Schools and Education in Indonesia

One of the most important consideration on whether to make that leap of moving to Indonesia, is the schooling options of our children. Parents moving children from abroad are naturally apprehensive in sending their kids to a completely different environment. Additionally, there are many available options for schools in Indonesia, beyond the simple private/public separation that most people may be accustomed to. This article is an overview of the options for primary education in Indonesia, with listed pros and cons.


International Schools

Although since 2015 the Ministry of Education no longer allows the word “International” in a school’s name due to concerns of misuse of the term, these schools are still colloquially referred to as International schools.

They typically use IB or Cambridge curriculum, with allowance for some Indonesian topics, such as Bahasa Indonesia, and local cultural content. They follow a typical 5-day school week, usually from about 8 am to 3 pm.

The language of instruction is usually English, the pupils hail from many parts of the world, including Indonesia. The teaching staff is usually mostly expat, although Indonesian teachers are also employed.

Fees are high, ranging from USD 2,500-25,000 per year, depending on school and grade age. This is on top of initial enrollment fees which could also be in the USD 2,500 to 5,000 range, and recurring fees usually labelled as administration fee, facility fee, IT fee of similar.

Facilities are typically excellent, including computing facilities, libraries, musical instruments, sporting facilities etc., allowing students a wide range of curricular activities.

Pros: International curriculum, English as instructional language, multi-cultural student body, world class facilities.
Cons: Expensive.

National Plus Schools

These schools follow the Indonesian national curriculum, and then they add international curriculum, or additional instructions in English, or additional extracurricular activities. If this seems a bit confusing, you are not mistaken.

Although there exist an accreditation body, Association of National and Private Schools (ANPS), there is no government enforced standards. Thus, quality vary widely, from a school similar in quality to the best International schools, to a school that maybe has one expat teacher teaching all English classes and calling themselves National Plus.

Still the better National Plus schools are very good, and are often a bargain compared to a full fledged International School.

National Plus schools are also often affiliated with a religious denomination. Pupils are mostly Indonesian, but also with a lot of expat and mixed-marriage kids as well, thus the student body quite multi-cultural.

Pros: Possible to get good education at a lower price than International school, multi-cultural student body, good facilities.
Cons: Careful research is required to determine the quality of schools you are considering.

National Schools

These are schools that follow the Indonesian curriculum. They are split into:

  • Sekolah Dasar (SD – Grades 1-6)
  • Sekolah Menengah Pertama (SMP – Grades 7-9)
  • Sekolah Menengah Atas (SMA – Grades 10-12)

There are public and private schools. Public schools are often simply numbered by city (such as SMA Negeri 1 – Denpasar), while private schools have proper names.

Indonesian schools usually follow a 6 day school week, with Friday being a half day, and the rest of the time school run from about 7am to 1pm.

The Indonesian curriculum requires religious education in one of the 6 sanctioned state religions, although in rural areas where there aren’t many adherents outside the main religion, it is possible that only 1 religion is taught.

Private National schools are typically affiliated with a religious denomination, most prominently Catholic schools. Prior to the rise of International and National Plus schools, the Indonesian elite would send their kids to Catholic schools regardless of their own religion due to the quality of education. However, outside the very highest rated National schools, quality of education is often mediocre, and facilities sorely lacking. It is not uncommon for teachers to be absent and classes dismissed early. Rules are often strict, and a lot of time is often spent on things such as “flag rising ceremonies”.

While a viable option for expats wishing to immerse their children in the Indonesian experience, and to mixed-marriage children, careful research is recommended before choosing a school. On the flip side, tuition ranges from practically free to about $400/year.

Pros: Adequate education, for a very low price. Total Indonesian immersion.
Cons: Rigid national curriculum, facilities often lacking, careful research is strongly recommended before choosing a school. School day that starts at 7am.

Islamic Schools

Recently gaining popularity, Islamic schools are now available in every major city. They are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Religion (not Education), so it can be immediately inferred where the priorities are. Madrasah Ibtidaiyah (MI), Madrasah Tsanawiyah (MT) and Madrasah Aliyah (MA), are the level equivalent of SD, SMP and SMA, respectively. Similar to National schools in secular education, these schools however add strong emphasis on Islamic Studies and Arabic. Students attire follow Islamic religious requirements, as do all other curricular activities. Cautions that apply to National Schools also apply to Islamic Schools, namely lack of facilities, rigid curriculum, and so on.

Pros: Adequate education, low price. Islamic content for those who desire it.
Cons: Rigid curriculum, facilities often lacking, careful research is strongly recommended before choosing a school.

General tips for choosing a school

  • Visit the school. This goes without saying, but we are saying it anyway. The school should be happy to have a parent visit the school, and should be prepared to have a representative answer questions and give a tour of the school.
  • Location: Children (and ideally parents) should not have to travel more than 1 hour to school everyday. You may have to make a compromise between school distance and quality.
  • Ask to see the curriculum or have it explained. Check for accreditation.
  • Check out the school grounds: are the facilities available as described? Does it look well maintained?
  • Are children’s work prominently displayed? Or is it just posters from the bookstore? Does it look like only the best kids’ work is displayed?
  • Peek into classrooms: Are all classes supervised by a teacher? Or are there many kids milling about doing nothing? How engaged are the teachers? The students?
  • Get reference from a parent. If you don’t know anyone, ask on Expat Indo Forum.


Ask Expat Indo Community!

Note: This article was originally published in the Expat Indo forum on 21/07/2016, for further discussion please join us at Expat Indo Forum.

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About dafluff 24 Articles
Dafluff is a second generation expat in Indonesia. His parents, being a mixed WNA-WNI couple, moved the entire family to Bali in the early 80s. He was educated in the Indonesian national school system, then obtained engineering degrees in the US and lived in the US and Canada. A relatively recent returnee to Indonesia, he has benefited greatly from the online expat community, and is working hard to return the favor.