Indonesia Banget #23 : Indonesian Educational System

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This month’s Indonesia Banget is a bit special. One of Indonesia banget’s regular reader, Sungin1 asked this question in one of his comment:

If it doesn’t be a hassle to you could you write a simple post about your educational system. I’m interested in different systems

As a teacher myself, it’s not a difficult question and very easy to answer 😉

School/Education Level

Indonesia is no different to other countries in term of study level.

It started with kindergarten, we call it as Taman Kanak-Kanak (TK). At my time, kindergarten was only a place to play and have fun, however things have changed now… Kids have to study numbers and letters here because Elementary requires ability to read. I think this new system is terrible! Forcing kids to read that fast is just terrible, is like taking away their happy childhood.

Elementary is called Sekolah Dasar (SD) (translation: Basic School). I learned how to count and read in the beginning of elementary but now, you can’t enter good elementary if you can’t read. It is said that it’s for the children’s sake. What ever happen to happy childhood memory? Nowadays elementary has taught things that I found useless. In my own opinion, they should teach how to socialize better and be a good kid in this school period but instead of that they keep making the lesson harder than it already is. Sekolah Dasar has period of 6 years.

The next level is Junior High School which we call as Sekolah Menegah Pertama (SMP) (translation: First Middle School) where students have to study for 3 years. At this level students are still studying Science and social study as a whole package. At my time, we learned English at this level but nowadays, students have learned English since kindergarten.

Senior High School comes next, we call it Sekolah Menegah Atas (SMA) (Translation: Upper Middle School). Just like SMP, SMA has 3 year period. At this level, students have broader study. Both Science and Social Study are divided into more detail study. Science is now divided into Biology, Physic and Chemistry where are Social Study into history, geography, accountancy and economy. On their first year, students must learn all of those lesson but on second grade they must choose to either enter class that focus more on Science Study or on Social Study or on Language Study. Most schools only provide 2 classes, Science and Social.

Beside SMA, there is also another kind of school that has the same level as SMA, it is called Sekolah Menegah Kejuruan (SMK) (translation: Vocational Middle School). SMK is more for students who wanted to find job after leaving Middle School, they can still go to University but they are also already have skill to work. SMK has many major where students can choose based on their interest. I am currently teaching at Pharmaceutical Vocational School where the students are being prepared to work at pharmacy and other company related to drugs. There are also SMK for being a cook, a tour guide, a tailor,  an accountant, and many more. However, their level of skill is of course different to those who then go to university.

The last Education level is College or University. We have D-3, a 3 year study and S-1, a 4-5 year study. D-3 is a bachelor while S-1 is graduate student. We call master program as S-2 and doctoral program as S-3.

A Uniform Country

I kinda consider my country as uniform country because all students have to wear uniform. Only college students are free from uniform. Even the international school wear uniform (although there are still some international school that don’t use uniform).

TK’s uniform depends on the school and has no similarity between each school.

SD, SMP and SMA which belong to government use the same uniform all over Indonesia. Even most private school also wear the same uniform. However you can also find some private school which don’t use same uniform.

SD wear White and Red uniform like the color of our flag. The boys are wearing short pants while the girls are wearing short skirt that goes below their knees. Some already use long skirt. The skirt has many folds

Image belongs to

SMP wear White and Blue uniform. The boys are still wearing short pants, but some schools already tell their students to wear long pants. The girls are wearing either short skirt with two folds on left and right side or long skirt. (both images belong to

SMA wear White and grey uniform. The boys are now wearing long pants and the girls are also wearing long skirt. However, some school are still allowing the girl to wear short skirt as long as the skirt is below their knees. The skirt now has one folded part, it’s in the middle. (Finally, the photo belongs to me 🙂 )

As I have mentioned earlier, some private schools wear different uniforms. Those three uniforms above are the common uniform you can find anywhere in the country. Here is an example of private school’s uniform, it’s from my vocational school.

What’s interesting about Indonesia’s uniform is BATIK! I will talk more about batik later. Just in brief, batik is one of Indonesian most important heritage. It’s a traditional pattern. All school have to wear Batik Uniform and the pattern is different from one school to another.

What fascinated me is that international schools are also wearing batik. I taught Science Experiment as an extracurricular activities in some international school and so happy to see that their schools are still honoring Indonesian tradition.

From left to right: batik from SMAN 28, Jakarta International Multicultural School, Singapore International School

Other School Related Talks

This last part is for things related to school but I can’t categorize it like the previous two parts 🙂

  • School in Indonesia is divided into 2 terms, first semester and second semester or odd semester and even semester. School year starts on July. First semester ends on December and second semester starts on January.
  • Between each semester, we have a two weeks holiday.
  • We do not have summer holiday or spring holiday or any of those climate holiday because we only have two seasons which don’t really matter to school activity.
  • No such thing as popular kids and nerdy. The smartest one in the class is never being avoided like in Hollywood movies.
  • Bullying rarely happen, unlike schools in Japan.
  • Sometimes, two schools fight against each other for small matters (you know how teenager is!). This incident is called Tawuran. We are still trying to avoid this incident. I can gladly say that the number of Tawuran has decreased compared to my time at school.

