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  • Sherine Hassan and Rangga Atmadilaga

Where is Indonesia in Building an Inclusive Society?

Sherine Hassan and Rangga Atmadilaga

Indonesia has made efforts in creating a more inclusive society, as they said. But where are we really? Specifically, in one of the most important indicators of development, education.

For many parents of children with disability, finding the right school is a daunting process. Over the past nine years, Echa, who was diagnosed with ASD, has moved schools multiple times and his condition has only worsened. His mother, Dewi, feels hopeless when his behaviors were deemed by these schools to have a potentially negative impact on other students. ‘Why does it seem like it is my child’s fault?’ she asked.

Under the Indonesian Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology (MoECRT), the government has made inclusive education a priority by mandating district governments to establish local regulations on inclusive education and obliging local governments to establish a Disability Service Unit. Despite its claim to promote inclusive education, only 56% of children with disability in Indonesia receive primary education. In a recent study by World Bank, it was found that almost 30 percent of children with a disability still do not have access to education. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated learning inequalities and this is especially amplified for people with disability.

It seems that the implementation of the regulation seems to have inadequate requirements for the desired outcomes, such as the lack of teacher training, funding, and availability of data or information on people with disability in Indonesia.

Challenges for Learners with Disability

Firstly, teacher training for inclusive education remains a significant challenge in cultivating an effective learning environment. The World Bank further found that only 12.6 percent of inclusive schools have teachers trained on inclusive education. This is even more concerning as we consider the need to accommodate a continuously rising number of children with disability.

To cater to the varying capabilities of learners with a disability, school facilities must correspond to their learning needs. Indonesia’s National Level Inclusive Education Development Plan for 2019-2024 regards inclusive education as ‘an approach to meet the educational and learning needs of all children, focused specifically on those who are vulnerable, marginalized and neglected, including children with special needs’. However, most parents of children with disability feel that their children are not provided with equal learning opportunities in school due to the lack of facilities catering to their children’s learning needs.

In an interview with Tina, a mother to a child with a disability, specifically autism spectrum disorder (ASD), she mentioned that ‘’home-schooling is one of the best options for my child as being at home, there is a specific learning room I have designed for Fira’s learning’’. Aside from the enabling environment that can be provided at home, Fira is refrained from the negative beliefs surrounding her disability.

“There were several occasions where I have received comments saying that Fira’s behavior has caused a distraction for other students and that the school could not support her learning progress’’ added Tina. Similar to Dewi, providing inclusive education for Fira is highly uncertain. Despite the support that seems to be present, there are always obstacles that leave parents to struggle on their own in finding other alternatives for their children.

It is inevitable that inclusive education does not only necessitate facilities and equipped teachers, but also a positive collaboration between teachers, parents, and students. Especially in educating the whole school community about persons with disabilities. Building a supportive and positive ecosystem for learners with a disability will provide a comprehensive understanding of everyone’s needs and ultimately, to effectively plan and implement the right services.

Building A More Inclusive Society

It is now halfway through the National Level Inclusive Education Development Plan for 2019-2024. In two years, the goal of the plan is to build understanding and awareness of inclusive education in terms of culture, policy, and practices in schools. A prerequisite to this final goal is an attitudinal change among Indonesians. This includes further clarifying the term inclusive education among educators, governmental and non-governmental organizations, policy-makers, and social actors. The aforementioned challenges stem from the lack of understanding, awareness, and support in society regarding inclusive education. Under this condition, inclusive education must be addressed through advocacy, not only at the regional but also national level.

This necessitates continuous research on inclusive education or people with disability in Indonesia such as the evaluation of the current implementation of inclusive education and the percentage population of people with disability, with all factors considered. This includes government partnerships with civil society organizations, teachers associations, school boards, and other school support groups, both formal and informal. Taking a multi-sectoral and collaborative approach of coordination for advocacy and initiatives in inclusive education is needed to increase the society’s and government’s understanding and urgency of inclusive education.

For instance in 2015, one of Malaysia’s efforts to improve inclusive education was to develop partnerships between the government with the private sector and NGOs to enhance vocational training institutes to provide alternative special education venues. Building on these partnerships, they also created campaigns to raise awareness of inclusive education and its needs based on existing research. Consequently, as of 2021, existing and recent findings concluded that inclusive education is widely encouraged in Malaysia.

Access to teacher training is a major obstacle in Indonesia’s inclusive education. Findings have revealed that while teachers do value inclusive education, they still feel that they lack training and knowledge. Even if there is training, most teachers feel that they are incompetent in teaching children with disabilities. Inclusive practices must be included in pre-service and in-service training of all education professionals. This also entails that government must involve education and disability experts in developing training that is effective and responsive to the needs of education professionals. In order to achieve this, budget allocations for inclusive education should be equitable and transparent.

Currently, there is an absence of a sustainable funding system for inclusive education in Indonesia, which does not encourage local governments to implement inclusive education programs in schools. Developing a funding system is fundamental to providing support for schools in implementing inclusive education programs as mandated by the government of Indonesia. A supply-driven throughput model could be the solution. The throughput model works by pre-determining the number of students eligible for funding and decentralizing the allocation and management of funds at sub-national levels. In turn, funds allocated to sub-national governments are directed to schools where funding terms of conditions can be determined by the school’s socio-economic conditions. As such, the central and local governments can share responsibility for developing a more inclusive education system. This funding model is implemented in countries deemed to have a high-quality education system such as Sweden, Denmark, and Ireland.

At a policy level, policymakers must include inclusive education in developing their long-term social and economic policy. This is more crucial as we also consider that despite existing social assistance programs by the government, only 4.53 % of people with disabilities receive financial support from these programs. This need is even more amplified when 85% of families of children with disability reported that they have to spend significantly more for children during online learning caused by the pandemic.

Indonesia should leverage global partnerships to learn best practices in the education funding system as well as public-private partnership model from countries that have made significant progress in inclusive education. This can be attained through a government-to-government (G2G) cooperation between Indonesia and countries with a quality education system. Such opportunity will enable the Indonesian government and most importantly, local governments to directly learn from policymakers and key education stakeholders.

We can only say that we are working towards a more inclusive society when we do witness these changes. The pandemic has created a nationwide challenge in reviving many persisting issues in Indonesia. One of which is the concerning condition of marginalized communities, especially people with disabilities, and they must not fall further behind.

How can we as Indonesians say we are committed to providing equal opportunities for all and yet fail to provide support for some of the most vulnerable among us?


Sherine Hassan is currently working as a behavior therapist and pursuing her master's in Applied Behaviour Analysis at Monash University. She has work experience in both research and education, and now working towards her specialization in autism intervention.

Rangga Atmadilaga is a graduate of international relations study. He currently works as a government relations professional. Rangga is a public policy enthusiast with an interest in social policy and development.


This article is featured in JUSTIN Development Review (JDR) Vol. 02 Issue 01 — March 202


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