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Indonesia, officially known as the Republic of Indonesia, is a very large country located in Southeast Asia and Oceania, with a total geographic area of 735,000 square miles.  A large archipelago comprised of 17,508 islands, the country shares land borders with Papa New Guinea, East Timor and Malaysia, and is neighbored by Singapore, Philippines, Australia and the Indian-owned islands of Andaman and Nicobar.  Indonesia is a founding member of ASEAN and a member of the G-20 economies (Indonesia has the 17th largest economy in the world).  The capital and largest city in the country is Jakarta.
 
Indonesia has a permanent population of nearly 238 million spread out over 33 provinces, making it the fourth-most populated country in the world.  58 percent of the population lives on the island of Java, the largest of the Indonesian islands, and the population in general is very ethnically and linguistically diverse, hosting people of nearly 300 different ethnicities and approximately 750 distinct languages and dialects.  The largest ethnic group on the island and also the most dominant politically and culturally is the Javanese, accounting for roughly 42 percent of the total population.  The Sudanese, ethnic Malays and Madurese represent the largest non-Javanese minority groups. 
 
Indonesian is the official national language of Indonesia—a form of Malay that is almost universally spoken among the Indonesian people and used for all official purposes of the government, including education.  In addition to Indonesian, most inhabitants also speak at least one of the several hundred local languages and dialects, often as their first language.
Religious freedom is guaranteed to all citizens by the Indonesian Constitution, but only six major religions are recognized officially by the state:  Islam, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.
 
Education in Indonesia
 
Education in Indonesia is under the authority and administration of the Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of Religious Affairs.  Education is free and compulsory for 9 years, beginning at age 6 and culminating at age 15 or 16.  Education is divided between five distinct stages:  early childhood education, primary education, lower secondary education, higher secondary education and post-secondary education.
 
The initial stage of schooling, or early childhood education, is non-compulsory, yet well-attended, serving children 4-5 years of age.  It is divided between two levels:  Playgroup, a program in which 4-year old students learn to play together cooperatively in a school setting, and kindergarten, a program for 5-year old children that provides an early and basic introduction to reading, writing, art and music.
 
Primary education, conducted at elementary schools in the country, and lower secondary education, conducted at junior high schools, are the only two compulsory levels of education, spanning 6 years and 3 years respectively.  In the early primary grades students learn reading, writing and basic arithmetic, subjects that are gradually supplemented by courses in science, language arts, history, geography, art and physical education.  Courses get progressively more difficult as students move from the elementary school to the junior high school level, and students who complete all their coursework successfully are awarded a basic education diploma and are permitted to enroll at one of the higher secondary institutions.
 
Higher secondary education in Indonesia spans two years (11th and 12th grades).  Students at this level have the option of attending the “university preparatory school,” an advanced academic program that helps ready students for university admission; or the increasingly popular “vocational school,” where they will receive instruction and training in a variety of entry-level career fields.  Students who complete the vocational track are awarded a work certificate and can either pursue employment in the field in which they were trained or enroll in a post-secondary vocational/technical school to further hone their skills.
 
Higher education at the post-secondary level is provided by the country’s colleges and universities, each of which provides students the opportunity to earn undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate degrees in any number of academic and professional disciplines.

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