Indonesia’s almost 30,000 pesantren are private Islamic education institutions and acknowledged as part of Indonesia’s education system. They are particularly known for their long presence in society delivering education to those coming from low-income families in rural areas mostly on the island of Java.
While retaining the authority to conduct education independently, pesantren have long received some public financing but significantly less than public schools. To a large extent, pesantren are funded independently from their own sources. Problems to raise adequate financial support are considered to have affected the quality of facilities and infrastructure as well as the remuneration of pesantren teachers.
Following presidential elections, in which Javanese Muslims largely provided their support to incumbent President Widodo, in late September 2019 the Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR) passed the “Pesantren Law.” It provides the legal base for pesantren to receive funding from central and local governments. This public funding introduces pesantren to the regulatory obligations of public schools. The law states that pesantren are going to be subjected to a quality assurance system that determines standards for the curriculum, the institution, the students and the teachers.
The Pesentran Law potentially results in the disappearance of the pesantren’s distinctive features determined by the Kyai and the demand of the community in which they operate. Instead, it is recommended that the government provides funds only as an incentive to improve pesantren education. The pesantren should remain largely autonomous to preserve their diversity and to prevent that their accountability is going to be redirected from their respective communities towards government institutions.
A checklist should set benchmarks for the government: it should impose minimum standards for the curriculum, facilities and management while still ensuring substantial autonomy for the pesantren. Moreover, efforts are needed in accordance with the Pesantren Law to improve MORA’s Islamic education data management and the Education Management Information System (EMIS) to generate reliable data for future technical regulations.