What’s wrong with the education and healthcare system in West Papua? A case study in Yalimo provides insights

NGOs and other observers keep criticising the Government for the low education and healthcare standards which continue to exist in West Papua. Mainly, the Papua Province falls far behind national standards in terms of availability, accessibility, quality and adequacy of healthcare and education services. Despite considerably large special autonomy funds allocated to the provincial and local governments in West Papua, the education and health situation has hardly improved over the past decade.

A recent visit by the Papuan parliamentarian to the Yalimo area brings insights into the failures in the education and healthcare system in West Papua. The visit took place between 5 and 10 March 2021. The term Yalimo refers to the area claimed by the Yali (see photo, source: UEM), an ethnic group in the central Papuan highlands. Today, the area spreads over the Papuan regencies Yahukimo and Yalimo.

Even though Yalimo covers only a small area, the reported conditions are in line with multiple other reports on the general education and healthcare situation in West Papua.

Education in Yalimo

The case study reveals all schools in Yalimo have been closed since the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in West Papua in early 2020. All teachers have moved to the surrounding towns or larger coastal cities, where they continue to receive their salaries. Local government institutions and officials have not responded to the absence of teachers through sanctions against the misconduct.

Meanwhile, the majority of children in the Yali villages do not attend school. This is particularly concerning for students who were supposed to graduate. They will lose at least one year until they can move on to high school. Fourteen primary schools in Yalimo are affected.

Lack of control through the education agency and other monitoring bodies has pathed the way to corruption involving officials in schools and local government departments. The lawmaker reports that it is common practice that school officials register fictive students to increase the government funds which each school receives for the maintenance, employment of contractual teachers and operational costs.

Each school receives IDR 400,000 (about € 27) per pupil every year. Schools with 150-200 students reportedly registered up to 500 students. Parts of these funds – if not all – are shared between the school officials and corrupt civil servants working in the local education department. They use the same method to increase education funds they receive as part of the government’s education program ‘Program Indonesia Pintar’ (PIP) - IDR 450,000 (about € 30) per pupil every year. The corruptive practices have never been sanctioned, and the perpetrators prosecuted.

Village heads and other village officials neglect the situation. Most of them stay in the main towns for most of the year, claiming to make arrangements concerning village funds. It is believed that a considerable part of the funds never reaches the villages. In few schools, basic education is still provided by assistant teachers. They work against non-monetary payments and small wages supplied by the community and through the church.

Healthcare situation

Similar observations apply to the healthcare situation in Yalimo. The only clinic in the area is located in the Angguruk Village. All people in Yalimo rely on this healthcare facility. The next public hospital is only available in the highland town Wamena, Jayawijaya Regency.  Since last year, professional health workers like doctors and nurses have left Angguruk and only made occasional trips of two to three weeks to the village. Honorary health workers are providing basic medical services but do no longer receive medicines. Again, health officials fail to monitor and react to the situation.

According to information received, many people in the Yalimo area suffer ear infections. A nine-year-old child reportedly died during the visit due to such an infection because the proper medication was not available.