Indonesia to roll back controversial school syllabus heavy on religion

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia plans to discontinue early next year a widely criticised school curriculum that emphasises moral and religious education, a minister said on Monday.

The move follows a review ordered by the education ministry after experts complained that the curriculum, introduced last year, did little to improve a low-skilled workforce at a time when Southeast Asia's biggest economy lags its neighbours in competitiveness.

"Changing a curriculum doesn't automatically raise the quality of education," said Education and Culture Minister Anies Baswedan, adding that teachers and schools had been inadequately prepared to adopt the new measures. "We have to concentrate on the quality of teachers."

Former government officials said the 2013 curriculum, launched by the previous government, took an approach to languages and sciences similar to that of developed countries, but dedicated more hours to religious education.

It was rolled out to 218,000 schools across the sprawling archipelago, amid persistent complaints of inadequate teacher training and a lack of teaching materials.

Retno Listiyarti, head of the Indonesia Teachers Union, said she supported the rollback. "Our teachers are lacking quality," she said. "What we need now is not changing the curriculum, but to improve teachers' capacity."

Indonesia spends a fifth of its state budget on education but a large portion goes on teacher welfare, analysts said.

A World Bank study this year showed that "certifying teachers and paying them double does not make them teach better" as measured by students' test results, which have stagnated in the past decade.

Indonesia was this year ranked last among 40 countries in a global Pearson index based on a combination of international test scores and education data.

Poor education services have long been a brake on Indonesia's economy, which is growing at its slowest pace in five years. "If you think about anyone coming to invest in Indonesia, talent is already a major concern," said Dean Tong, managing director of Boston Consulting Group.

In 2014, the group said Indonesia faced a shortage of much-needed talent, such as mid-level managers and engineers. "The urgency to improve talent is very real, very immediate," Tong added. "We are way too late already."