Economic crisis = empty desks.

Economic crisis = empty desks.

Seven-year-old Makmun would like to go to school – and stay there. “He asks his dad when he can go,” says Makmun’s mother, “but we don’t have the money”.

Makmun’s family lives in one of the well-established urban slums of east Jakarta. Their two-room wooden shack is an improvement on the single room in which entire families often eat and sleep.

Makmun’s father, Pak Sul, works as a gardener, earning 72,000 rupiahs (£5.50) a week. But the real value of his wage has gone down while basic costs – including schooling – have risen.

Rochmat, Makmun’s elder brother, is at school but keeping him there is a constant effort. His fees are paid by a community action group, but Pak Sul has had to borrow from his employers to buy books, a uniform, shoes and school bag.

The loan is deducted from his weekly earnings, affecting the family budget. They already owe more than 250,000 rupiahs, a forbidding sum for a family already living on the margin of poverty. What this means is that the idea of Makmun going to school is out of the question.

Economic crisis = empty desks.

The task for Indonesia in education – as in every other branch of social policy – is to find ways of insulating the system from the economic and political disruption which threatens to undermine the very real progress which had been made.

From 1969 to 1994, participation rates in junior secondary education increased from 39% to 54%. The number of those in senior secondary education also rose from 9% to 34%.

A World Bank scheme to train more secondary teachers had been launched shortly before the current economic crisis erupted in 1998.

“Now the quality of education will suffer further, as government, schools and parents struggle to minimise education costs. Poor communities will be especially hard-hit,” the World Bank warns.

School heads have reported higher absences as children help their parents make ends meet. Some say that children appear to be eating less at home, arriving at school weak and undernourished.

Children as young as seven or eight work on food stalls or in backyard factories. A typical job for a young boy or girl is to soak empty bottles – scavenged from city refuse – to remove the labels, or sort through rags and paper.

Others join the packs of beggars who swarm hopefully around cars at traffic lights.