Early education in Indonesia

Nursery, elementary and secondary schools

Education in Indonesia is either state run (negeri) or private (swasta). Some private schools are “national plus schools” which means they plan to go beyond the minimum government requirements.

Children are required by law to attend formal education from the ages seven to 15. There are kindergartens, or nurseries, for children as young as two years old. The majority of these are privately run and don’t come under the government’s free education programme.

Pre-school education

Children can attend a playgroup (Pendidikan Anak Usia Dini, PAUD) from the age of two. From the age of four children attend kindergarten (Taman Kanak-Kanak, TK). Neither of these are compulsory but are designed to prepare children for elementary school. Basic reading, writing and counting skills are taught here, much like pre-schools in Europe or the U.S. There are 49,000 kindergartens in Indonesia and 99% of them are privately run.

Elementary education

Government run schools are free for students from the 1st Grade in Elementary School (6-7 years old) to 3rd Grade in Junior High School (14-15 years old). It is estimated 93% of elementary schools in Indonesia are state run.

Students need to be registered by April if they wish to start in July of that year. The admission of a pupil into a public school is at the discretion of the principle. For entry to a private school the school board and sometimes the parent’s association will have a say in the decision.

Children must attend elementary school (Sekolah Dasar, SD) from the ages of six until 11. Similar in system to the U.S., children must complete elementary school within six years. In some cases there are accelerated tracks for students who can complete it in five years.

The curriculum in elementary education covers all major subjects including the arts, geography, history, physics, biology, maths, local languages, Bahasa Indonesian language, P.E, religious studies and information technology. English is usually taught from 4th Grade (9-10 years old) as well as another foreign language such as Mandarin or Arabic. The options for English and other foreign languages can vary from school to school and region to region. The main language of tuition in any public school is Indonesian.

Madrasah Ibtidaiyah (MI) is the Islamic alternative to elementary school, the curriculum places greater focus on Islamic religious instruction and Arabic.

Secondary education - junior and senior high school

After graduating from elementary school, students move on to Junior High School (Sekolah Menengah Pertama, SMP). This is for ages 12-14/15 and after graduation, students can move up to Senior High School or to a vocational high school to continue their education.

The curriculum in SMP the same as in elementary school. For enrollment requirements vary between schools but the following are usually needed:

  • Application form
  • Birth certificate
  • Family card or proof of residence
  • Graduation certificate for elementary school
  • Two passport photographs

Madrasah Tsanawiyah (MT) is the Islamic alternative to SMP, again with more focus on Islamic studies and Arabic.

After completing junior high school students are no longer legally required to stay in education. However, for those that wish to, there are two options. Senior High School (Sekolah Menengah Atas, SMA), or Sekolah Menengah Kejuruan (SMK) a vocational high school.

At an SMA students are prepared to continue their studies at university whereas students at an SMK are prepared to work after graduation from high school, without a university education. Students at SMA are put on different tracks to prepare them for university. Science, social and economic studies or language and literature.

This stage of education is not compulsory and is reflected in the relatively low number of senior high schools compared to elementary schools, 9,000 versus 49,000 kindergartens.

Madrasah Aliyah (MA) is the Islamic schooling equivalent of SMA while Madrasah Aliyah Kejuruan (MAK) is the equivalent of SMK.

Further reading

Does this article help?

Do you have any comments, updates or questions on this topic? Ask them here: