Category Archives: News

Singapore domestic helpers’ day off in the park rankles with some residents, who complain of noise and littering

First published on 15 July 2018 on South China Morning Post.

With no facilities designed for their use, domestic helpers head to public places to relax on their day off – and they’re not always welcome.

It’s an overcast Sunday afternoon in Singapore’s Botanic Gardens and foreign domestic helpers relax on picnic rugs and in the pagodas. Loud Filipino dance music is punctured by raucous laughter. In another group, a guitar is strummed and hymns are sung in Bahasa Indonesia.

On the surface, a happy day off – but behind the scenes it’s a different story for many of them, and for some residents unhappy with their presence.

Wurgiyanti Siswanto, also known as Gati, has been working in Singapore for the same family for the past 15 years. Originally from Banjarnegara, in Central Java province, Gati says she used to work every day, but Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower made it mandatory in 2013 for employers to give helpers one rest day a week.

Statistics from the ministry show there were 246,800 foreign domestic workers employed in the country at the end of 2017, with the majority from Indonesia and the Philippines. They can spend their rest day away from home, but, as in Hong Kong, without facilities such as social centres they have to congregate in public places – a sore point for them, and others.

The Botanic Gardens is one of the popular hangouts, as is East Coast Park and, if it’s raining, the Lucky Plaza shopping centre.

“We don’t hang out all day,” says Gati, who leaves her employer’s home at dawn and doesn’t return until about 9pm. “I go to church in the morning, where I have activities until the service starts at 11am.

“After that we spend the afternoon relaxing, singing and sharing in the park together.”

Not everyone is as lucky as Gati. “Not all helpers get days off,” she says.

Gati’s friend Rose, for example, is having difficulties adjusting to her new employer. She is only allowed two rest days a month, and is not compensated for the two Sundays her employer makes her work. Under the law, helpers should get at least one day’s salary or a replacement rest day to be taken within the same month.

Employers in breach of the law can be fined up to S$10,000 (US$7,340), jailed for up to one year, or both. Invariably, most domestic helpers don’t rock the boat for fear of losing their job.

Agustina, from Manado in North Sulawesi, has also been a helper in Singapore for 15 years. She says her Sundays off begin with cleaning her employer’s house, before she leaves around lunchtime for afternoon church service. She heads home at about 8pm.

One of her friends interjects: “Depends on the boss. If the boss is bule [Western], your off day is your day. If the boss is Chinese, then you usually have to work.”

Her friends laugh out loud at her remark.

“I like to leave the house tidy,” Agustina responds with a smile.

Gati says before joining her church fellowship she would join other helpers in the parks and malls. “But it gets boring,” she says. “This way we have a purpose and we use our time well.”

“Through our fellowship, we help and guide Rose with prayer and discussions so that she can get used to her employer while seeing the bigger picture and not just the short term,” Gati says.

By the turtle pond at the Botanic Gardens, a larger group of domestic helpers dressed in uniform green T-shirts are practising dance moves to loud music. Also from Indonesia, this group of about 30 workers is quite raucous and talk excitedly.

While helpers have nowhere else to go, their large gatherings are not always welcomed.

William Smith is an Australian expat in Singapore who employs an Indonesian domestic worker to help his wife look after their one-year-old child. He often goes to a public park with his family at the weekend, and says he would like to see helpers be more considerate of other park-goers.

“I don’t have a problem with the helpers spending time together, relaxing in the park. It’s good for them to have down time like everyone else,” he tells the Post. “What I have a problem with is when people litter and aren’t considerate of other park-goers.”

Smith says his local park, Mount Emily Park on Sophia Hill, becomes crowded with foreign domestic helpers and foreign construction workers on Sundays.

“It gets so overrun and noisy that we often feel deterred from spending time there,” he says.

Smith adds once most of the groups have left, there is a lot of litter on the ground, despite the threat of harsh fines.

The Environmental Public Health Act imposes a maximum S$2,000 fine for first-time litterers and up to S$10,000 for third and subsequent convictions.

“The loud music from ghetto blasters is also a nuisance,” Smith adds. “We’re all outside trying to enjoy our time off. If they’d like to listen to music, perhaps they can use headphones instead, or at least play it at a respectable volume.”

Local media have reported on several complaints filed by members of the public about noise pollution and littering caused by domestic helpers.

In March, a complaint was also filed concerning public displays of affection between female domestic workers and male migrant workers at the Ang Mo Kio Mass Rapid Transit underpass in northern Singapore.

According to disgruntled residents, the underpass has become a “hotspot” for gatherings of foreign workers, who spend all day there picnicking. Some residents complained they could hear the noise from their homes.

Several NGOs in Singapore have begun offering self-improvement courses for migrant workers as one way to make their days off more productive. Courses range from cooking and dressmaking to saving money and starting a small business. There is also a fitness club run by the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training.

Hani is a 32-year-old Indonesian helper who has been living in Singapore for seven years – and has worked for Chinese, Malay and expatriate families. Her current employer is from Australia.

On her weekly rest day, Hani takes a course run by Aidha, an NGO that provides training programmes in financial literacy and self-development skills.

Classes at Aidha are held on alternate Sundays and cost S$200 for a six-month course. Self-supporting helpers receive a discounted rate of S$150 for the course. Hani’s employer supports her study by paying the fees for her.

She enjoys feeling more productive on her off days. “I got bored just hanging out with friends and not doing anything on Sundays,” she says. “This way, I have a chance to better myself and maybe start my own small business when I go back to Indonesia.”

The downsides to Singapore’s education system: streaming, stress and suicides

First published in South China Morning Post on 21 September, 2017

The country’s school system is geared towards high achievement in exams, but the emphasis on rote learning and memorisation, combined with pressure to succeed, affects children’s social skills, health and overall happiness.

Singapore’s education system is reputed for producing children who top the world rankings in standardised tests. The city state took first place in the last Pisa (global education rankings.

