ABD Vol.28 No.1

Primary School Textbook Publication in Indonesia


Soepena Ps.

There are two types of primary schools in Indonesia, religious schools and general schools. The schools of the first type are under the administration of the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MORA), and those of the second are curricularly managed under the Ministry of Education and Culture (MOEC). Although administered by the MORA some of the subjects in the schools in the first type, identified as general subjects, are arranged in the same manner as those under the MOEC.
This article deals more with the primary schools, which are curricularly administered by the MOEC on a national scale. The whole educational system is governed by Act No. 2 of 1989 on the System of the National Education.
The educational instruction in the primary school under the MOEC is carried out in accordance with the curriculum, which is reviewed periodically, usually every ten years, so as to keep pace with the current state of development and advancement throughout the country. As reinforced by Act 2, 1989, on the System of National Education, the language to be used for instruction at every level of education should be the national language "Indonesian", except for the lower grades of the primary school which will be discussed further.


Primary school textbooks are produced by the government and also by commercial publishers. Commercial publications have to be reviewed first by the Directorate General of Primary and Secondary Education before they can be officially used in schools. Measures are taken for the purpose of protecting the schools from incorrect information contained in poorly prepared publications. The government is producing enough books to enable free circulation to all schools in the country. For purposes of providing additional copies for replenishments henceforth, Balai Pustaka, the publishing house once run by the MOEC, is given the right to reprint the titles for commercial circulation.
The textbooks that the government has been producing for the primary schools up to now are those that concern the core subjects, including Education on Pancasila and Civics, the Indonesian Language, Mathematics, Natural Science, and Social Science. As for the other subjects, they are left to the school to provide from the private sector in consideration of the "Green Book". This last term stands for the book, usually bound with a green cover, that contains lists of books admitted by the Directorate General of Primary and Secondary Education as educational sources of acceptable standard.
As is the case with textbooks in any other country, textbooks in Indonesia are based on both universal and national principles. The specific things as applied in Indonesia are the ideals to reinforce the unity of the nation. This is officially reflected in Act No. 2 mentioned above, particularly Article 34, in which it is stated that the production of textbooks can be carried out either by the government, or by private publishers according to the guidelines prepared by the government. In the guidelines among other things, it is mentioned that textbooks shall;
a) not contradict The Constitution.
b) not contradict the Great Lines of the State's Political Direction.
c) not sharpen the difference in religion, origin, and social status. (This point is very important in that Indonesian society includes people of divergent religious background, of divergent origin with local tradition and usage, and also of different social and economical classes)
d) present materials which are technically correct. (Though it is in fact of universal value, for Indonesia this point is especially important in that for several years there was a gap in which books were very scarce due to the political change, which influenced education, particularly in textbook publication. Then came a time when people were trying to write new versions of textbooks, but unfortunately they had missed much of the current development in social and natural sciences)
e) keep pace with the current development. (This is meant to remind writers not to use examples and illustrations which are out of date and which do not suit current development any more. Social and economic conditions have been changing so much that people have left behind all the methods of doing their daily routines)
f) within the understanding capacity of the users. g) comply with the syllabus pertinent to the subject.

Continuation in material shall be maintained from grade 1 up to grade 6 or at least the material for grades 1 to 3 shall constitute a continuous unity and that for grades 4 to 6 constitute another. It is advisable for every volume to be accompanied by a teacher's manual.

Textbook Publication

Considering the manner of publication, textbooks can be classified into two categories, commercial and non-commercial. The commercial type of textbooks shall be produced in such a way that they can really sell, whereas those of the non-commercial type are usually produced with no regard to anyone's willingness to buy. Either of those types has it own problems and pitfalls. To some extent the second type is more difficult to handle, in that the indicator is not quite clear as to how far the product can really attain its objective. For textbooks of the first type, on the other hand, the extent of interest in the market constitutes the indicator. It is easier to see here, whether book A, for instance, is better than book B. If within a certain time book A sells in a greater number of copies than book B, then we can say that book A is better than book B.
For textbooks to be able to sell better, they should be planned in such a way that the price will be within the buying power of the users to be. This will involve the quality of the paper, the number of pages in the volume, the size of the books and so forth. Textbooks have two sides, as they were, which are inseparable from each other. One is the physical entity and the other is the information the books contain. If the first has to be planned on a commercial basis, the second should comply with the education standard.
The educational information should be planned in compliance with the standing curriculum and the syllabus concerned. In order to cover all the material as required, the book may become very bulky and the price of the commercial publication may grow beyond the buying capacity of the parents in general. What commercial publishers have been doing in Indonesia up to the present time is dividing the book into three volumes, one for each "cawu" (four-month period of the year). For instance volumes 1a, 1b, 1c are intended for grade 1, and so forth. Such a division is generally welcome by the teachers for the reason that it makes it easier for them to divide the materials within the school year. In line with the standing curriculum, in fact, the primary school has to divide its school year into three parts, rather than two semesters as is the case in the university level of education.

