Many of the factors that determine success in school stem from the period before children enter primary school. During this period the central nervous system and brain cells develop and neural pathways are established, laying the foundations for a child's future pathway through life (Irwin, Siddiqi and Hertzman 2007). Although children's later experiences can still change those pathways, developments in early childhood have long-lasting effects on health, behaviour and learning outcomes for years to come (Grantham-McGregor et al. 2007; Mustard 2007). Children whose early learning and development are promoted are likely to be far more engaged, productive and successful in later life (Heckman 2008).
The available statistics show big disparities in developmental outcomes for children in Indonesia both at an early age and in primary school, although there is a lack of data for children aged 0–6. Indonesia's maternal mortality rate fell from 340 to 220 deaths per 100,000 live births between 2000 and 2010, but remains far above the 2010 average of 83 for all developing countries in the East Asia and Pacific region. Similarly, the under-5 mortality rate fell from 54 to 35 deaths per 1,000 live births between 2000 and 2010, and the infant (under-1) mortality rate from 38 to 27, but both remain well above the 2010 regional averages of 24 and 20 respectively. Births attended by skilled health staff, immunization rates and rates of access to improved sanitation facilities are also below the averages for all developing countries in the East Asia and Pacific region. Moreover, an estimated 42 per cent of rural households have children whose growth is stunted, putting them at risk of long-term cognitive deficits, emotional and behavioural problems, and low school achievement.
Indonesia can pride itself on having primary school enrolment rates that are now close to 100 per cent for both boys and girls at all income levels. At higher levels of schooling, however, disparities emerge. Educational attainment profiles reveal that although almost all children from all segments of society start primary school, children from poorer households and those from rural areas are less likely to progress to higher levels of education. Only 55 per cent of children in rural areas make it to junior secondary school and less than a quarter to senior secondary school.