Hong Kong ranked ninth in the last Pisa tests, below Taiwan (fourth) and Macau (sixth).

Howard Tan, a former Singapore primary-school teacher turned private tutor, says he has encountered parents who put undue pressure on their youngsters.

“It’s too simplistic to say that the pressure comes from the system. A lot of pressure comes from parents,” he says, adding that he’s seen parents express disappointment with their children for scoring less than 90 per cent in tests. “As a teacher, I hardly push my students that way. The system necessitates that from the parents,” he says.

Tan teaches eight- and nine-year-olds, and his private tuition classes wrap up at 9pm. “I have one eight-year-old student taking multiple tuition classes from multiple tutors per subject, amounting to 11 tuition sessions a week. Does she have time for anything else?”

Tan says that when he taught physical education classes in primary school, he noticed that a number of children lacked motor skills. “In preschool … they need to socialise and learn conflict resolution with other kids. Many of the children I taught didn’t know how to deal with disagreements; they would shout because they didn’t know any better,” he says.

High student-to-teacher ratios are a big problem in Singaporean schools, Tan says, but pressure also stems from the practice of streaming – with pupils of the same year being segregated into different classes based on results and assessments in several key gateways.

Streaming is where the Singapore system differs from Hong Kong’s. However, segregation of “bright and slow” students still happens in Hong Kong, in the form of school banding.

Singapore’s compulsory education system consists of six years of primary school, four years of secondary, and between one and three years of post-secondary school. Students undergo two major exams before even leaving primary school.

At the end of primary year four, pupils are tested to determine the courses they will take in English, mathematics, mother tongue, and science. At the end of primary school, they take the Primary School Leaving Examination, which determines the stream a pupil will follow in secondary education.

There are four streams: Special, Express, Normal Academic, and Normal Technical. Special comprises about 10 per cent of pupils, and is an accelerated pathway to university. Fifty per cent make the Express track, which may lead directly to university or initially to junior college. Twenty per cent pursue the Normal track, leading to polytechnic institute, while the remainder fall into Normal Technical, which leads to a qualification at the Institute of Technical Education.

Some Singapore parents regard streaming as beneficial for children with different learning capacities. Maida Genato, who has three children at school, says: “For the slow learners, if you teach at a faster pace, they might have a hard time adjusting, whereas for fast learners, if you slow the pace they might get bored.”

Tan, however, says that with class sizes of 30 to 40 pupils, streaming will fail a lot of children.

Jamie Sisson, an education lecturer at University of South Australia, says streaming and high-stakes testing increase stress on children and parents.

“There is hard evidence proving that below high school, homework does not have a positive impact on learning.”

“[It serves] to limit opportunities for learners that later affects their opportunities in life. Humans are complex beings. It is difficult to determine at a young age what someone is capable of achieving later in life,” she says.

The Singaporean concept of kiasu – a Hokkien word meaning “afraid to lose” – may explain why parents enrol their children in extracurricular tuition in the hope they will excel in test scores.

Genato, a Filipino, says she’s noticed that her daughter’s ethnic Chinese classmates tend to be pushed harder. “It must be a cultural thing,” she adds.

Sisson says she has observed that young adults of Chinese descent, including Singaporeans, sometimes find it hard to adapt to the university’s style of teaching.

“I’m seeing students, especially from China, struggle because they’re used to memorising answers. When they come to study in Australia, they have to shift their way of thinking.”

Sisson advocates a democratic, student-centred pedagogy, a teaching ethos by which students play a significant role in defining course policies, materials covered, and other aspects of schooling.

“Research shows that placing high value on test scores has led to narrow views of teaching and learning,” she says. “Such practices focus on memorising facts that have been determined by others to be of worth.

“If we don’t understand how things work in the context of real life, then we don’t understand, we’re just memorising. This can limit children’s opportunities to develop skills important to being innovative problem solvers we need in the future.”

Sisson refers to a widely cited report by British-based business lecturer Sally Chan, titled The Chinese Learner – a question of style. Chan writes: “The popular view is that the stresses of learning and need to excel academically leave the Chinese student with little choice but to resort to rote learning of the essentials to pass the examinations … Such learning modes are believed to dominate classroom behaviour for Chinese students in Hong Kong, China and Southeast Asia.”

Although primary-school children in Singapore spend an uncommon amount of time dealing with homework and extracurricular tuition, the benefits are questionable.

“There is hard evidence proving that below high school, homework does not have a positive impact on learning,” Sisson says, citing the example of Finland, which takes a holistic approach to education. Finnish students have little or no homework, and there is no private tuition culture in the country.

Finland came sixth in the latest Pisa rankings, and its schools produce young adults who are critical thinkers and problem-solvers.

“In preschool … they need to socialise and learn conflict resolution with other kids. Many of the children I taught didn’t know how to deal with disagreements.”

Finnish children don’t start school until they are seven years old, and there is only one standardised test, administered in the final year of high school. School holidays are longer. Finland ranked fifth in the UN’s 2016 World Happiness Report; Singapore ranked 26th.

Last year, Singapore’s Ministry of Education announced that a new scoring system would come into effect in 2021, claiming it will reduce stress by encouraging pupils to focus on their own learning rather that competition with their classmates.

Currently, a student’s Primary School Leaving Examination aggregate is the sum of T-scores from all four subjects taken. T-scores indicate how well a pupil has performed relative to peers in the subjects. From 2021, pupils’ scores will no longer be benchmarked against their classmates’, the ministry says, admitting: “The way that the T-score is calculated may have also created unhealthy competition among our young children.”

Roy Ngerng is a Singaporean activist, who in 2014 was found guilty of defaming Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on his sociopolitical blog, in comments about the city state’s pension fund. In an article titled ““New” PSLE Education Scoring System: Does it Change Anything?” Ngerng concludes that the change “still puts excessive focus on academic results”, and that students will actually find it harder to obtain higher scores.

Ngerng suggests that “healing” the system would require a combination of reducing class sizes and the administrative workload of teachers so they can focus on the development of each child, which would in turn reduce stress levels.

