the management had no commitment to invest in education. They were merely looking for a high return. So, when they encountered a problem like this, their solution was simply based on how to save their own money.”


He said parents later found out JCIS, which registered students in classes from elementary through senior high levels, only had a license for its elementary and junior high schools.


Panggabean’s family’s first involvement with the school management started when he enrolled his daughter in Saint Peter’s National Plus School, which had the same board members as JCIS but was not an international school.


The management told him they had opened an international school called John Calvin and offered his daughter a place there. He took it, paying an entrance fee of US$2,500 and a monthly tuition fee at $180.


“Because of her good grades, JCIS gave me a 10 percent discount off the tuition fee, which was supposed to be $200,” he said.


“I thought JCIS would be better than Saint Peter’s National Plus School because it meets an international standard and because part of its stock was owned by the former education minister Wardiman Djojonegoro.”


Wardiman, recently quoted in the daily newspaper Warta Kota compared the failed JCIS management to a broken bus. “It’s just like a bus broken down on the road to Bandung, understandably the passengers got upset.”


Another parent, Prisca Delima, regretted how JCIS settled the case.


“The management should have fought better to keep the school running instead of closing it down just like that.


“The government should also set clear regulations to control this kind of school, especially its quality, so that the investors don’t see schools merely as commercial enterprises and neglect the educational mission,” said Prisca, who has moved her two children to another private school.


Senior educator Soedijarto from the Jakarta State University said many investors put their money into schools to become richer.


“I haven’t seen any pure dedication to education in their motivation.”


Prisca said some of JCIS’ teachers did not seem to have mastered the subjects as they had no educational background in the particular subject they taught in English.


Edison Nababan, a parent from a “national plus school with international standards” in Kemang Pratama, Bekasi, said “I doubted the label international because it is unclear what international means. But what can I say? My wife wanted our son enrolled in a national plus elementary school because it seemed to have higher prestige.


“New teachers come and go and most of them are fresh graduates without teaching experience. How can the school be called a national plus with international standards?


“Now, look what we have, a fifth grader who still can’t multiply 17 times 7,” Edison said, who pays Rp 2 million ($220) monthly tuition and up to Rp 20 million ($2,200) in entrance fees.


“I paid a large amount of money. I expect full return, which means my son becomes clever without my interference,” he said.


Education observer Setiono Sugiharto added that parents looking for schools for their children must communicate with other parents.


“Cross-checking and experience sharing with other parents is crucial to finding out how the school’s curriculum is applied in a real classroom.


“Many wealthy parents are ignorant of the quality of the educational content. Instead they tend to prioritize only the school labels,” Setiono said.