Thursday, January 11, 2007


First published in The Jakarta Post, January 6, 2007


Alpha Amirrachman, Jakarta

Education Minister Bambang Sudibyo has announced the government's intention to buy the copyrights of school textbooks so they can be downloaded through the Internet free of charge.

The plan is not without reason.

First, there is a severely unequal access to textbooks in many parts of the country due to ineffective distribution. Worse still, the number of available books is not enough to ensure that every student gets a book.

Second, vested and conflicting interests among education stakeholders such as publishers, schools, the bureaucracy, teachers, principals and parents have impeded improvement of education quality.

For example, one study reveals that only 50 percent of textbooks being used in schools meet the required standards. This means inappropriate textbooks are still being marketed by the publishers.

Also, although illegal, many schools still sell textbooks directly to students. A government regulation says textbooks should be used for five years, yet in practice parents have to change the books almost every year. This is not to mention the soaring price of textbooks.

The Internet plan may help resolve textbook problems, as it would bring dynamism to our national book system. But some points need to be considered.

First, the proposed policy should not disturb the existing system that involves writers, publishers and distributors. Second, it may only sound "beautiful as a discourse, but be difficult during the implementation". Third, while the textbooks should be downloaded free of charge and fast, how many of us are computer and Internet literate? Fourth, the kinds of books to be downloaded need to be carefully decided on as this involves various stakeholders.

No wonder the Indonesian Publishers Association (IKAPI) has warned of a school textbook monopoly that might again be held by the government.

Indeed, while the government's intention to widen access to textbooks for students should be warmly welcomed, many technical, legal and pedagogical aspects need to be carefully weighed.

There have been efforts to widen Internet access throughout the country. For example, the Internet Goes to School program launched by state telecommunications company Telkom in 1999 has reached 70,000 schools, or about 30 percent of a total of 219,500 schools and Islamic boarding schools across Indonesia by providing them with relevant training.

Likewise, in order to accelerate Internet penetration, Telkom and state postal company PT Pos Indonesia have agreed to develop community access points, which will be equipped with Internet access, e-business, valued added service and a call center. These services will be installed in 500 post offices in all provinces throughout Indonesia, before being installed in other post offices at the district level.

Furthermore, Telkom, the Education Ministry, Religious Affairs Ministry and Communications and Information Ministry have signed a memorandum of understanding on e-learning programs to provide network infrastructure to high schools throughout Indonesia.

Nevertheless, it remains unclear how the programs have really progressed, with most of them still at the initial stage. One source says that 25 percent (about 14,000) of all high schools have Internet access, but that means there are still 75 percent which are not yet connected. This does not include junior high and elementary schools.

Information technology expert Roy Suryo said during a seminar that only 14.5 million people (6.6 percent of the total population) in the country had access (not necessarily subscribers) to the Internet.

The World Summit on the Information Society set a 2010 deadline for all senior and junior high schools and 2015 for all elementary schools to be equipped with Internet access. If no efforts are planned and carried out, we will all surely be left behind by the international community.

This means we need more effective, systematic and concerted efforts, which can be initiated with a comprehensive survey on Internet awareness among school communities, followed by a massive campaign and efforts to install Internet networks in all schools across the country.

The next step concerns legal aspects. The government has proposed to buy the copyrights of textbooks through a licensing mechanism, both from the writers and the publishers. This should ease IKAPI's fear that the government would again retain monopoly on school textbooks.

The government can buy limited copyrights from writers to display the books through the Internet only, while other derivative forms are still held by the writers. This means the writers can still sell the subsidiary rights to the publishers.

If the copyrights belong to the publishers, it would very much depend on what agreement has previously been reached between the publishers and the writers: a license or assignment agreement. The latter indicates selling of all economic rights.

There is an alternative, however, which emerged during a seminar on this issue in Jakarta recently. Writers can divide their copyrights and sell them to both the government and the publishers through a licensing mechanism. The government can only display the books through the Internet and the publishers can only print the books conventionally.

Still, however, the writers can choose the assignment mechanism.

It must be noted that neither mechanism would steal the moral rights of the writers to have their names mentioned.

Certainly, although Indonesia has enacted the 2002 Copyright Law, the Education Ministry still needs to consult the Justice and Human Rights Ministry to prevent possible legal disputes with both the writers and publishers in the future.

Other unresolved problems include how to prevent people from illegally selling the printed materials downloaded from the Internet. It seems it has to be agreed first whether only certain educational institutions can have access to these textbooks, or whether a subscription system needs to be adopted. Also, what types of books will be made into e-books: educational or general books?

The last but perhaps most profound question concerns the pedagogical aspects when learning is delivered through the Internet. Since it may include web-based teaching materials and hypermedia in general, it is obvious that experts in this area need to be involved in designing an effective e-book and e-learning delivery.

This is not a simple matter, but it could revolutionize our way of learning.

The writer is a lecturer at the School of Education at Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa State University and a consultant to the Book Center at the Education Ministry. He can be reached at

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