That’s all I can share for now. Feel free to ask more about schools in Indonesia 🙂

You might also like to know National Education Day and the father of Education in my previous post.

20 thoughts on “Indonesia Banget #23 : Indonesian Educational System

  1. As always, it’s so interesting to peek inside life in your country and see what it’s really like. 🙂

    Hahahaha!! So things have changed since you were a student, Novia?…. It is like that for me too here in the US. Whenever Carolyn’s niece and nephew talk about their experiences at school I’m so struck by the changes that have happened since I was a schoolgirl. Like you, I see that children are pushed to learn so much more so much earlier…. and I feel bad for them too. I guess the whole world wants to move so much faster…. at least it’s nice to know the experience is universal.

    1. It has changed incredibly!!
      I really don’t understand what’s with all the rush…we should just let children learn at their own pace, let them enjoy study. Nowadays, children get stressed easily over school work. Was I too laid off or was back then school wasn’t so hard..all I remembered is I enjoyed going to school.

  2. I think you’re absolutely right about the need for socialization in school, especially early on. Making the lessons harder is bound to be counter productive in the end as it squeezes out plenty of kids who might otherwise have gone on to something great.

    1. You said better than me Audrey!
      I remembered at my time we were taught to be polite with the elderly and played a game that have moral value in it…but now, the children are being overstuffed with calculation, science and other difficult stuffs. Being able to communicate with other being is better in early age, in my opinion.

  3. Hi! I really enjoyed this post, I’m very grateful to you for relieve my curiosity :).
    Some parts of your edu. system is similar to ours. Like how SMA divided by subjects, our version is divided too. But your edu. divided by 6-3-3 years ours is 4-4-4.
    By the way, your holidays are really short. Our school year is 2 term too but summer holiday is approximately 3 months and in February there is 2 weeks holiday too. And of course Eid’s are national holidays. After reading your post I realized that we really have long holidays 🙂 You said that climate doesn’t matter, we are burning here 🙂 even if it wasn’t holiday nobody can’t find any student for school in this weather 🙂 I looked, your weather isn’t that different from ours. How could you study in this heat?
    And, some questions; ‘When children start school, What is educational age?’ (5 years old? it is like that here) and ‘How much of these are compulsory education’ (here, it was 8 years but now there had been changes in the law and it became 12 years -compulsory-). ‘What do you think about education being compulsory? Should it be free?’ And ‘What is your opinion about having to wear uniform?’. Our scholars and even ministers (of education) are discussing that >> uniform > must or free …
    Thanks again for your post, I went rural area for holiday, it was green, fresh ect. but no inernet. so I could read this only now 🙂 Not too late right 🙂

    1. Hi Sungin, glad you like the post 🙂

      4-4-4 ? wow this is the 1st time I heard such education level, how do you call each level??

      about the heat, hehe I guess we get used to it. Even in Ramadhan we still go to school (I want to post about Ramadhan but something is not right with my internet right now…I am now using my mobile).

      School age starts at 6 here. We have 9 years of compulsory education and it’s free for government school…private school still have to pay.

      About uniform…I dont mind at all, I think it’s a good thing because it shows equality…rich and poor are all equal. I guess that’s why there is no such thing as popular and nerdy kids clasification.

      1. 4-4-4 ? = Until this year it was 5-3-4 and school age was 7. Families could sent their child kindergarten at 5 or 6 but it wasn’t compulsory (I didn’t go kindergarten). This year parliament accept new law which changes edu. level 4-4-4. First 4 years are elementary school (we call it ‘ilkokul’> ilk=first okul=school) , second 4 is middle school (ortaokul> orta means middle ) last 4 is high school (we call it ‘lise’). In high school’s 2. year children will choose either one of the science- social or foreign language field and after high school there is an important exam which leads university. In new law, school age changes too; it became 5. So elementary schools first 1 or 2 years will like kindergarten with basic lessons like reading or introduction to math etc. and in new law, whole 12 year is compulsory.

        About kindergarten children learning math or alphabet – there is so much comment about it but my opinion is little different- ; I think it is all about teaching system. If children don’t forced or bored by teachers or families, teaching these don’t take their happy times. I think child’s brain has much more capability than our imagine. For example I learned reading-writing when i was 5 by myself, when my parents noticed that they really surprised. My brother solved numbers and could do basic math when he was 5 and nobody teach these to him 🙂 I mean if there is no forcing – pressure and with a professional teaching system, little children could start learning and enjoy it too.