He also suggests a reduction in school hours. This would give teachers room for more creative activities to develop children’s critical thinking skills, he says.

Under the Knife: Female Genitalia Mutilation Causes Long Term Psychological Effects on Indonesian Women

First published in Indonesia Expat, 1 August 2017

Female genitalia mutilation is common practice in Indonesia. Although it is largely associated with Islamic teachings, many claim there is no connection to the religion. I speak to women who have experience first-hand and discover that there are more than negative physical effects caused by this incredible act of violation of human rights.

Nini works as a house helper in Jakarta. Recently a grandmother to baby twin girls, she had planned to accompany her son and daughter-in-law to the twins’ first official doctor’s appointment a few days after their births in South Jakarta. The routine visit was to include a check-up, vaccinations and the female circumcision.

Female genitalia mutilation, known in Bahasa Indonesia as ‘sunat perempuan’ is a common practice in Indonesia – and not just in rural areas. Parents and guardians like Nini have been told that the practice of either partially cutting or removing the clitoris entirely at a young age, without the child’s consent, is part of religious tradition that must be honoured. According to a 2016 report by UNICEF, 49 percent of Indonesian girls aged below 14 had undergone female genital mutilation by 2015.

In the country with the highest population of Muslims in the world, many people in Indonesia believe the practice is part of their religious passage. Historical records show that the practice began in the country with the arrival of Islam in the 13th century. It is carried out in different regions of the archipelago where Islam is predominant.

“I only know about sunat perempuan from the Betawi people I know, who say that it’s a religious passage in Islam,” says Nini, a Muslim who is originally from Cirebon and has not been circumcised. “Maybe it’s according to different regions’ traditions and beliefs.”

In 2013 the Indonesian Ulema Council ruled in favour of this violation against human rights, claiming it is part of Islamic teachings. Many Muslims, however, would disagree that it is taught in their religion.

Wulan Danoekoesoemo is the Co-Founder of Lentera Indonesia, an NGO aimed at providing support and counsel for victims of sexual abuse. Wulan is also a practicing Muslim and believes there is no passage in the Koran that teaches female circumcision.

“Female genitalia mutilation is not part of Islamic teachings,” she tells Indonesia Expat. “It has no medical/health benefit and was passed on through the generations as part of culture and tradition.”

Wulan herself is a victim of this violation against human rights. When she was only a few days old, her mother – believing she was acting in her daughter’s best interests at the time – took her to a clinic to have the procedure done on her. Although Wulan does not have any significant physical effects, she experiences psychological side effects until this day on a daily basis.

“Every time I get water on that region, I feel an incredibly overwhelming feeling of sadness and depression that I can’t explain,” she confesses.

“I feel worthless. It’s as though that part of me still recalls the extraordinary violation that took place all those years ago, and conveys it through my emotions.”

Wulan also teaches psychology at Binus University, and believes the psychological ramifications of female genitalia mutilation are significant to a woman’s development.

“When you’ve been violated from such a young age, it stays with you and defines the person who you are,” she says honestly. “Contrary to male circumcision in Indonesia, where the child or young man ultimately gets to make the decision as to whether or not he wants to ‘have the snip,’ girls are not asked – it just happens to them.”

The World Health Organisation states that the procedure has no health benefits whatsoever, contrary to popular local belief, unlike male circumcision, where health benefits include a reduced risk of some sexually transmitted diseases, protection against penile cancer and a reduced risk of cervical cancer in female sex partners.

The same practice on females can lead to harm. According to the World Health Organisation the procedure “can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating and later cysts, infections, as well as complications in childbirth and increased risk of newborn deaths.”

As Wulan experienced, psychological problems, including low self-esteem, depression and anxiety are long-term consequences associated with the practice.

Female genital mutilation is classified into four major types. Type one is the partial or total removal of the clitoris, type two is the partial or full removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, and type three is the narrowing of the vaginal opening through the creation of a covering seal. Type four includes all other harmful procedures carried out on the female genitalia for nonmedical purposes; pricking, piercing, scraping and cauterizing.

In Indonesia, types one and four is prevalent. In 2006 the government tried to ban the practice, a move that proved unsuccessful and was lifted. In 2010, the Health Ministry issued a decree outlining the ‘proper’ procedure for the circumcision, and has since tried to accommodate cultural and religious considerations, focusing efforts on eradicating type one genital mutilation and promoting a ‘safer’ type four, which involves pricking the clitoris, not removing it. Activists claim this contradicts the 2006 ruling prohibiting clinics from performing any mutilation and causes confusion among the public.

Wulan’s circumcision falls into type four. She believes the public needs to be educated about the practice to help them understand.

“People need to know and understand consent and how the female genitalia mutilation does not give the opportunity to women to agree or disagree to the practice. People may mean no harm to their daughters when they exercised this, but they also need to be aware of the physical and psychological impact that may result from this experience.”

Wulan believes the government needs to start being more firm when it comes to protecting personal choices.

“Despite tradition, it is still a matter of taking away an individual’s right to allow or not allow actions to be done to their bodies.”

She urges the government to start socializing accurate information about female genitalia mutilation: “working with local influencers and primary health care providers to reconstruct people’s understanding on female genitalia mutilation issues taking various approaches as well. It will take a lot of time but it needs to start somewhere.”

After receiving the facts about the dangers of female genitalia mutilation, Nini decided not to take her twin granddaughters to have the procedure done. These two little girls were the lucky ones.

The Reporter-Turned-Refugee

A journalist’s job is to tell a story. It’s not a profession that pays the highest salary, nor is it one that earns the most respect. Those who choose this path, however, are usually incredibly passionate, willing to take risks to share the truth.

But what happens when you take a journalist who is a minority, place him in a war-torn country, reporting on extremist groups? You become a target. This is exactly what happened to 30-year-old Hasib (not his real name), a Hazara from Afghanistan, who is currently living as a refugee in one of the wettest cities in the world, Bogor.