The Indonesian Language

As to whether or not it would cause any cultural problem for the Indonesian language to be chosen as a means of passing the instructional material in the textbooks, one has to think of the historical and cultural background. The fact is that this language was derived from one of the Malay dialects spoken in Riau, in the eastern part of Sumatra. It was used among the tradesman and the sailors long before Indonesia became an independent country.
The choice of Malay, particularly the Riau dialect, to become a national language was smoothly accepted for the reason that it has a political and cultural history, dating back to 28 October 1928. There was a decisive political event, when a vow was made among the youth to accept three principles. "One nation, One country, One language, and that is Indonesia". These young people were members of a number of political organisations representing ethnic groups with divergent linguistic backgrounds throughout the country, despite the fact that many of their languages are actually Malay dialects. They had the same ideal objective of liberating their homeland from colonial bondage.
The event, however, did not have much effect on schools, particularly the government schools under the Dutch administration, until the Second World War broke out. It was the Japanese who came in to seize Indonesia from the colonial grip. During the war, under the Japanese occupation, drastic changes took place in all the schools in Indonesia. Every school had to use the Indonesian language as the means of instruction, and every textbook for use by the students had to be translated into Indonesian. This change was warmly welcomed throughout the country, as the people hated the old system in which the Dutch language was used in schools for the socially higher class people, while for the lower class people the local language had be used. Thus the ability to speak Dutch became a social status symbol during the "Dutch India" (Dutch: Nederlands Indie) government.
Before the war, under the Dutch Government, Malay was taught in certain schools as a subject, but not as a means of instruction. It was considered relatively simple compared to Javanese. The popularity of Malay at that time can be seen from the habit of the foreigners who were always speaking in Malay to the natives. What's more the Dutch government was always translating important books on law and regulation, operation manuals for the nurses and other paramedic personnel of the hospitals, and so forth. It was easy for people from other ethnic groups, from outside the region of Riau to learn this language. This might be due to the fact that it differs only in pronunciation from the other languages in Indonesia, but not in syntactical structure. Phonetically speaking, Malay does not pose much difficulty for the people in Indonesia, as the phonemes are generally the same or even smaller in number than the local languages.
Indonesia has undergone several changes in course of time before the present spelling became widely used. Nowadays Indonesian is regularly written in Latin characters, which does not cause a special problem, since the local languages are also written in Latin instead of traditional characters as they used to be.

Indonesian Language as a School Subject

The subject of the Indonesian Language includes lessons for listening, speaking, reading, and writing of the language. As for the language used to pass on instruction to first year pupils, it depends on the social environment of the school. This is to say that the local language can be applied. The Indonesian language can also be used if the situation permits. In other words, the use of the national language is not compulsory in the first and second years of the primary school. On the use of the local language for instructional purposes it is explicitly stated in the law.
As reported by many observers, who recently had the chance to see what happens in practice, the use of the national language for these lower grades of the primary schools is increasing by the year. The information obtained is that the pupils have been accustomed to receiving instruction in the Indonesian language since they were in kindergarten. Another factor to support the use of Indonesian is that some of the pupils do not speak the local language. They are native speakers of different local languages of Indonesia.


The challenging problem for the government to provide textbooks for the primary schools throughout the country is the great number of pupils on one hand and the challenging handicaps of transportation on the other. This is particularly true in the outlying places, where shipment of books should be carried out by crossing wide rivers or the sea, or else by climbing the mountains or traveling through the woods. The method so far adopted is to prepare the manuscript centrally, at the Book Centre in Jakarta, and then develop it into film in a number of copies in order to be sent to the Provincial Offices of Education and Culture for the production of textbooks. The order for printing is placed through a "competitive binding" procedure among the printing companies in the province. For the shipment to schools several methods are applied depending on the local situation.
In Indonesia, there were 149,484 primary schools with 26,200,023 pupils in 1994-5 school year in the 27 provinces. The big job of providing textbooks for the primary school can be illustrated as follows. Supposing one single volume of textbooks was supplied for each pupil of every primary school in 1995, this would mean providing 26,000,000 copies of books. If each copy weighs 200 grams, 180 pages of 15 by 21 cm in paper of 70 gr. per sq. metre, then the total paper needed will amount to 5,200 ton. To transport the paper some 1,040 trucks will be needed.

Geographical Nature

We must also consider the difficulty in providing textbooks caused by geographical nature. The larger the area of the province the more effort is required to manage the shipment of textbooks to schools. Assuming the shape of the province to be like a rectangular ABCD, of which one of the sides AB to be the only road available, then the distance between the road and the ultimate destination will be like BC or AD. It is the part of the region where there is no road. It can be mountainous areas, inaccessible woods, or anything else except the road. Such regions where no road can yet be built are relatively more difficult to cover than elsewhere. Through computing total area with total length of the road in each province, Irian Jaya seems to be of the highest difficulty in this case, namely 25.46 times higher in difficulty than it is in Central Java. Jakarta, on the other hand, enjoys the highest degree of case for transportation, in reference to the proportion between the area and the total length of the road.

Soepena Ps
Graduated from Airlannga University in 1964, where he majored in liguistics as applied to teaching English as a foreign language. After serving as a teacher of junior and senior secondary schools, he became an official of Secretariat General of Ministry of Education and Culture since 1964, engaging in textbook projects from 1970 up till now. Retired in 1985, he has been consultants to Book Centre, USAID, World Bank and national consultant for textbook distribution in Primary Education Quality Improvement Project 1996.
Soepena Ps
Textbook Specialist Consultant, Book Centre, Ministry of Education and Culture, Jalan Gunung Sahari, Jakarta Pusat 10002, Indonesia