An assessment of childcare offers guidance to strengthen the sector which is vital for children’s learning and women’s workforce participation.

Caring for children is ubiquitous but the form childcare takes varies greatly depending on preferences, beliefs, norms and economic circumstances.

The early childhood education and care (ECEC) options available to families – and the personal decisions they make – have consequences on individuals and the entire Indonesian economy.

Children, women, families and society all stand to benefit from accessible, high quality, affordable ECEC, including at kindergartens, playgroups and day cares.

For this reason, there is growing recognition that care for children is not just a private responsibility, but one that can and should be shared by government.

The Indonesian ECEC sector is broadly divided into centre- and home-based childcare.

Centre-based childcare includes formal pre-schools for children 4–6 years old and non-formal centres like playgroups and day care.

Government responsibility is spread across five different agencies, depending on the form of centre-based care.

From little things big things grow

Investment in the children of today has a big effect on the fully-fledged adults they will eventually become.

Learning in the early years is an important factor in producing people capable of acquiring new skills for the workforce.

Education makes people more likely to contribute positively to society – including by paying taxes – and less likely to require social assistance and commit crimes.

Early learning can help overcome intergenerational inequality and is relatively low cost compared with adult remedial education and welfare programs.

Access to childcare can also provide immediate benefits to women by better enabling them to participate in the workforce.

Despite Indonesia’s economic progress and girls outperforming boys in educational achievement, women’s labour force participation is currently far lower than men’s – 53% to 82% – and this has stalled over the last two decades.

ECEC jobs are female-dominated and the anticipated growth of the sector will create more employment for women, though concerns remain about the quality of the work and remuneration levels.

Room for improvement
Prospera research identified a range of issues along with guidance for policymakers to shape a better childcare system for children, women and care givers.

“Improving and extending childcare services will give children a head start in life, increase employment and generate economic opportunities in the care sector,” said Prospera’s head of GESI Bimbika Sijapati Basnett.

“This requires improvements on several fronts – increasing demand for ECEC, growing public investment and improving affordability and availability.”

Presently, enrolment rates and willingness to pay for ECEC rise with children’s age and family income levels, indicating low and unequal demand for childcare.

ECEC demand could be increased gradually by providing parents with better information about early learning and expanding access through subsidies for low-income households.

Facility registration could be streamlined and simplified for childcare operators and families given access to a single database of all registered centres.

Prospera also found there was a low supply of appropriate childcare services and that they were geographically concentrated.

Supply could be expanded by increasing public spending, giving financial assistance to providers, encouraging private sector co-contributions, reducing regulatory barriers and encouraging flexible funding through partnerships with local governments, NGOs and community groups.

Families and ECEC providers would benefit from greater regulatory coherence and increased public investment.

Greater clarity could be achieved through the appointment of a single coordinating ministry to provide oversight, establishment of national standards and elimination of overlapping regulations.

Prospera also found that the highly feminised, inadequately remunerated state of ECEC employment can also perpetuate inequality.

“Providing care to the future leaders of Indonesia is an important job and should be recognised as such,” Ms Basnett said.

“This means defining the competencies required of professional care givers which can then be enhanced through training, professional qualifications and continuous learning.”

“Better recognition and remuneration would help to elevate the value given to childcare as a skilled profession.”