Hasib meets me on his street outside of a small warung (small shop). He welcomes me and leads me down a small gang (alleyway) that ends at a dark-looking house. He takes me down the side of the house, through a narrow path that opens up to a small back area, with a dark bedroom, a corner with a sink and a stove, and an outside area where the bathroom sits. The back quarter is surrounded by chicken wire and overlooks a rice field.

“Where would you feel comfortable?” Hasib asks me sincerely.

I look around and see a rusty metal chair. In front of it sits a small coffee table. “This looks good,” I say as I point to the chair. “But where will you sit?” I ask him. He says that it’s absolutely no problem and rushes off to fetch another chair from his landlord’s front porch.

Once I settle down, I take a moment to look around. Hasib’s concrete-clad confines are small and dimly lit, and there’s no escape from the damp Bogor air. But his situation has done nothing to dampen his spirits. Hasib asks me if I have eaten and insists he prepare some food. I accept, understanding the Aghani custom – very similar to Indonesia’s – of always offering something to eat and drink to guests that grace your home.

Hasib brings out a pre-cooked meal of kidney beans in a tomato and spice sauce, and puts it in a pan on the stove to heat up. He sits down in front of me as I begin asking him questions about his life.

'Hasib' the former reporter, now a refugee awaiting an uncertain future in Bogor, Indonesia
‘Hasib’ the former reporter, now a refugee awaiting an uncertain future in Bogor, Indonesia

“How much rent do you pay here?”

“Rp.600,000 (USD 44) per month,” he answers. “It’s the cheapest I could find and my landlord is very kind to me.”

As the aromatic smell of the beans begins to fill the room, Hasib tells me about his former life as a journalist back in Afghanistan. During his time at the Daily Outlook Afghanistan, his office and colleagues were attacked by extremist groups over allegations of blasphemy. The bureau was shut down. He later worked at the The Daily Afghanistan Express.

“My colleagues in The Daily Afghanistan Express fled; some are still missing while others have been sent to prison. I am not sure whether they are alive or have been persecuted,” he tells me. Hasib, having written countless articles about extremist groups responsible for the attacks, became a target.

Hasib excuses himself to switch off the stove as the beans are cooked. He prepares a plate each, served with some Afghani bread. “Please, I hope you like it,” he says. The beans are delicious, with a kick from the chilli they’re cooked in. Hasib gives me some homemade yoghurt to control the spice. We continue our discussion.

“Why did you come to Indonesia?”

“I had no choice,” he answers honestly. “I fled from Afghanistan to Pakistan, where I stayed for 16 months, but the situation there was also terrible. Innocent women, some of whom were family members, and a small girl I knew by the name of Tabasom Shukria, were beheaded. I believe they were after me for the articles I had written against Lashkari Jhangvi, an extremist group in Pakistan.

“The only thing I knew about Indonesia before coming here was the stories of refugees drowning in boats out at sea. I covered these stories while I was a journalist. I never dreamt I would end up a refugee out at sea as well.”

In the chaos of war, Hasib hastily reached out to an agent to help him seek asylum in another country. He handed over a large sum of money and followed instructions, boarding a plane to Dubai. It was here that he learned he would be seeking refuge in Indonesia. He flew from Dubai to Malaysia, where he got on a boat and crossed the Straits of Malacca to Sumatra, eventually boarding the last plane he would fly in 2.5 years, from Medan to Jakarta.

Like all asylum seekers who first arrive in Indonesia, Hasib reported himself to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Jakarta. “I felt safe for the first time in a long time,” he tells me. It took the UNHCR two years to grant Hasib refugee status, which is now valid for 1.5 years. Refugees are not allowed to work or attend school in Indonesia while waiting to be resettled in a third country. If their case is rejected by the UNHCR, they must return from where they came.

“How do you survive without earning a salary?” I ask.

“Through donations from my friends and colleagues back home. I save money by eating once a day; sometimes I go hungry.”

I look down at my plate and am deeply moved that Hasib has shared some of his treasured food rations with me.

“I live a hermit’s life,” Hasib says while smiling. “I sit where you’re sitting and listen to music while reading or writing poetry. I also teach the women of the Indonesian Women Support Group Center voluntarily. Sometimes I get called to help with interpretations.”

When asked what his life feels like to him, he answers, “like a bad nightmare”. Hasib believes people don’t view refugees as human beings. “I’m broken. I often get splitting headaches, chest pain and fevers, but I can’t afford healthcare,” he shares.

Hasib only hears from his family back home sporadically. “I don’t even know if my family are alive.” He has two sisters and three bothers living as refugees in Pakistan, a country nearly as dangerous as Afghanistan.

Hasib, like approximately 14,000 other refugees in Indonesia, lives day to day, waiting patiently in limbo to be resettled in the United States, New Zealand, Australia or Canada. “If Indonesia would resettle me, I would be extremely happy,” he smiles. Sadly for Hasib and his fellow refugee friends, Indonesia has not signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and will not resettle refuge-seekers.

President Trump’s 120-day refugee ban directly affects Hasib and has thrown a spanner in the works for all refugees in Indonesia who are waiting for resettlement. As Indonesia is still accepting asylum seekers and refugees, we can expect the UNHCR to experience an even greater backlog of refugees waiting for resettlement in a third country.

I ask Hasib, “How does President Trump’s ban make you feel about the potential of ending up in the United States?”

“I am worried I would be looked upon as a bad human in the United States,” he says. “Minds are being injected with pointless thoughts that Muslims are not good people and that we are not welcome. The ban is a very negative initiative. It doesn’t only paralyse Muslims, but the entire world.”

“What will you do if and when you are resettled?”

“I will continue to be a journalist,” he says. “I’ll dedicate my work to humanity. I will never forget the people of Indonesia; people are kind here.”

Hasib’s story is one of suffering, having been on the run for most of his life. But even through the sadness in his eyes, warmth exudes. Although his stories are heartbreaking, he is still smiles, laughs and shares kindness with others.

