407 Indonesian textbooks openly available

March 19, 2009, [MD]


Back in May 2007, when I attended the World Book Day in Jakarta, I heard about plans to purchase the copyrights for school textbooks, and make the books freely available, to alleviate the problem of students who could not afford to purchase them. I thought it was a very interesting idea, but hoped that they would also use a Creative Commons or similar open license, and make these available online for anyone around the world to both benefit from them (for example in Malaysia, where their language is very similar to Indonesian), but also crucially to improve upon them.

I later wrote about the official announcement of this plan, about the first copyrights being bought, and on more thoughts about the project. Recently, when I was putting together the slides for my presentation on Open Education around the world, I thought I'd visit this project again and include a slide. That's when I found out that the first batch of books had already been made available - 407 of them.


At the website "Buku Sekolah Elektronik" (electronic school books) under the Indonesian Ministry of Education, they have all 407 books available for download. The books range from primary school to high school, and seem to cover all subjects. There is a system for reading books online, and you can also download individual PDFs of each chapter. However, you have to log in to the system, and you have to agree to the following conditions before downloading/viewing (my translation):

The user can download or print files from Buku Sekolah Elektronik, as well as copy and sell, as long as:

The copier and/or seller is of Indonesian nationality or is legally settled in Indonesia (it could also mean, is a legal enterprise in Indonesia, I'm not quite sure) 2. You have to mention your identity on the first page of the books that are sold/distributed. 3. The specifications of the text book for sale has to be according to the directions given by the National Minister of Education. 4. The sales price for books that are allowed to be copied for sale must not be higher than the maximum sales price which has been determined by the National Minister of Education. 5. The text book which is copied for sale has to note the sales price on the back cover of the book. 6. The user has to follow the regulations above and any other relevant regulations.

It seems that these conditions only apply to copying and selling the books, not personal use, so I am still allowed to download these, even though I am not an Indonesian citizen. You can also order a CD with all the books for 100,000 Rp (8.4\$ USD), including postage within Indonesia. The price falls by 50% if you order more than 100 copies. Interestingly, at another site, run by private individuals, you can download all the books without having to register, or agree to the conditions above, one pdf per book rather than per chapter.


It is wonderful that these books are now available. I find it very interesting how textbooks in different countries deliver information, both in terms of content and design/pedagogics, and now I can see how Indonesian textbooks teach about history, math, economics, etc. For comparative educators, this should be a wonderful resource.

I obviously think it would have been better to use a Creative Commons license. I suspect that the main reason they have not done so, is because they want to control printing, to make sure that everyone keeps within a maximum price. However, with a CC Non-Commercial license, they could still have attached conditions to commercial printing (maybe even through CC+), but would have allowed for free non-commercial reuse. The limitation that only Indonesian citizens can reuse it seems unecessary - I don't think there is any great export of Indonesian textbooks to anywhere else in the world.

But the issue of openness doesn't stop with the license. It would be wonderful if we could get not only PDFs of these books, but the source files - whether they are InDesign or PageMaker, or even Word .doc files, so that we could translate these to another language, and keep the illustrations. It would be even better if all the text was available in a Wiki, where people could work together on collaboratively improving them (with quality assurance functions, reviews etc). Then, the Indonesian government could really leverage the opening of these books.

Research questions

I sometimes say that I wish I had a lab full of grad students... as a 1st year MA, that's a weird statement to make, but I come up with so many possible interesting research questions, but I can't research them all myself. For example, it would be a great example for an economist to look at - how does this scheme work in terms of the stated goal, which is to make textbooks available more cheaply? Would it be better to not have a maximum price, and let competition drive down prices (probably work in Jakarta, but maybe not in a remote island, of which there are many in Indonesia)? How does having access to all these books on a CD change the way teachers select books? Do they ever borrow material from other books to integrate into their teaching?

Even though this project is far from "perfect" from an open purist's view, it's still a wonderful initiative, and it will be very exciting to follow how it develops.


Stian HĂ„klev March 19, 2009 Toronto, Canada
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