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Revamping The Education System

The political economy of education reform do not encourage any drastic change. Teacher resist change, and their qualities is low. Officials cannot push change to much, lest they lose the votes of teacher (a significant demographic segment), or even push agendas that benefit the teachers (at the expense of students) to gain their votes. (Source: Beyond access: Making Indonesia’s education system work)

Just focus on the extremely talented kids. Such reform use less resource and we don’t have to deal with unnecessary bureaucracy (e.g. permission to use public funding). Without the requirement of huge funding, the effort is possible to be initiated by private actors.

One mechanism in already in place. The national science olympiads. Each year, the smartest high school students compete with each other in math, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, earth sciences, and economics. This is already a filtering mechanism. These talented young people usually continue their studies in state universities, where they apply to majors that are not necessarily the best for them. Even for the right majors, the experience might not groom their fullest potential because Indonesia education quality is lows. The brightest of these cohort are usually offered scholarships in NTU/NUS in Singapore or in the US. Some of them are even rejected from Indonesian state universities because the authorities don’t want to acknowledge their talent. This is a very stupid bureaucracy. We cannot let the brain drain continue if we want to be a great nation.

We can expand the search algorithm further than the olympiads. Proposed search algorithms can be nationwide standardized testing. Maybe it can mimic SMPY or Terman studies. However finding talented kids is only part of the answers. We should establish pipelines from start to finish to ensure they will contribute effectively for the nation:

  • Input. Talent spotting (IQ, temperament, tendencies, non-shared-environment (NSE) filtering of attention). Should be done at what age? 6, 12, 15, or 18?
  • Process. Educate them in special schools for K-12 (or or its equivalent). Then send them on scholarship to NTU/NUS/Ivy/Oxbridge/other top universities. In the meantime, start to build an elite university in Indonesia. It can follow the KAUST model where they hire foreign professors to initially bootstrap teaching and researching before the first cohort of these special kids enter the age of fully-functioning PhDs. Cohort cycle time can be reduced if talent spotting is done at later age level (i.e. taking foreign professors make the university starts right away, taking 22 years olds and send them to foreign universities will make them usable within 5-10 years, taking 15 years old for special schools + foreign universities will make them usable within 12-17 years). For the early phase of the project, short cycle time is preferable, thus this implies talent spotting should be done at later ages to make this scheme possible. Over time, the Indonesian elite university can educate their own superstar after a certain number of cycle. Thus making the university intellectually self-sufficient from a human capital perspective.
  • Output. Deploy them at either at universities or firms and measure their intellectual output (at universities) or economic output (at firms). Then iterate the earlier part of pipeline to further increase the output metrics for the next cohort of talents and the next iteration.
  • Expansion. Reach more kids. This can mean expanding geographically by reaching kids in hard to reach areas. This can also mean widening the eligible spectrum of intelligence, going down the intelligence level (reaching the less-than-stellar kids) and figure out how to use them effectively at other sector. By now the model should prove itself and it is the time to request government for funding and logistical support to start the truly mass-level education reform.

Those are very cerebral efforts. Can we also groom the next generation of leaders in government and business in such a detailed planning? It seems that to breed the next generations of leaders in those sectors, IQ is not everything. There are a lot of other “leadership” qualities to talk about, right?



Not so true. Performance is highly random. Even the best predictor of performance, Work sample test and GMA (General Mental Ability, or g, or just IQ) only has r of 0.54 and 0.51 respectively. As the type of work is very different across different sectors (and therefore hard to devise a universal education system upon that fact), betting on GMA is the most feasible thing to do because it is quite general and should scale quite easily nationwide.


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