Hasib would like to convey the following messages to authorities around the world:

“I plead for humanitarian assistance. I plead for you to open your arms to refugees and asylum seekers. Please don’t ignore us; we are innocent people. I plead that you spend a moment to feel what it is like to live in our shoes. I beg for empathy.”

Original article published on Indonesia Expat on February 13, 2017.

McKinsey & Company in Indonesia: Unleashing the Potential of the Archipelago’s Economy

Paris-born Guillaume de Gantes started his journey with McKinsey & Company 15 years ago in Paris. He mainly worked in New York, where he was elected as a partner of the firm. This Harvard Business School alumnus moved to McKinsey’s office in Indonesia two years ago and he talks to us about the opportunities and challenges in ASEAN’s largest economy.

Guillaume, tell us how you’ve found working in this region so far.

I love Southeast Asia as a region because there’s so much happening here. For me, the professional aspect of coming to Indonesia was really about being in the heart of what is going on in ASEAN. I was very keen to be in such an exciting country.

Can you give us some background information on McKinsey’s growth in Indonesia and Southeast Asia?

We are present in most countries in Southeast Asia: Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and most recently, Vietnam. We work with government institutions and enterprises in all major sectors, to translate the region’s rich opportunities into transformative economic and social impact. We also help leading multinationals build and grow successful businesses in Southeast Asia.

We have been present in Indonesia since 1988, and the office was McKinsey’s first in Southeast Asia. We help many of Indonesia’s leading enterprises drive growth, transform operational and organisational performance, shape new business models, build leadership capabilities, and accelerate economic development.

McKinsey is known as the world’s leading global management consulting firm. In which industries do you consult and in what capacity?

Our mission has always been to help clients make distinctive, lasting, and substantial improvements in their performance. Globally, we serve clients across all industries and sectors with capabilities to support execution and make change happen.

In Southeast Asia in particular, we serve clients in all major sectors including oil and gas, mining, financial services, telecom and media, consumer industries, travel and logistics, and the public sector. I personally serve our clients in the financial services, telecommunications and healthcare sectors.

Your recent work in Indonesia has included building one of the major banks here. How were you involved in redesigning the distribution process of this bank?

Given my background, I am personally passionate about working with banks and the financial services industry, which is hugely impacted by digitization. We have done a great deal of work in digital – building digital banks and digitizing current processes. There is a growing recognition that banks will have to change the way they work dramatically or entire businesses will be taken over by ‘Fintech’, nimble financial technology firms. You see this in the US; you have small firms that have already taken over parts of the banking value chain. Every single part of a bank in the US is ‘under attack’ by small firms. So, there is a scenario where banks could disappear. As Bill Gates said, banking is necessary, but banks are not. Banks will have to evolve or lose a lot of what they do today.

There are 118 commercial banks in Indonesia and the interesting question is: out of those banks, how many are ready for competition in the digital age?

Your latest report, Winning in Indonesia’s Consumer Good’s Market, discovered that 7 of the 16 companies you surveyed were winners in at least one of the performance areas. Only one company won in all of them – what traits must a consumer goods company possess in order to succeed in Indonesia?

We did extensive customer research in a number of categories and one of the things we looked at is how consumers make decisions. Indonesian consumers tend to be very family and group-oriented when it comes to making decisions, as opposed to Chinese consumers, who are fairly individual. Indonesians like to ask family and friends if they have tried the product, putting a lot of value in their opinion. They also like products that can be shared.

People here rely on their social network quite a bit, especially through social media, much more than other countries we’ve looked at. There is also a very brand-loyal culture here and shoppers take fewer risks – people typically know what they are going to buy ahead of time. Based on our study, these two things do not change with level of affluence.

Indonesians also really value local brands. In our survey, we noticed a lot of Indonesian people think KitKat is a local brand, when it isn’t. Brands that can understand all of the above and market themselves well locally, as well as integrate into social media will be able to do well here.

Can you please debunk some of the common recent myths of Indonesia’s economy?

The first myth is that Indonesia’s growth is Jakarta-led. If we look back a few years, the economy was already driven outside of Jakarta, and even outside of Java, in Sumatra, Sulawesi, Kalimantan. In fact, 90 percent of the fastest growing cities are outside of Java.

Another myth is that Indonesia is an export or raw material-driven growth, when increasingly, it is a consumption driven growth. The population of Indonesia’s urban consuming class is growing by the equivalent of one Singapore every year and will grow to 86 million by 2020.

The most interesting myth, however, is that Indonesia is an unstable economy. We have found that among OECD and BRIC countries, the standard deviation of growth in Indonesia in the first 10 years of the century actually makes Indonesia the most stable economy.

Let’s discuss growth. You believe by 2030, Indonesia could be a global top 10 economy, surpassing the UK, France and possibly Germany. How could this be achieved and what hurdles do we face?

Yes, it could be. Indonesia has strong intrinsics – the growing consumer market, becoming an international food hub, and being a lean resource provider and user.

However, there are also relevant challenges. Our research shows that Indonesia needs to increase productivity by 25 percent to maintain historic growth rates. One major sector that will benefit from this is farming, agriculture and fisheries. A simple example – in Japan, people freeze fish so if the price of fish depreciates, they don’t have to sell their fish right away. Here, the infrastructure to freeze fish is not in place.

There is a big need to improve infrastructure. To grow, the country will need to spend about US$2.7 trillion in infrastructure in the next 15 or so years.

Indonesia also needs to have greater financial inclusion – getting people to be able to save. We have 250 million people in the country but only 70 million bank accounts. Getting more people to save, access credit and use banking systems will be important towards achieving this growth and unlocking its potential.

Do you think the world’s eyes are on this region at the moment?

Yes, very much so. Southeast Asia is one of the fastest growing markets in the world. If it were a single country, it would be the seventh largest in the world, with a combined GDP of US$2.4 trillion. It is projected to rank as the fourth-largest by 2050. I am reminded of the opportunities in these economies by the sheer number of companies that have reached out to us to help unlock the potential – it’s amazing. For many companies, they see Indonesia as the next big frontier.

