The character of Indonesia’s educational system reflects its diverse religious heritage, its struggle for a national identity, and the challenge of resource allocation in a poor but developing nation made up of archipelagos with a young and rapidly growing population.
In 1973 Suharto issued an order to set aside portions of oil revenues for the construction of new primary schools. This act resulted in the construction or repair of nearly 40,000 primary school facilities by the late 1980s, a move that greatly facilitated the goal of universal education.
In general, Indonesia’s educational system still faces a shortage of resources difficulties in the areas of teacher salaries, teacher certification and finding qualified personnel. Providing textbooks and other school equipment throughout the archipelago is also a significant problem.
The government’s emphasis on nationalism, humanism, representative government, social justice and monotheism (Pancasila) in public schools has been resisted by some of the Muslim majority. A distinct but vocal minority of these Muslims prefer to receive their schooling in a residential learning center (pesantren). Usually in rural areas and under the direction of a Muslim scholar, pesantren are attended by young people seeking a detailed understanding of the Quran, the Arabic language, the sharia and Muslim traditions and history. Students can enter and leave the pesantrenany time of the year and studies are not organized as a progression of courses leading to graduation. Although not all pesantren are equally orthodox, most are and the chief aim is to produce good Muslims.