Indonesia’s education system sorely lacking leadership

Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat and Zainul Yasni Adzarna illustrate how a failure to focus on leadership in Indonesia promotes deep flaws within its education system.

Debates concerning Indonesia’s education system often revolve around curriculum, budget, teachers and students. However, discussions seldom touch on the one individual crucial to advancing the education system; the school principal (often referred to as Kepala Sekolah).

Leaders play a significant role in the success or failure of an educational institution. Numerous theories on leadership state that a change in president, CEO, head of department, or the school principal triggers a transformation in the expectations of those they lead.

In Indonesia, the relatively poor condition and slow rate of change in the education system could be caused by the lack of attention paid to leadership. This is evident in a number of ways.

Of the country’s numerous higher education institutions, not one university offers an educational leadership program, instead favouring majors in educational management and administration. This highlights that Indonesia remains less concerned with strong leadership competencies in the educational system.

Moreover, in many prominent journals on educational leadership, very few discuss school leadership in Indonesia. Even then, these studies are often conducted by experts from overseas; compared with neighbouring countries in Asia, education experts in Indonesia have failed to consider educational leadership as important.

Perhaps this situation is caused by the belief that Indonesia does not really need such leadership, or the fact that the importance of educational leadership is often overlooked.

In fact, the competency standards required of a head of school under the Ministry of Education list five dimensions – personality, management, entrepreneurship, supervision, and social. None place specific emphasis on leadership. Even though they seem the same, leadership and management are strikingly different.

The former is concerned with vision, motivation, inspiration and innovation, and concentrates on human resources to create change and improvement. Meanwhile, management addresses planning and administration, and focuses on the system and structure to achieve a goal. In simple terms, a manager accepts the status quo, while leaders challenge it. In other words, both do the right thing, having roles that are equally important, but complementary.

Recently, more and more studies reveal the strong linkage between the success of an educational institution  and its leader. While some studies find that the school principal does not directly influence student achievement, many conclude that the school leader has a strong influence on creating an educational environment that is supportive, conducive and convenient for both students and teachers.

Unfortunately, the majority of school principals in Indonesia view their roles and functions as limited to a management and administration level. Government training and education is provided to aspiring school principals, but focuses overwhelmingly on managerial aspects. In reality, leadership values should be the main priority to drive effective reform in the education system.

Meanwhile in the global context, as demonstrated in data gathered by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in several developed countries, of the five functional aspects of a school leader, four emphasise leadership and only one touches on the managerial domain. This highlights that leadership in the world of education is a top priority in running an educational organisation, thus contradicting the situation in Indonesia.

It is clear that steps must be taken to meet the needs of educational leadership in Indonesia. The government needs to re-formulate the national competency standards of school principals in favour of leadership aspects. Moreover, there is a need to place more emphasis on enhancing leadership competence in the education and training of prospective principals.

Meanwhile, those who have become school principals should be encouraged to carry on pursuing Continuous Professional Development (CPD) to hone and improve their leadership competencies. Furthermore, universities and higher institutions should begin to open educational leadership programs to prepare those who will work in the country’s education system. Last but not least, the government, alongside educational institutions, must facilitate researchers and academics to conduct research in the field of educational leadership.

Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat is a PhD scholar at the University of Manchester.

Zainul Yasni Adzarna is a postgraduate student in Educational Leadership at Queen’s University Belfast.


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