When these companies reach out to you for investment opportunities, which sectors do you suggest they invest in?

It’s very hard to name a sector in Indonesia which does not offer investing opportunities. We have found that there is US$1.8 trillion in opportunities for businesses who invest in Indonesia’s four priority sectors: consumers, agriculture, resources and talent. We believe this potential is going to be further unleashed and accelerated by the power of digital, whether through mobile and internet banking, e-commerce, education, manufacturing, government service delivery and more.

Thank you, Guillaume.

The Teacher Exodus: Why are Jakarta’s International School Teachers Leaving?

Teachers come to Indonesia to teach at international schools for a variety of reasons: the opportunity to grow as an educator with many new experiences coupled with a good working package and beautiful travel destinations in the region. Teaching in the capital of Jakarta, however, is not without its challenges and this year more teachers are leaving than usual for reasons ranging from politics, the economy to not feeling welcome in Indonesia anymore.

The capital of Jakarta has 30 international schools, a term changed to ‘multicultural schools’ by the Indonesian Government in December 2014, only allowing an exemption for schools affiliated with embassies, leaving six in the country in total. Originally created to provide education of international standards to children of diplomats and expatriates, today these schools are open to Indonesian students as well, a result of the Indonesian financial crisis of 1998 when tens of thousands of expatriates lost their jobs as the currency plummeted and companies were no longer able to pay the largely dollar-denominated salaries.

Regulation changes by the Government that took effect at the end of 2014 have meant that international schools must teach Indonesian language, religion (depending on the religion of the student) and civic education. Ministry of Education spokesperson Ibnu Hamad said in a press statement last year that the intention of the regulation was to weed out low-quality schools that charge a premium by adding ‘international’ to their title. Indonesian students wishing to gain an Indonesian Diploma are also obliged to take the national exams before moving up a grade or graduating, at the end of the sixth, ninth and 12th grades.

Former JIS teacher Neil Bantleman is carrying out a 10-year sentence for allegedly sexually abusing a child at JIS, however no evidence was ever produced against him. Courtesy of CBC
Former JIS teacher Neil Bantleman is carrying out a 10-year sentence for allegedly sexually abusing a child at JIS, however no evidence was ever produced against him. Courtesy of CBC

Also in 2014, teacher Neil Bantleman and teaching assistant Ferdi Tjiong were arrested for allegedly sexually abusing a child at the Jakarta Intercultural School (JIS). Although no resounding evidence against them was ever given, both teachers have been sentenced to ten years imprisonment.

Most international schools are seeing a higher than usual number of foreign teachers leaving the country at the end of this school year. This is on par with the number of expatriates living in Indonesia reducing by 20 percent – from approximately 77,000 to 62,000. There have also been rumours that the Government plans to reduce the number of expats working in Indonesia to 30,000.

George Tsementzis is an administrator at the North Jakarta Intercultural School (NJIS) who believes that the higher rate of teachers leaving is partly due to the case that took place at JIS. “We saw Neil Bantleman being pulled into a courtroom without any probable cause,” he said. “This could happen to anybody and you’d be done; nobody can help you. The sad thing is immediately all Indonesians think expat teachers are child molesters.

“Teachers see that there is no justice and that they’re not protected by their embassies,” continued Tsementzis, adding that NJIS is losing 10 percent more than average of its teaching staff this year.

At ACG School in South Jakarta, approximately 13 teachers are leaving, which is over 25 percent of the teaching staff; again a figure higher than average. Chris Betts is a teacher at ACG School who saw teaching in Indonesia as “an opportunity to try something different.” Betts moved to Jakarta in early 2015 and does not feel threatened or unsafe teaching in Indonesia. “If I did start to feel unsafe, I would leave for sure,” he says.

Foreign teachers of international schools on average move every 2.4 years and international school teachers are in high demand. Requirements to be able to teach at an international school include five years teaching experience, a degree in the particular subject they teach – recently changed by the Government, whereas before the degree did not have to relate to the subject taught – health checks, police checks and an international child protection certification.

According to Tsementzis, not all schools adhere to these requirements. NJIS have also provided financial motivators and administrative changes for teachers this year as a motivator. Tsementzis believes there is a shortage of qualified, experienced expat teachers in Indonesia, but not a shortage of expats who want to teach. He feels that teachers will prefer to go to other countries to teach as “there are better options available in other Asian countries; Vietman and China are opening schools every day.”

In light of recent raids of foreign workers in Jakarta, and more recently of a raid on a golf course where those not carrying their passport and KITAS were fined Rp.5 million rupiah and one Japanese national was detained, expats and expat teachers are feeling less welcome here.

Helen Thomson is a PE teacher at the British International School (BIS) in Jakarta and feels the situation is only going to get worse. “I definitely feel assessed personally and feel less welcome and I think, especially over the month of Ramadhan, that it’s going to be stricter than normal.”

When asked why she ended her contract at BIS and is moving to Europe, she answered, “Honestly, I’m done with Jakarta; seven years is a long time. The kids are amazing and why we do our job. Indonesians are generally wonderful people and it’s sad that the situation is turning a bit. I want to remember it as it was.”

Since the JIS trial, BIS has added CCTV cameras all over the school, and more child protection training has been implemented. “A lot more awareness has been given to teachers of how we should be with the students because as international school teachers, we’re different from British soil teachers – we have more of a relationship with students,” Thomson says. “Anything can be taken out of context and that’s the scary thing.”

Thomson feels her school is becoming more like a business, with less of a community spirit and no longer a family feeling, which she believes is due to the economy and the exodus of oil, gas and mining expats. Schools have to work harder to enrol new students in a difficult economy. BIS is losing 43 foreign teachers this year, an 80 percent increase to last year’s 25. A lot of these are long-term teachers, she says.

