A project supporting Indonesia's vocational and technical education system helps students from low-income families achieve their career goals.

Since she was a young child, Jakarta student Dinda Layalia has been fascinated with anything that flies. Butterflies, dragonflies, birds, kites, and - her most favorite of all - airplanes.

"I just love airplanes," said Dinda, now 17. "When I was a young child I (would) always run and wave at any airplane flying overhead. I could not remember why but together with my friends, I always waved and shouted at the top of my lungs, asking the pilot to drop us money. It was so silly."

Knowing their daughter's facination with airplanes, Dinda's mother and father took her plane spotting at a nearby airport when she was still in kindergarten. The little journey set the course for her future - that day, Dinda decided she would work on an airplane when she grew up.

When Dinda graduated from Junior High School three years ago, she asked to enrol in an aviation vocational school. Her parents initially rejected the idea, preferring to send her to a regular high school, just like any other girl her age.


But Dinda did not want to go to general high school, because she knew that it would be difficult for her parents to send her to university to study aviation engineering. Dinda's father is an employee at a private company and her mother cares for the couple's five children at home. An expensive education was beyond their reach. Dinda knew that by attending a vocational school, she could secure employment as an airplane mechanic right after graduation and attend university later.

The school she hoped to attend, SMK Negeri Penerbangan 29 Jakarta, was known - and is still known - as a school for boys. Less than 10 per cent of the 890 students are girls. The school's programs in mechanical engineering, electronical engineering, refrigeration and aviation are traditionally more attractive to boys.

But Dinda's determination finally convinced her parents to let her go.

Dinda is now in the third and final year of her study in avionic engineering. Many graduates usually work as airplane mechanics, but a few have had the opportunity to join the airforce, continue their studies and become commercial airline pilots.

"Many students at this school come from a low income family. They know the school is the window of opportunity for them to reach their dreams. In fact, for some it could be the only opportunity available to them," said Dedy Dwitagama, the school's principal.

SMK Negeri Penerbangan 29 is one of 300 Indonesian vocational schools supported by ADB's Vocational Educational Strengthening Project (INVEST), which supports government efforts to strengthen technical and vocational education to improve labor market opportunities for high school graduates and ensure sufficient skilled labor for Indonesia's economic and industrial development.

"The Government wanted to ensure that the country produces skilled workers who meet the standard demand of the industry, especially since more investors are expected to come following the country's recent credit ratings improvement to investment grade. Improvement of vocational education in Indonesia is key to meeting the increasing demand for skilled workers," said Sutarum Wiryono, ADB education specialist in charge of the project.

Reaching their dreams

Under INVEST, ADB provided support for improvements to school facilities and curricula, upgrading of equipment and training for teachers.

At SMK Negeri Penerbangan 29, ADB helped develop the workshop for plane assembly, built and renovated classrooms, purchased equipment and gave teachers the opportunity to advance their knowledge through training and by establishing a community of practice in the country.

The support has allowed many students, including Dinda, to get a better education that will help them reach their dream. Dinda's determination has made her one the best students at a school dominated by boys.

Dinda was involved in a school project with 200 fellow students to assemble a four-seater airplane, called Jabiru, which made media headlines in Indonesia and overseas recently. The school purchased the plane's parts from Australia and assembled the plane in its garage. Jabiru was completed at the end of January 2012 and will have a test flight in February once a flight licence has been secured from the government.

As one of the school's top students, Dinda was recently invited to a job test at PT Garuda Maintenance Facility, an airplane maintenance unit under the country's flag carrier Garuda. She hopes she will be one of those selected to work for the company.

"ADB is happy to be part of this process. We hope our support will enable more students like Dinda to fulfill their dream, secure their future and allow them to spread their wings and fly like Jabiru," Sutarum said.