Constructing Creativity: How Indonesia Can Use Education to Build its Creative Economy

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 22.47.34One of the more impressive interviews with a politician that our Creative Director & CSO has come across in recent months is a piece in the redoubtable Monocle magazine (December 2013-January 2014), which takes as its subject Dr Mari Elka Pangestu. Dr Pangestu – who is an alumnus of both the Australian National University and the University of California at Davis – is Indonesia’s first-ever Minster of Tourism and Creative Economy, a post that was established in 2011 and which is notable as a signal of intent: until relatively recently, the ‘creative economy’ domain has been thought of largely as the preserve of developed nations, and Indonesia’s inauguration of a government ministry that explicitly contains these words in its remit is a measure of how far the country has travelled since the end of the Suharto era (1998). Almost no other UN member state possesses a directly equivalent office of state.

Despite Indonesia’s presently generally low place in the value chain, Dr Pangestu presides over an economic sector that already contributes hugely to the nation’s coffers: 8% of total GDP, 10% of exports and 12 million jobs are clear evidence that the ASEAN giant could be a massive player in the creative industries in the decades to come. But in order to move beyond the well-worn territories of batik textiles and tourism, Indonesia needs fundamental change: the structural ingredients are not yet there for the country to punch at its weight. In particular – and after some contemplation – we at Mediolana believe that Indonesia should implement the following measures to align its education system with the needs of what many economists are describing as the lone obvious salvation for a still-stuttering global economy:

  1. Secondary Education. Indonesia’s secondary schools routinely prop up the Programme for International Student Assessment (‘PISA’) league tables: its fifteen-year-olds have come in the bottom ten nations for mathematics, science and reading for almost every single round of testing, the exception being the 2009 reading score of 402 – placing it 62/74. Logistical and administrative problems plague the country’s schools: Indonesia’s population of 240m people is spread out over a vast area, not all of which is easily accessible, and there are acute teaching staff shortages. But the extent of the dysfunction is still far too large. Significantly raising the salaries of teachers – and investing more of Indonesia’s burgeoning export revenues into secondary educational facilities – is simply essential.
  2. Tertiary Education. Looking for an Indonesian university in any international rankings list of repute is a thankless task: there is not a single Indonesian university in the 2013 Academic Ranking of World Universities, while in the QS ranking of Asian universities for the same year, Indonesian institutions are notable by their complete absence from the top 50. Universitas Indonesia – the oldest and arguably most prestigious such college in the country – must lead the way and aim for a top 100 place by 2025 by recruiting some of the world’s best professors and offering them contracts they cannot refuse. There is no time to lose.
  3. Critical thinking. The Indonesian government introduced a new national curriculum in 2013 – the eleventh since 1947 – which is more streamlined, and which some commentators believe could result in a more child-centred and ultimately beneficial approach to education provision. However, critical thinking needs to be given a much greater and more explicit emphasis at the higher levels of the programme. Indonesia’s creative economy will only begin to realise its potential once an educated generation which can think for themselves comes to the fore.

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Filed under Economics

4 responses to “Constructing Creativity: How Indonesia Can Use Education to Build its Creative Economy

  1. I think it’s sometimes a little difficult to know which parts of the Western experience developing countries need to go through to be as good as the West across the board. Does Indonesia need to go through their version of the Reformation, of the 60’s, of contact with a huge number of other people and cultures (which the West did by colonisation and then allowing immigration), etc ? I think it’s always good though to have a strong Arts base and an acceptance of non-conformity to help foster ‘creative’ output of all forms. For some reason I think Rock music also helps.

    • The experience of Japan and Korea (and arguably Malaysia and Singapore) seems to have proven once and for all that different roads to magnificence – or at least competence – are there. Does modernity lead to exactly the same choices? That’s a question that is still in the process of being answered.

  2. Perhaps the Japanese concept of the ‘Hollow Centre’ is also relevant (see

    • Excellent article, though we have never understood why the Japanese are so underrated when it comes to creative output. Anyone who has a serious knowledge of video games cannot stand by this perception.

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