What is the real cost of education? Or the lack of it?

Debnath Guharoy, Consultant

Teachers Day, November 25, has come and gone. But according to a poll of 1999 respondents nationwide, conducted by Roy Morgan Research, the vast majority of people think teachers aren't well enough rewarded for the job they do.

Asked if "the government should immediately fulfill its promise to increase the budget for education", a staggering 93 percent agreed. Asked if "the government should immediately increase teachers welfare packages", 79 percent gave the nod. That should be reflected in recent public debate on the matter.

If I heard him right, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono hadn't been waiting for the poll results, however. In Bali recently, he reiterated his government's commitment to increase spending on education by 20 percent.

That will go a long way toward raising monthly salaries of some 2.7 million teachers from Rp 2 million to Rp 3 million, with additional allowances for certification, remote schools and camps.

As such, teachers would be among the top five percent of Indonesian wage earners, a position they deserve since they will influence the nation's future. There is probably no other country in the world that can lay claim to such an achievement.

All the signs for Indonesia's march into a well-educated future are positive, improving as time goes by. The younger generations are better educated than their grandparents, and test scores are on the rise for both genders. That is an open invitation for local and international enterprises in the education sector to invest, for mutual gain.

The quality of education provided is as important as education itself, a key factor in preventing children from dropping out in middle school. Efforts to keep youth in school will pay off in myriad ways, not least of all a spurt in university graduates.

Asked if "most secondary schools today place too little emphasis on academic achievements" 53 percent of the population agreed, reconfirming the demand for quality not just quantity. But the government will need a lot more money to meet pressing education needs.

It isn't enough for businesses and armchair politicians to grumble and make demands of government.

Whether driven by profit motives or corporate social responsibility benchmarks, there is room for all types of businesses to contribute to greater education in Indonesia, regardless of industry.

Scholarships can serve to reward employees or customers, for example, the children of long-serving staff or people who open a new bank account: it requires a little imagination but not much effort.

These observations are based on Roy Morgan Single Source, the country's largest syndicated survey with over 27,000 Indonesian respondents annually, projected to reflect 90 percent of the population over the age of 14. That is a universe of 140 million people.

The results are updated every 90 days and used by more marketers, media and creative agencies than any other syndicated survey.

Every freedom-loving nation in the world needs to recognize Indonesia's capability to influence the Islamic world, its voice of moderation and its commitment to democracy and religious tolerance. After all, this is the world's single-largest Moslem population.

Anyone who knows Indonesians knows they are among the most laid-back, tolerant and courteous people.

Extremists exist everywhere -- in Central Java as well as the U.S. "Bible belt". While terrorists in suits may be just as lethal as those in rags, the chances of educated people turning to extremism must be lower than for illiterates.

Taking note of Wahabi money flowing into Indonesian madrassas, it is praiseworthy the Australian government is helping build 2000 schools around the country that will teach a secular curriculum.

Palestinian children being taught in school to hate Jews cannot be good for world peace. Nor can the billion dollars a day spent on keeping the American military machine well oiled. Imagine the power of half that money, if spent on educating under-privileged children around the world, every day.

Anyone who really wants to fight a war on terror needs to help spread the word of peace. What will help the world do that better and faster is an army of well-paid teachers, not well-armed soldiers.

Any wise general will tell you that. I have asked a few and I know their answers. They will tell you there is room for intelligence of many kinds to play a role in building a peaceful, secure future, not just military intelligence.

The writer can be contacted at Debnath.Guharoy@roymorgan.com
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