Originally, applications to fill these 43 positions were high, but Thomson says some teachers decided not to move to Jakarta for various reasons, resulting in a lot of internal appointments and promotions. BIS mainly recruit within Asia and the Middle East, with very few coming from the UK this year as the school prefers to hire teachers with an international background from another school in another country.

A teacher at JIS says 35 teachers are leaving out of a faculty of over 300, and 63 new teachers will be starting in September. “Unlike other schools in Indonesia, people come to JIS to build their careers; it’s one of the top schools in the entire world in its 64th year,” this particular teacher says.

“It all goes back to the hierarchy of needs: if their needs are being met, one incident won’t make them leave,” the teacher continued. “A compounding situation may make them second-guess, but the quality of teachers JIS attracts is far different than any other school in the city.”

Tsementzis believes that international schools will adjust to the new economy, as will the market. “I think it can only go up from here,” says George. “International schools are a good source of income for the country and they want to keep it that way. I’m planning on staying.”


First published in Indonesia Expat 

Let’s Talk About Sex: Are Indonesia’s Youth Ill-Prepared?

Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, is not an advocate for teaching formal sexual education in schools. Instead, sex education is integrated into biology, social studies and religious classes in an implicit manner, including teachings on abstinence. There is an ongoing debate about the correct way to combat the spread of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), as well as preventing unplanned pregnancies, with disagreements generally taking place between the government and non-governmental organizations, religious leaders and sexual health experts. The question is, what effects are the decisions of today’s adults going to have on the children of tomorrow if they are not equipped with the proper information they need about sex?

According to a survey in 2011 by the Ministry of Health, only 20 percent of Indonesians aged 15 to 24 had comprehensive knowledge of HIV. This, coupled with information from UNAIDS that Indonesia is one of Asia’s fastest-growing HIV and AIDS epidemics, shows the urgent need to ramp up education about sex in the country. Indonesia’s first case of the HIV virus was reported in 1987 and in 2012, 610,000 were estimated to be living with the virus according to UNAIDS HIV.

In Surabaya, instead of pushing a sex education agenda, recent news saw Mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini—through the Department of Trade and industry—forbidding the sale of contraceptives in minimarts and supermarkets to unmarried individuals and under-21s. The move was made in an effort to “protect children as the future generations, as well as minimize the negative effects of the misuse of contraceptives,” said head of the Department of Trade and Industry of Surabaya, Widodo Suryantoro, to Kompas.

Dewi Candraningrum is Chief Editor of Jurnal Perempuan, a publication aiming to educate and train readers of gender equality, opposing any forms of violence against women. Candraningrum believes that banning the sale of condoms to unmarried individuals in Surabaya is a bad sign. “This could lead to many unsafe abortions and unwanted pregnancies, which at the end endangers the lives of women,” she said. “Regulations are not clear in Indonesia. Sometimes they promote [the use of condoms], sometimes not; everything is so arbitrary if related to sexuality,” she continued.

In January, East Java’s city of Jember announced a plan to carry out virginity testing to high school girls, not allowing them to graduate if they failed the test. The plan sparked widespread condemnation, especially among human rights and women’s rights groups, including Jurnal Perempuan. Indonesian officials have recently apologised over said proposal, after top Islamic clerical body, the Ulema Council, announced the tests were not compatible with Islam. The city council of Jember apologized for any offence caused to women and Indonesian students.

How can such proposals to combat the spread of disease and unplanned pregnancies be put forward in the first place, and could they be linked with the general lack of sexual health education in the country? Vidia Darmawi is an independent consultant for the evaluation and review of HIV programmes, having worked with Family Health International and AusAID on HIV projects in 2002-2010. She thinks “it is not because of low-educated local authorities; it’s just that we don’t have an enabling environment or support from the government.”

Sex education in Indonesia is considered a taboo and Candraningrum says that teaching it “is considered harming the life of girls.” The government and education institutions view sex education as promoting ‘free sex’, a term coined by conservatives in an effort to ban sexual education, which Candraningrum believes should be changed to ‘safe and responsible sex’.

 In 2012, former Education Minister Muhammad Nuh said he objected to sex education being taught in Indonesia’s secondary schools, stating that children don’t need formal education about sex because they will learn it “naturally”.

In the same year, the newly appointed Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi declared that the Education and Cultural Ministry should address the spread of HIV/AIDS by providing proper education for schoolchildren. Nafsiah, a Catholic, added that she would promote condom-use to youngsters, which resulted in backlash rallies by Muslim groups considering the move an act of promoting indecency among the country’s youth. Consequently, several weeks later, Nafsiah withdrew her plan of kondomisasi (distributing free condoms), reported to have said: “With confidence, I do not agree with the distribution of condoms to our young people, absolutely not.”

Several countries in Asia have documented large reductions in common STDs through successful condom programmes. In a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, Thailand measured a 95% drop in common curable STDs during the 1990s, following introduction of the 100% condom-use programme, implemented by STD clinic staff working with sex trade establishments – in Indonesia we see 40-50 percent condom-use at best. Cambodia measured large decreases in STDs over five years following a similar intervention.

An anti condom programme poster by Umat Islam Indonesia Menolak Kampanye Kondomisasi (Muslims against a condom distribution programme)
An anti condom programme poster by Umat Islam Indonesia Menolak Kampanye Kondomisasi (Muslims against a condom distribution programme)

Namibia, a country that once had one of the highest rates of HIV, took aggressive action to reduce the spread of the virus. In a five-year plan (2010/11-2015/16), in conjunction with the US government, life skills-based HIV prevention is being taught at secondary schools, more than 25 million condoms are distributed every year to the public sector, and over 60% of men and women aged 15-24 have advanced knowledge of HIV, compared to Indonesia’s 20%, mentioned earlier. Sex before the age of 15 has also dropped in Namibia, as has the percentage of people reporting multiple partners. Could Indonesia take a leaf out of Namibia’s book?

