International schools in Indonesia – is Australia missing out?

The use of international school curriculums in Indonesia is widespread, with over 400 schools registered to do so, across three levels of schooling, and yet only a handful teach an Australian curriculum.

In more than 40 industry expert interviews for the Australia-Indonesia Centre’s Stronger Education Partnerships report, which outlines education opportunities in Indonesia for Australian providers, many surprising perceptions on schools’ engagement emerged. Despite few schools teaching an Australian curriculum in Indonesia and low numbers of onshore Indonesian students in Australian schools, industry leaders consistently recognised schools as a valuable, and currently under-valued, part of the international education sector.

This makes sense. Consider a student’s perspective. Using a certain curriculum in high school introduces you to that education system early in life, rather than later through a more-superficial ‘brand exercise.’ It allows a deeper introduction to an education philosophy that could help students thrive later on in a related tertiary education setting. School students following an Australian curriculum sets up meaningful relationships that naturally lead to pathways to further study in Australia – a much deeper proposition than promoting tertiary study through fairs and open days, as is common practice currently.

What is Australia missing out on, and why?

International curriculums in Indonesia are taught through what are termed ‘joint co-operation schools’ (SPK, satuan pendidikan kerja sama), which can either be managed under a foreign–local partnership or by a local institution alone. (In both cases the schools are not-for-profit entities, as all Indonesian education institutions are except for non-accredited skills training centres). There are also some hurdles involved when hiring foreign teachers, which case studies suggest are reducing flexibility in responding to demand (see the full report for more on this).

Map of joint co-operation schools (SPK) by province. SD means primary school, SMP, middle school and SMA, senior high school. (Image from the report. Data source: Kemdikbud)

Despite these regulations there are 429 registered joint co-operation schools across Indonesia – 178 at primary level, 157 at junior high and 94 at senior high (source: Kemdikbud). These are mainly concentrated in Jakarta, followed by other major cities in Java and Bali, but there is also a smattering in other islands, in cities such as Manado, Makassar and Medan (see figure).

Australia is well placed to provide an international curriculum and to partner with Indonesian schools. There is a wide-based education relationship between Australia and Indonesia, including more than 180 linkages through the Australia-Indonesia school partnerships program, an initiative of the Australia-Indonesia Institute and the Asia Education Foundation. Moreover, Australia remains the premier destination for Indonesian students wishing to study abroad for tertiary education.

Case studies in the report also pointed to the successful implementation of Australian curriculums. One on Sekolah Cita Buana in particular illustrated the close relationship they have developed with the Australian Capital Territory.

Their partnership includes teacher and student exchanges and a growing preference for a curriculum that has less emphasis on final exams, allowing for greater creativity and flexibility, while maintaining quality.

Despite this, the schools space remains under explored. Part of the reason is the not-for-profit model, limiting the appeal of purely commercial endeavours. For this reason, many industry leaders have seen it as the role of federal and state governments to champion the uptake of an Australian curriculum. This has been done in other countries, for example by the Victorian Government in China, but it requires a significant investment. Another model is for higher education and vocational education institutions to teach foundation programs in Indonesia, alongside their national curriculum, as a stepping stone toward study in Australia or offshore campuses in Asia. At Celebes Global School in Makassar, for example, students undertake both the Indonesian National Certificate as well as a foundation certificate from the International Institute of Business and Technology, Perth, which they can use to enter Australian universities.

Students do some relaxed learning at Sekolah Cita Buana in Jakarta. The school has a close relationship with the Australian Capital Territory and students enjoy exchanges, a more creative curriculum, and more.  Image at top of page: Students compete in swimming races at Sekolah Cita Buana. (Credit:

Another angle is to consider how education technology (EdTech) platforms might facilitate the introduction of an Australian schools’ curriculum, possibly in a lower-cost and lower-risk fashion. Indonesia’s EdTech sector is in full take-off mode and some of their school-based apps are world class. A case study on Ruangguru (meaning ‘teacher’s room’) really shows the heights that are now possible by tapping into Indonesia’s growing mobile platform market – Ruangguru supports both student and teacher learning and has nearly 8 million student and teacher users across six platforms.

The reports EdTech case studies on the whole revealed an interest in exploring international partnerships – an optimistic, albeit limited sample group, perhaps, for testing the appetite for international collaboration.

The Stronger Education Partnerships report looks at five education sub-sectors – higher education, vocational education and training (VET), English language courses, schools and education technology (EdTech). When you talk about education opportunities in Indonesia most people just talk about the first two, and rightly so in many respects, but the report found that the value of schools should certainly not be discounted. State and federal governments in Australia are already active in this space, so perhaps it is more a matter of targeting and refining those beginnings to improve impact.

To build upon the research we have, I would be interested in hearing more of the perspectives of Indonesian students, so we can gain a greater understanding of how they see their own education pathways and what role an international partner could play in meeting that demand, from school to tertiary studies and online across both.

View the Stronger Education Partnerships report
View the Executive Summary

Violet Rish is the co-author of the AIC’s Stronger Education Partnerships report, commissioned by the Australia Department of Education and Training.