        Of course I don’t mean drowning them with lessons… I don’t know how it is there but we have a tradition that starting teaching Quran when children became 4 years for months 4 days old (this tradition is mostly forgotten in these days) Of course every children have different capability so there is no forcing, should taught with love and of course every child has his-her own pace in learning…

        Maybe my opinion is not true for others because our education system is-was really hard already. It doesn’t become harder by year it becomes easier. For eg. one of our biggest professor ‘Oktay Sinanoglu whom, at the age of 28, became the youngest person in the past century at Yale to attain status as a full professor ‘ says in his memoir that when he went uni. in USA in his first 2 years he didn’t learn anything new. That lessons were already given him in high school years… Of course our education is much more easier now, than his times…

        One more question: Are all schools are co-ed there? When I read a manga it mentioned all girls college in Japan and it was very surprising for me because here there isn’t even all girl-boy high school (not to mention college). Are there any? …

        About Ramadan I don’t know how to congratulate in English maybe “Ramadan Mubarek!” ? 🙂
        I would love to read your thoughts about Ramadan, your life in Ramadan, Ramadan in Indonesia etc.

        I love that > we are totally different, living totally different places and probably couldn’t meet in life but we have same beliefs, doing same things same times and being happy in same occasions. And in these ‘same’s there is slightly differences. Reading about these are very enjoyable for me.

        Reading your posts makes me talkative 😦 i feel sorry for that loong blabbering.

        1. Thank you for the explanation 🙂

          What I am trying to say about learning too much at early age is not just about stressing the children…unfortunately, I saw how elementary kids are being forced more to learn about math, science and stuff and leaving out how to build good personality. That is what makes me sad. Knowledge is important but not as important as learning how to be a good person.

          I post about Ramadhan earlier today…but not much to say about Ramadan in Indonesia…everything runs normal as if we are not fasting.

          Ramadhan Mubarak Sungin…and don’t worry, I allow loooooong comment in my blog 😉

          1. ‘I asked about coed schools above, are all schools coed there?’ and more: ‘Is religious education given in schools?’, ‘What is Indonesian colleges education language?’, ‘Are foreign students choose coming there for education?’

            Can I ask my education related questions here, when they occured in my mind?

          2. Sorry I missed those questions.

            Yes ALL our universities are coed, as far as I know…but, maybe somewhere there is a woman only or man only college that I never heard of. But here in Jakarta, even Islamic University still put all their students, both man and woman, together.

            Religious education is A MUST in Indonesia. We have this thing called Pancasila, it’s Indonesian ideology and the first (out of 5) notion is about believing in GOD…so religious education must be given since elementary.

            The language here is IBahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language) some universities use English but most still use Indonesian.

            There are exchange students program here. When i was still at school, there was this girl from French studying at my school. However, I don’t know if there is many foreign students in University. I met a Japanese who studied Indonesian Language at a university in Bandung once. I didn’t go to big University, I went to a specific college that taught ONLY analytical chemistry, so I never knew how is it in Big University which has many majors. There are probably few foreigners.

            Sure … ask all you want to know 🙂

  4. Very interesting.
    I find it terrible as well that there is already such a lot of pressure on such small children nowadays. Go to Elementary School and already know how to read and write! Figure that.
    I don’t understand why they do that?
    It would be so much better if they would learn some real values when they are that young. How to be kind and confident, help each other…
    I’m not sure what to think about school uniforms. It doesn’t exist in continental Europe only in the UK. I was glad I didn’t have to wear one but maybe there is less competition that way and kids from poorer families blend in.

    1. I am happy that many thinks the same…it seems that knowledge is the only important thing nowadays, building personality is no longer needed 😦
      I can’t imagine how the world would be if this continue.

      I actually agree with uniform. It lessen the boundary between students, everyone comes to school to study not to show of. In college, we are mature enough and dont bother much with other people’s appearance…unlike teenagers.

  5. “I can gladly say that the number of Tawuran has increased compared to my time at school.”
    You mean decreased, right? 😉 Hopefully, there won’t be another useless tawuran out there.
    Btw, I agree about “No such thing as popular kids and nerdy. The smartest one in the class is never being avoided like in Hollywood movies.”
    However… though in real life, science class students and social class students never brought their differences into major topic, in my high school yearbook, there is article that associated science class with the “not fun things” and social class with the “stylish things”. I guess, at least in my high school, there were still people who want to distinguish students with stereotypes.

    1. Thank you so much for spotting the mistake…I didn’t realize that at all!

      Well…in my real life, such thing you have mentioned never happened…both on the days I was as student and as teacher. The school I went to never distinguish science and social…even in their year book.

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