Center for Educational Assessment

Overview of Education System

Education at the national level in Indonesia is based on Pancasila—the philosophical foundation of the Indonesian state set forth in the 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia and enacted in June 2003 (Law Number 20).1 The goal of education in Indonesia is to develop the nation’s capability, character, and civilization by enhancing its students’ intellectual capacity and fostering certain human values: being faithful and pious to one and only one God; possessing a moral and noble character; being healthy, knowledgeable, competent, creative, and independent; and acting as democratic and responsible citizens.

Since 1999, Indonesia has decentralized some of its educational authority to provinces and districts. In accordance with Government Regulation Number 25 (2000) there are some aspects of education that remain managed centrally by the Ministry of National Education, including: student competency standards, national curricula, and national assessments for learning outcomes; textbook standards; the acquisition and implementation of academic degrees; guidelines for educational budgeting; and instructional hours for basic and secondary education.

National and regional authorities share responsibility for educational policy in Indonesia. Law Number 23 (2014) classifies governmental relations into three categories: absolute national authorities, concurrent national and regional authorities, and presidential authorities. National authorities are responsible for managing teacher education and providing teacher professional development schemes, for example, while regional authorities are responsible for transferring teachers within provinces or districts. Policies for national education standards are managed by national authorities, while basic education schools (Grades 1 to 12) and nonformal schools are managed by regional authorities.

The educational system in Indonesia is structured in streams consisting of formal education, nonformal education, and informal education. These streams can complement and enrich each other through face to face classroom interactions, which may be supplemented or replaced with distance learning at higher levels of education. Formal education consists of three levels—basic, secondary, and higher education—and includes several types—general, vocational, professional, vocational-technical, religious, and special education. All streams, levels, and types of education are educational units organized by the national government, local governments, the community, or any combination thereof.

Early childhood education is provided prior to basic education in all streams (formal, non-formal, and informal education). In formal education, early childhood education is provided at general and Islamic kindergartens (Taman Kanak-Kanak or Bustanul Athfal/Raudatul Athfal, respectively). In nonformal education, early childhood education takes place in play groups (Kelompok Bermain), at child care centers (Taman Penitipan Anak), or in other similar settings. In informal education, early childhood education takes the form of family education or education in the community.

Basic education lays a foundation for secondary education and takes place in two stages: primary, Grades 1 to 6 (ages 7 to 12), and junior secondary, Grades 7 to 9 (ages 13 to 15). Primary education is provided at general and Islamic primary schools (Sekolah Dasar or Madrasah Ibtidaiyah, respectively), and other schools of the same level. Junior secondary education is provided at general and Islamic junior secondary schools (Sekolah Menengah Pertama or Madrasah Tsanawiyah, respectively), and other schools of the same level.

Secondary education (Grades 10 to 12, ages 16 to 18) is the continuation of basic education and comprises general secondary and vocational secondary education. It is provided at general and Islamic senior secondary schools (Sekolah Menengah Atas and Madrasah Aliyah, respectively), vocational senior secondary schools (Sekolah Menengah Kejuruan), Islamic vocational senior secondary schools (Madrasah Aliyah Kejuruan), and other schools of this level.

Higher education follows secondary education and consists of diploma, bachelor’s, master’s, specialized postgraduate, and doctoral degree programs. Higher education is provided at academies, polytechnics, schools of higher learning or specialization (sekolah tinggi), institutes, and universities. These institutions provide education, research, and community services and offer academic, professional, and vocational and technical programs. The structure of Indonesia’s formal education system is presented in Exhibit 1.

Exhibit 1: Formal Education System, According to Law No. 20 (2003)2


Nonformal education is provided for community members as a replacement, complement, or supplement to formal education in support of lifelong learning.3 Nonformal education aims to develop student potential with an emphasis on acquiring knowledge and functional skills, as well as honing personal and professional attitudes. Nonformal education includes the following program types: life skills; early childhood, youth, and women’s empowerment and literacy education; vocational training and internships; equivalency programs; and other kinds of education aimed at developing student abilities.

Families and communities may provide informal education in place of formal education. Upon completion of informal education, students have the opportunity to take an assessment measuring their achievement against national education standards. If they are successful, their informal education is recognized as equivalent to formal or nonformal education.

In accordance with Indonesian law, faith-based education is provided by the national government or by religious groups or organizations. The main aim of faith-based education is to prepare students as community members who understand and live with religious values and to help students acquire expertise in religious studies. Faith-based education is provided in formal, nonformal, and informal education streams.

Special education is provided for gifted learners, as well as for students who have difficulty engaging in typical learning processes due to physical, emotional, mental, or social disabilities. Special education also is provided for students in remote, isolated, and less developed areas and for students affected by natural disaster, social conflict, or economic disadvantage.

Distance education is available in all streams, levels, and education types and provides services for students who cannot attend regular classes because of distance or financial cost. Distance education is provided in various forms and is supported by learning facilities and services as well as an assessment system to ensure graduates meet national education standards.

Languages of Instruction

Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia) is the official language of Indonesia and the primary language of instruction in schools. The country has a large number of population subgroups based on language and ethnicity. The most prominent minority languages are Javanese and Sumatran, and these often are used as languages of instruction in combination with Indonesian, particularly in Grades 1 to 3 in elementary schools. English is taught officially beginning in Grade 7, and is used as the language of instruction in international schools (typically attended by children of expatriates) and in schools that implement international curriculum standards. These schools are few in number and located mostly in big cities.