Corruption in Indonesia fuelled by cheating culture at schools, critics say

Critics say the young grow up thinking graft is acceptable because of unethical practices during school years

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 June, 2013, 3:58am

After praying for good grades in their exams, a group of Indonesian high-school students received a surprising text message - come to class 90 minutes early and you'll be given the answers.

But it was not divine intervention. The message was from their teacher, who had been leading the prayer session at the Jakarta school and was offering to sell the information for US$3 to the final year students, aged 17 and 18.

"Their teacher said their fee would go towards renovating a local mosque," said Febri Hendri, the head of public service monitoring with Indonesia Corruption Watch, which uncovered the case after receiving complaints.

It is just one of many examples of cheating at the country's annual school exams, a trend critics say is teaching young people that graft is acceptable in a nation already desperately battling corruption.

Students are finding inventive ways of beating the system, from buying answer books for a small fee on Indonesia's version of eBay to receiving them in paid-for text messages.

They flood Facebook pages and online chat groups to exchange information ahead of the tests, which are taken annually by students in grade six (aged 11 and 12), grade nine (aged 14-15) and grade 12 (aged 17-18).

Local TV this year showed footage of pupils looking at mobile phones under their desks and peeking at others' answers during the exams, which took place last month.

Observers say this year has been particularly bad after tests were delayed in some provinces owing to late delivery of exam papers, allowing those who had already sat them to pass the answers to students in other areas.

Critics point to the consistently high success rates - results announced last week showed that 99.48 per cent had passed - as evidence that cheating is commonplace, although the government denies this.

Critics say a rotten system led by a graft-ridden ministry is at the heart of the problem, with teachers encouraged to give high pass rates and not quality education.

"There's no way the schools can all pass the exams, so that has encouraged a kind of structural cheating," said Retno Listyarti, secretary general of the Indonesian Teachers Union Federation.

While 20 per cent of the state budget is spent on education, much of the money does not appear to be making its way to schools, with many buildings dilapidated and teachers sometimes going unpaid for months.

Indonesia also does poorly in international education studies, a stark contrast to the exam results it churns out every year.

In the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a test carried out by economic and social group OECD for 15-year-olds, Indonesia was among the worst of 65 nations. The 2009 PISA results, the most recently published, put Indonesia 57th for reading, 60th for science and 61st for maths.

Education ministry spokesman Ibnu Hamad rejected claims the body was corrupt as "baseless" and denied cheating at exams was widespread.