Transporting Transportation to Rural Areas is Key to Improve School Enrolment Rates
Muhammad Iqbal Ikhwaanusshafa
School enrolment is an issue that has always been argued to be linked to household income. The wealthier the households, the higher the capability to send children to school. However, we must not overlook the fact that the high contrast of enrolment rates between urban and rural areas is also a matter of public transport gaps.
While urban society enjoys greater convenience and growth, the same cannot be said for rural communities, particularly in developing countries. Today, two-thirds of Asians live in rural areas, with the majority of them living in impoverished communities. According to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), approximately 700 million Asians suffer from socio-spatial isolation, one of which is related to education. Access to schools is difficult in deep rural areas, and teachers are frequently unwilling to work there. As a result, the enrolment rate in schools is decreasing. One country in Asia where this issue remains around is Indonesia. The school enrolment rate in Indonesia is higher in urban areas than in rural. While the enrolment rate gap for children age 15 or below is only around 1-2 percent between rural and urban areas, with the latter scored higher, the enrolment gap for age 16-18, the period where students go to high school in Indonesia is comparatively larger, with urban areas have 75,70% of its high-school-age students who go to school, while rural areas only have 68.84%. Likewise, for university-age students, the enrolment rate is significantly lower in rural (19.09%) than urban areas (33.21%), Indonesian Bureau of Statistics (BPS) 2020 data revealed.
BPS states that social and economic factor is the biggest obstacle for the low enrolment rates in rural areas. This is most apparent for university and higher education levels, where the availability of tertiary institutions in rural areas is still minimal, and continuing to pursue education outside of their rural area is too high of a cost to consider. There is a distance factor that is prevalent in this matter. Students in rural area have to give up their dreams of education the more they get older, as school availability are becoming more limited as the level of education becomes higher, one option for students in rural areas is to enrol in institutions in the city. There is a major problem however, that is transportation in rural areas is still very limited.
Eduardo Vasconcellos in his paper “Rural transport and access to education in developing countries: policy issues” acknowledges that the lack of public transportation and inability to afford private transportation can cause most children in rural areas to drop out of school after only a few years of studying. Even some students are only able to complete less than 4 years of primary education. This is very true in Indonesia’s case, as going back to the data taken by BPS, the higher the education level, the lower the enrolment rate of students in rural areas.
Back in 2019, a story of an elementary school boy named Marianta went viral, where he had to walk for 20 km, which took him 6 hours from his home in Dusun Gulinten to his school in SD 6 Bunutan because there was no transportation that he can take to school. The story was spread throughout social media, and Marianta was invited to a talk show called Hitam Putih. During his time in the show, Marianta asked the President of Indonesia for proper road access so he could go to school and access clean water. Because based on his confession, the area where he lives, the people can only rely on rainwater and small water sources for toilet activities, and to find water sources they have to go away from their village which 1 kilometre down the hill. The story of Marianta is just one of many cases in which students have to walk a long distance just to go to school. There are many undocumented stories of children living in Indonesia being unable to go to school without walking for miles.
“Transport is a crucial facilitator of social inclusion and wellness, which can affect economic and social outcomes, and so can lead to inequality,” according to NatCen Social Research, a social research centre based in the United Kingdom. In this context, inequity refers to a community's lack of transportation, which can have a direct influence on their livelihood. As can be seen from Marianta's example, students without sufficient transportation are forced to travel miles, which is extremely unsafe for individuals, especially children.
Apart from unsafe travel conditions, other negative impacts affect students in rural areas. Slaven Gašparović’s research on the impact of transport disadvantage on high school enrolment in Zagreb found a correlation between travel time and students’ academic success. He found that students who take more time to travel to school had worse grades and academic success than students who are faster in getting to school. The student’s poor academic conditions are caused by students’ absences because of their being late to classes. The absence is making them skip subjects that they need help with, thus significantly affecting their grades. The sample that Gašparović used in his research are students who live in the town outskirts, on which it took them around 90 minutes for a one-way trip. Although the conditions in Zagreb is enormously different than the one found in Indonesia, we can surmise that if a 90-minute trip in an urban environment can affect the student’s academic wellbeing, a 6-hour journey have potential to cause a lot more damage.
Big cities in Indonesia, like Jakarta and Bogor for example, enjoy the luxury of choices: being able to choose from plenty of schools and the ability to access education using affordable transportation. This is not the same for students living in rural areas. With limited options for transport and sometimes not even any, private transports became a privilege that only a few people can enjoy in rural communities. This is because the agriculture sector is a common line of work for people in rural Indonesia. Unfortunately, the average income for that type of work is not much, totalling only about IDR 1 million/month according to BPS on data taken in 2020. With that kind of income, spending out money to buy private transport is a consideration that many would rather not take.
Considering the social and economic factors that rural families have, it is arguably more effective to provide free public transportation for the students to use. This solution of free transport has already been applied to some villages in Indonesia. Some examples include how the Transportation Department in Banyumas region in Central Java have provided two free school buses for school students in the Somagede district back in 2019. And in another story in the same year, four villages in Kalimantan also received school buses for students to use. Although in this case, the help did not come from the Transport Department directly like in Banyumas but came from the village heads themselves. The cost of transport is not free, with IDR 5,000 per child for 1 day of travel. Although it is still relatively cheaper compared to the transport cost in the cities, the fact remains that there is still an uneven distribution of transport from the Transport Department for villages in need of these services.
With the transportation agency in Jakarta already planning for an increase of up to 60% use of public transport by 2030, the lack of transport issue in rural communities needs to be addressed. Although steps have been taken towards transporting transport to rural areas, Indonesia is still far from the finish line. The country is on a track course towards modern development, but we also need to be reminded that there are still some people that still need support in catching up.
Muhammad Iqbal Ikhwaanusshafa acquires his BA in International Relations from Padjadjaran University. He is interested in researching contemporary global issues.
This article is featured in JUSTIN Development Review (JDR) Vol. 01 Issue 02 — September 2021