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Grooming the next generation of leaders in Indonesia

Speech by Gita Wirjawan for GlobeAsia Forum, Jakarta, June 9th, 2009

Let me start with a quote from history: “Think big, do small, and do it now.” We can apply this dictum to breeding future leaders in Indonesia.

Our strategic objective is ambitious, perhaps lofty in a country that has never established a comprehensive system to identify and develop leaders. But we need to start now, and start small in the first instance.
The first phase in this 20-year view needs to ensure that one to two per cent of our population – the creme de la creme of Indonesia – will get the best tertiary education at home and abroad so that they will become locomotives of the rest.

We need to create a highly-educated elite whose thinking and best practices in key public and private sector appointments will undoubtedly percolate downwards. This group of leaders will be Indonesia’s compass.
How do we develop this new generation? The answer is simple. We identify this one to two percent of our population, and invest heavily in them. This is what my foundation is doing. We give scholarships for Indonesians to the best universities at home and abroad.

China is a shining example of this practice. Consider this fact: China has produced 240,000 PhDs over the last 30 years. By 2010, it will have more doctorates than any other country in the world. And this includes the United States. Besides PhDs, the Chinese have also been awarded 1.9 million master’s degrees, and 14.1 million bachelor’s degrees during the same period. Over the last decade, China has registered an annual increase of 20,000 graduate students.
China – and that other Asian giant India – appears to be following the trajectory of industrially advanced countries like the US, Japan, South Korea, and the European Union nations, in placing a premium on education.
Indonesia, the world’s third largest democracy, has produced only a tiny fraction of the numbers China and these other countries have generated. We should change this. By investing in the higher education of the best and brightest in Indonesia, we will be giving the economy a kickstart.

There is a second track we should consider that runs coterminously with the first. We should also invest heavily in basic education, which is the second phase of this long-term view.

Indonesia spends up to 20 per cent of its budget on education. This level is almost on par with developing countries and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations. However, Indonesia’s spending level is still low compared to its neighbors, and since the 1980s, we have spent comparatively less in education, resulting in a deterioration of school buildings and contributing to persistently low learning outcomes by students.

True, Indonesia is close to achieving universal education enrollment. Providing access to primary school education is no longer the main development challenge, although it remains vital to target the remaining eight to 10 per cent of children not yet in primary school. The government is rightly addressing the investment gaps in primary education, but going forward, the focus should turn towards improving the quality of education and increasing enrollments in secondary schools.

Regional discrepancies in access and quality can be reduced through better targeting. Because there are significant differences in educational access and quality across the country, the government could allocate educational funds to provide these lagging districts and provinces sufficient resources to catch up with better performing regions. Poorer local governments tend to spend more than 35 per cent of their budgets on the education sector, but their absolute spending levels are low in comparison with wealthier regions.

The money should go towards increasing basic infrastructure for schools. Let’s not forget teachers. Their overall welfare is lagging – and we should make a concerted attempt to pay them better.

The bottomline is this: we need to step up investments or funding to improve infrastructure for education

We should also give them better training. My foundation is currently working with another to train teachers across the archipelago, so that they can be deployed to any part of Indonesia to serve communities.

All these will have a cumulative effect on raising educational levels in Indonesia. It also increases our talent pool exponentially.

It will light a fire in the minds of the young. The hope ultimately is to build human capital that will give Indonesia that cutting edge in a more globalized and competitive world.