In 2013, Terence H. Hull—Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University—along with Iwu Dwisetyani Utomo, Peter McDonald, Anna Reimondos and Ariane Utomo produced a report titled Sex Education: Do primary students understand how pregnancy can occur? A comparison of students in Jakarta, West Java, West Nusa Tenggara and South Sulawesi, Indonesia, to understand Indonesian students’ understanding of conception. The study covered students from a wide variety of backgrounds in four different regions of Indonesia with contrasting economic, geographic and sociocultural and population characteristics. 1,762 grade 6 students (11 to 12-year-olds) provided answers to the following list of behaviours and processes, indicating whether they believed each behaviour or process could lead to pregnancy:

1) When a man and a woman kiss

2) When a man and a woman hug

3) When a man and a woman have sex

4) When the sperm comes into contact with the egg.

Just over half of the students showed an advanced understanding of conception, correctly identifying that hugging and kissing do not lead to pregnancy and that sexual intercourse and the sperm coming into contact with the egg does. An additional 16% of the students had a purely biological understanding of pregnancy, and the remaining third were categorized as ‘other’, indicating a poor understanding of conception. Students in general schools and those in top-rated schools were more likely to have an advanced understanding of the causes of pregnancy than students in Islamic religious schools and schools with average performance. Location also had a significant effect on the understanding of conception, with West Nusa Tenggara and South Sulawesi showing particularly lower odds in comparison with Jakarta.

Studies in the West have proven that children have the intellectual capacity to understand the process of sex and reproduction by the end of primary school, and children as young as six are able to understand the fundamentals of how conception occurs.

Hull and co. observed “the obstacle to providing children with comprehensive sex education thus has less to do with the children’s ability to understand than it does with the strong apprehension of parents, teachers and policy-makers, to discuss sex with children…”

What happens when children are not provided with accurate information at an early enough age? They are most likely to turn to other sources, for instance their friends, the media and the ever-available Internet. Due to the quality of information available from these sources, adolescents are increasingly at risk of practicing unsafe sex.

Much effort is needed to overcome challenges provided by Indonesia’s current decentralized school system. Due to decentralisation, even current topics such as HIV and AIDS, which are included in the minimum standards for the national curriculum, do not always reach the district or school levels and are not always adhered to by textbook publishers, as reported by UNESCO (2010). Teachers are often found to shy away from talking candidly about sex to pupils, due to the sensitive nature of the topic, and teacher training must be implemented. Darmawi would like to see the education ministry “equip selected teachers with good materials and skills on how to convey [the message]” adding that “parents should also be involved in pre and post [class] discussions on sex education.”

Darmawi says, “In general, we’re really making progress in Indonesia compared to 10 years ago. HIV services can be accessed widely, information on safe sex can be more easily found in hotels (in red light areas), shops and posyandu (children and pregnant women clinic).” Hull and co.’s report concludes, “In the interim… for individual schools or districts, the local content curriculum provides some opportunities for including reproductive health material.” When asked whether any progress has been made since his report in 2013, Hull responded: “No improvement is likely.”

First published in Indonesia Expat (March 11, 2014)

Trust is built with consistency

The recent executions of six convicts from Brazil, Vietnam, The Netherlands, Malawi, Nigeria and Indonesia for drug-related crimes caused worldwide outrage towards President Joko Widodo, the leader so many people—in Indonesia and abroad—had pinned their hopes on to improve human rights in Indonesia.

Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff reached out to Jokowi prior to the executions, pleading to save their citizen Marco Archer, but Jokowi ignored her plea. As a result of the executions, the ambassador to The Netherlands and Brazil were recalled in what seemed like a political statement, showing their discontent with Indonesia’s decision.

On social media, Indonesians have shown their support of the President’s decision, urging foreign governments to “go ahead”, and “see if we care” to the threat of recalling ambassadors. President Jokowi responded to criticism by stating, “The war against the drug mafia should not be half-hearted measures [sic], because drugs have really ruined the good life of the drug users and their families.” President Jokowi has declared that Indonesia is in a state of emergency over drugs, with 4.5 million users requiring rehabilitation. He added that 1.2 million drug users could not be rehabilitated and nearly 50 of them die each day.

Drug trafficking is a serious crime in Indonesia, and we’re all made well aware of it when arriving from a foreign country; announcements made on flights and billboards warn travellers of the death penalty in airport terminals. Many people are arguing that the convicts knew what they were getting themselves into when they got involved in the world of drugs. What many others are having difficulty accepting is that there seems to be an inconsistency within the law.

Capital punishment in Indonesia is carried out for terrorism, murder and drug-related crimes. Last year, Indonesia paid $2.1 million to save Satinah, a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia found guilty of murdering her employer in 2007, yet on home turf Indonesia has shot five foreigners for a crime which most people would agree is far less grave than murder. Human Rights Watch has called this a “double standard”.

In 2007, the Indonesian Constitutional Court recommended legal changes stating that if a prisoner has been on death row for 10 years without execution, and has been of good behaviour, the sentence should be commuted to life in prison or 20 years. In April of this year, two Australian members of the Bali Nine who are now on death row for drug-related crimes, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, will have been in prison for 10 years and have shown themselves to be remorseful and rehabilitated men, even helping other convicts in their prison to change.

In September of 2003 one of the Bali Bombers, Ali Imron, received a verdict of life in prison after showing remorse for his involvement in the terrorist attack that killed 202 people in two nightclubs in Bali. If a man capable of blowing up hundreds of innocent people receives life in prison for showing remorse, how can it be consistent that Sukumaran and Chan be shot to death, especially after showing rehabilitation and serving nearly 10 years in jail already?

This brings us to the question: who decides what one man’s life is worth over another’s?

60 more convicts, including Sukumaran and Chan—and several other foreigners—are in line for further executions. The question is, what message will Jokowi send if he executes these remaining convicts and what retaliation will Indonesia receive from the countries of these foreign convicts? Has he jeopardized his relationship with the international community so early in the game?

Unfortunately for everyone involved, only time will tell.