How women leaders in schools are crucial to breaking the education gender gap

workshop for women in Indonesia

This article is co-written with the AIC‘s new industry fellow Eunice Sari who started exploring the value of technology in education from her early days as a language guide to becoming the co-founder of a company that merges design and user experience with digital technology. 

A transformation is needed in Indonesia’s educational system and it can be pushed in the right direction by having more women in leadership positions in schools.

Bahasa Indonesia

A survey of 16 Indonesian districts by the joint government education project INOVASI has shed light on the problems caused by gender inequality at the teacher level in education and the benefits of supporting women to take up leadership roles.

The findings revealed that female principals perform better as leaders compared to their male counterparts. The female principals have excellent school management skills, better literacy skills and can create supportive learning environments for staff and students. They also put more focus on teachers’ professional development, student learning and improved library facilities.

Another INOVASI project, which I was fortunate to be a part of, gained first-hand experience by working with teachers, principals, teacher educators and government officers in North Kalimantan. It found that educators face considerable difficulty in updating their professional and technological skills even though they were keen to do so.

The challenge for Indonesia is that female teachers comprise the majority at 70 percent but only 30 percent have reached the rank of principal. In religious education schools the number of women as leaders is even lower at 20 percent.

Indonesia is a signatory to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including number five on gender equality. In this goal in particular it rates poorly.

Within sustainable goal four (SDG 4) on education there are also gender-specific indicators that refer to the proportion of trained teachers by gender and the proportion of girls and boys enrolled in primary, secondary and tertiary education.

Progress towards gender equality has been slow due to numerous complex factors that are stopping women and girls from reaching their full potential. Educational equality is one of them. Addressing these factors is crucial to ensuring that women and girls can contribute fully to Indonesia’s sustainable development.

Women in leadership roles often face additional responsibilities especially if they have family responsibilities where they continue to be expected to undertake the lion’s share of work. They have little support when it comes to juggling priorities as a wife and mother due to social expectations and pressure. This often makes them reluctant to take on leadership roles.

Societal and personal pressures can also affect women from taking on learning opportunities that could help them personally improve and perhaps provide confidence. For instance, further education is seen as something to be done to secure a promotion, or better pay.

People study hard to achieve the front-of-mind goal, without really understanding how the new knowledge can be a part of their own learning journey. A female teacher may take on further traditional learning as a way to better support her family.

I would like to see a shift in focus away from education as a means to obtaining a degree or certificate towards education as part of a lifelong learning experience that helps individuals in a community.

My passion is to enable people to be able to learn about the subjects that interest them in ways that are engaging and accessible at any stage of their life.

Indonesia has a long-standing history of gender inequality supported by prevailing norms of patriarchy. It must be remembered, however, the nation has a female hero who led the public challenge against discrimination.

More than a century ago a woman called Kartini fought for the emancipation of women and girls to access educational opportunities. While every child in Indonesia is required to attend school until year 12, regardless of gender, there are still many children who do not receive a proper education for various reasons. And having passionate and empowered leaders is a part of this.

There have been some steps towards this including changes that had to be made during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Indonesian government created an Emergency Curriculum policy that allowed teachers to have more flexibility around learning and content to ensure students were not left behind in their education. This included using online tools such as quizzes, voice notes and photos.

The Indonesian government also introduced the principal of Independent Curriculum as the national guidance which emphasises student-centred learning and encourages creativity, critical thinking and innovation in the teaching and learning process.

More than 140,000 schools have adopted this Independent Curriculum. It’s a good start with plenty of room left for improvement.

Educators can continue improving their professional competencies, including in technology and instructional design. Schools should provide space for individual and collaborative learning for educators, while also increasing support for their teachers and students to explore new ways of learning.

An AIC PAIR project, funded by DFAT, is examining how to improve teacher quality in vocational schools by ensuring that policymakers, industry, education providers and students work together to achieve significant improvement in education.

I strongly believe that education is a life-long process that should be available to everyone regardless of their background or location. And part of achieving that is to support true leaders who can inspire others to learn.

Image credit: From Dr Eunice Sari, seen here in a black T-shirt facilitating a women’s workshop.

Picture of Dr Eunice Sari

Industry Fellow
The Australia-Indonesia Centre

Picture of Helen Brown

Head of Communications and Outreach
The Australia-Indonesia Centre

Sign up to our twice-weekly Media Update