School principals’ appointment is a mismatched game

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The Indonesian education sector is vast. According to the Analytical and Capacity Development Partnership (ACDP) at the Education and Culture Ministry, the education sector comprises 50 million students and 3 million teachers in over 250,000 schools in more than 500 regencies and cities.

It certainly needs an effective leadership. However, principals and supervisors who work in tandem to provide leadership in schools are not well trained. Worse, they are trapped in a “mismatched appointment game” between Jakarta and local administrations.

Like it or not, political races such as regional elections have influenced the appointment management of principals. Like teachers, regional administrations play a big role in deciding which principals head which schools. With a new regulation shifting the supervision of senior high schools to provincial administrations, we have a complete set of complex arrangements.

If you are a teacher who is certified and ranked as a III C civil servant, no older than 54 years old, have been teaching for at least five years and hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, you meet the requirements to become a principal according to Ministerial Regulation No. 28/2010.

The government has also set up a training institution called LP2KS to run the Principal Preparation Program (PPP).

Unfortunately, a recent study conducted by the ACDP (a partnership funded by the EU, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Asian Development Bank) on 1,834 teachers revealed that just over half of the respondents said the regulation was implemented to appoint principals.

Candidates for principal posts who pass all the competency tests are not necessarily chosen. Herein lies the mismatch: regional administrations are likely to choose close friends of or people to whom the mayors or regents are indebted to be principals.

Is that fair? Maybe. Is it professional? It could be. Is it ethical? Hardly.

In fact, the PPP is filling the competency gap between the pool of teachers available and the principal positions. As stated in Ministrial Regulation No. 13/2007, principals are expected to demonstrate the following competencies: personality, management, entrepreneurship, academic supervision and social skills.

In this regard, the PPP utilizes an “IN-ON-IN” approach to learning, which incorporates three stages of training: (1) in-service learning (IN–1): initial face-to-face training sessions designed to be conducted over seven days and six nights for a total of 70 learning hours; (2) on-the-job learning (OJL): workplace learning conducted over a three-month period for a total 200 learning hours; and (3) in-service learning 2 (IN–2): a second series of face-to-face sessions for follow-up and assessment, conducted over three days and two nights for a total of 30 learning hours.

The first and third stages are conducted in LP2KS in Surakarta, while the second stage is held in the candidates’ respective regions. Yet only 4,542 or 35 percent of all PPP graduates have been appointed principals, with the rest left waiting.

Ironically, there are around 217,000 principals in Indonesia, but only 1.2 percent of them have passed the PPP program.

The danger of this mismatch is twofold. First, the nation has abandoned the best talents to fill the most important position in maintaining leadership and hence the quality of schools in this demanding era.

Second, the nation is wasting the huge budget, energy, resources and time without real results in training teachers to be principals. Each principal candidate who participates in the PPP costs a regional government Rp 6 million (US$438) on average.

The income from training 12,885 participants over five years would Rp 77.3 billion. The training program peaked in 2012, when 203 regions sent teachers for PPP training. This has never recurred because the regions would rather do things their own way.

Nevertheless, many regional governments agree that the PPP program is extraordinarily good, if not ideal. More than 50 percent of PPP-graduated principals consider the program as having a “high impact” on the indicators of principals’ competence, motivation, professionalism and performance.

In terms of quality of teaching, student learning, self-evaluation and the use of information technology for education in PPP graduates’ schools, the respondents said the program had an impact. Therefore, the PPP is still the best training system for principals available.

A study by Paramadina Public Policy Institute (PPPI) revealed that a principal’s job involves dealing with 33 regulations, ranging from school operational assistance (BOS) funds to national scout movement (Pramuka) activities. So, his or her job is complex; it requires a resourceful figure who can handle a cross fire of interests and outside interventions. In this wired era, a principal must be internet-savvy to foster public support.

Education and Culture Minister Anies Baswedan has declared an initiative to create an ecosystem of education that invites parents and communities to get involved in school affairs.

Indeed, a good principal needs to secure public support. An elementary school in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, for example, accepted parent volunteers to build new classrooms. Another one in Deli Serdang, North Sumatra, has been receiving donations to run extra-curricular programs and religious ceremonies.

The public lends support to schools because of, among other things, good school-based management, highly trusted principals and caring teachers.

We must solve the mismatch in principals’ capacity development. The first step to do that is by making it mandatory for regional governments to appoint principals from among PPP graduates.

Some have suggested promoting the ministerial regulation to give it presidential decree status and integrating it into a national education improvement program that focuses on teacher, principal and supervisor competency.

The LP2KS and the PPP must change too, by working with regional governments and major stakeholders to develop an effective information system that enables transparency and accountability. Internet-based learning and crowd-sourcing can enrich them. It is also necessary for a training system to increase its credibility by managing feedback from the public.

Leaders should know there is a difference between position and influence.

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The writer is deputy rector for academic, research and student affairs at Paramadina University, Jakarta, and an ACDP knowledge management advisor.

This article is also published by The Jakarta Post