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What's Different About This Year's National Exams in Indonesia? -- The Short Answer

How were national exams conducted previously?

Indonesia held its first national exam in 1965, just after independence, according to the Education Ministry’s website. In 2003, the national exam was centralized – a national body prepared the questions and the government set a minimum passing grade, which increased periodically. Under that system, a student’s grade on the national exam was all that was used to determine whether he or she could graduate. Critics of the regulation said this put too much pressure on students and led to cheating.

In 2011 the government decided to weight the national exam alongside local school exams, which are given at the end of each term. The national exam then accounted for 60% of each student’s graduation evaluation, while the school exam comprised 40%.

What was the problem with the old system?

Retno Listyarti from the Indonesian Teachers Association said the previous system put too much pressure on students, teachers and school administrators – and that led to cheating. To pass the test, students reportedly bought answer keys and some teachers were accused of giving away answers. Media reports emerged about some schools where all students had a 100% pass rate. To better monitor the examination process and help curb cheating prior to the test, Ms. Listyarti’s association installed complaint posts in 46 cities and municipalities in 22 provinces. She said the posts have received hundreds of complaints each year. This year, however, Ms. Listyarti said the association had only received two complaints in the days before the test.

“I think cheating practices are going to drop very significantly this year,” she said.

How will the exam be evaluated this year?

The national exam will only be used as a tool to measure students’ competence and map schools’ performance, said Nizam, head of the ministry’s Education Assessment Center. There is no longer a minimum passing grade, but the ministry has set a minimum standard score for each subject, he said. For a student to be judged competent, for example, he or she should earn a score of at least 5.5 on a scale of 1-10 for each subject. Those who score below the standard are allowed to take the exam again.

Graduating high school students can use the results of their national exams to apply for university. Junior high graduates can use them to enroll in a state high school of their choice.

So if schools don’t use exam scores to evaluate students, how will they decide who graduates?

Teachers will evaluate each student’s performance, attitude and skills over the entire course of his or her study. Students attend junior high school for three years and senior high school for another three-year term.

What else is new about this year’s national exam?

For the very first time, students at 556 schools (about 2% of all high schools in Indonesia) will take an electronic version of the exam. Mr. Nizam said allowing students to take the exam via computer would cut down on costs to print and distribute the test. Mr. Nizam said many schools in Indonesia still don’t have computers, “but for those that do, it was also a way to take advantage of those facilities.” Mr. Nizam said it would also help enhance students’ computer literacy skills, which he called a “basic need now.”