top of page


Indonesia lies between latitudes 11°S and 6°N and longitudes 95°E and 141°E and thus straddles the equator.  It is the largest archipelagic country in the world with approximately 17,500 islands about 6,000 of which are inhabited.  The country is highly unstable tectonically (it is on the so-called Ring of Fire) with numerous volcanoes, many of which are active and it suffers from frequent earthquakes.  The climate is relatively even the year round with a dry season from April to October and a wet season between November and March.  The temperatures in the coastal plains average 28°C and the inland and mountainous areas average between 23°C and 26°C.  The relative humidity ranges from 70% and 90%.  With over 261million people it is the world’s 4th most populated country and the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country (although there are large Christian and other religious minority populations).  Java is the world’s most populous island and contains over half of the total population.

In terms of the design and construction of buildings therefore, it is necessary to design for fairly heavy rainfall, constant high temperatures and high humidity and the threat of fairly frequent and strong earthquakes.  The high density of the population particularly in Java can also complicate matters as the land available for construction sites is usually fairly small.

When I first visited the country in 1996, it was still being ruled by President Suharto (with the backing of the army) but his administration was being widely accused of corruption and the suppression of political opposition.  Although the country is vast and was divided up into numerous provinces, a lot of which are the size of European countries (the populations of the three provinces in Java for instance were all around 50 million people!), the system of administration was highly centralised with all major decisions being made in the capital, Jakarta which provided many opportunities for corruption.  The contracts for school building projects for instance were all tendered for and let in Jakarta.  The winning contractor would then sub-let the contract at the provincial level; the provincial contractor would sub-let it at the district level and so on and the contractor who actually had to construct the schools would very often not have enough funds left to build them or at least not to an acceptable standard. 

Soon after I started working there, the government, under pressure from international donors, instituted a process of decentralisation but instead of decentralising decision-making to the provincial level, it was decentralised to the district level.  The district administrations however had few human resources compared to the provincial administrations and it was considered by the international community that this move was carried out by the government with the hope that it would fail and that it would then be able to take back control centrally.  Meanwhile the World Bank was trying out various initiatives to stop corruption in the construction projects that it was funding.

This was my first experience of working as a consultant for the World Bank and I assisted in the preparation of basic education projects in West Java, South Sulawesi, Maluku and South Sumatra.  Basic education in this context covered both primary and junior secondary education and these projects were later extended to cover Central Java, Jambi, Lampung, West Sumatra, North Sumatra, Riau and Bengkulu Provinces and I worked on the preparation, implementation and supervision of all of these projects until 2003.  In order to reduce corruption, these projects used school committees, with technical assistance provided by local engineering and architectural firms, to manage the construction process and were on the whole very successful.  See the section on Basic Education Projects.

In 1998, I was asked by the Bank to review the progress and quality of a World Bank-funded junior secondary school construction project that was underway in a number of provinces.  The schools were being constructed by contractors supervised by Project Implementation Units in each province (with no independent supervision) and the findings of my review caused a great deal of concern.  Many of the schools had serious structural defects and some of them had to be closed because they were unsafe.  By this time, schools were being successfully constructed under the basic education projects using school committees to manage the construction process and the government and the Bank decided to switch to this model for the construction of the remaining junior secondary schools and I worked on the re-design and supervision of these projects until 2003.  See the section on Junior Secondary Education Projects.

In 1998 I was also asked to assist in the preparation and design of two early childhood development projects that would renovate existing and construct new pre-schools and mother-and-child health centres in Bali and South Sulawesi Provinces.  The renovations and construction were to be managed by village committees building on the experience gained from the basic education projects.  I worked on the supervision of these projects until 2003 and was then asked to prepare a handbook for the use of World Bank managers in implementing early childhood development projects.  Details of the projects and of the handbook can be seen in the section of this web-site devoted to facilities for Early Childhood Development.

In the early 2000s, the Government of Indonesia was executing a $28.8m World Bank managed, Dutch Trust Fund funded project, the School Improvement Grants Programme that provided grants to some of Indonesia’s poorest and most disadvantaged primary and junior secondary schools including public and private, secular and religious schools.  The bulk of the grants were provided for the rehabilitation of existing school buildings and the grants were managed by school committees.  The initial programme was judged to be a success and there was then a second programme of grants.  I was asked to review the progress and quality of the school buildings being renovated by the first programme, and later the second programme, as well as the effectiveness of the technical support being given to the school committees by local consulting firms.  I also designed and took part in a comparative study of school and community-led school rehabilitation programmes.  I was later asked to prepare handbooks for the use of school committees in constructing, renovating and maintaining school buildings.  The handbook on the maintenance of school buildings can be seen in the Resources section of this web-site under Building Maintenance.  See also the section on the School Improvement Grants Programme for details of the programmes and for the manuals on the construction and renovation of school buildings in Indonesia.

The Government of Indonesia also received assistance from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation to support Junior Secondary Education projects in 14 provinces and the fund was used to construct 584 new junior secondary school buildings between 1996 and 1999.  In 2002 I was asked by the Mitsubishi Research Group to join a team of local architects and engineers to carry out a study to assess the quality of the original construction works and the then current condition of 214 of the junior secondary schools constructed using the funds between 1998 and 1999 in 12 provinces.  The team visited all of the schools, collected all necessary information, set out the cost of any necessary remedial works and assessed the sustainability of the schools. The schools were all constructed by contractors supervised by construction consultants with no community involvement and the quality of the construction was generally not very good.  For details of the study see the JBIC Schools Study.

The World Bank Basic Education Projects were the first in the country to use school or village committees in the management of school construction or rehabilitation projects mainly as a way of reducing corruption in the construction process and in this they were generally successful.  They were followed by the Junior Secondary Education Projects, the Early Childhood Development Project and the School Improvement Grants Programme that all used elements of school and community involvement in the management of school construction and renovation projects for similar reasons with similar levels of success.

The study carried out under SIGP found that these projects, as well as reducing corruption, generated feelings of pride and achievement in the work carried out and a degree of ownership of the facilities by the communities which was beneficial to the schools, the pupils and the communities; they produced school buildings that were at least as good as those built by contractors and in some cases were significantly better and for the same if not lower cost; and they generated an interest on the part of the communities in being involved in similar projects in the future.

One aspect of these projects that is high-lighted by the study and by all of my visits to school construction sites, is the need for the right kind of technical assistance to the school and village committees in managing the construction process.  In many cases, certainly in the early days of the projects, the consultants engaged to provide technical assistance did not understand what was required of them and supervised construction as they would work being carried out by contractors, rather than providing training and assistance to the committees in the management of the works. For some of the typical construction problems seen on site visits see the photographs in Construction Problems (see gallery below).  Although the faults illustrated were the responsibility of the contractors, they could have been avoided or rectified if qualified and experienced site supervision was available. Unfortunately most of the consulting firms involved used very junior and inexperienced site supervisors as they were obviously the least expensive to employ.

Those projects that used communities to manage school construction and rehabilitation programmes can however still be considered a success and they were obviously seen as such by the government which is still using the model for its school construction and rehabilitation programmes.

bottom of page