Finding ways to let schools fight for better quality education

Finding ways to let schools fight for better quality education
Taken from JP; Friday, November 16, 2007

M. Ali, Manchester, England

Discussions about education in Indonesia have recently focused noticeably on matters of the state budget for education and general complaints that there simply is still not enough money being put into the supply of education in this country.

While it may be true the government is still not meeting its long-established legislated commitments to education, this discussion may in fact be missing a more important point. It may be that we need to address more carefully the efficiency of existing budgets.

The demand for education in Indonesia is massive and so problematic that we must question whether just throwing money at the problem is really going to solve anything. Instead we might think about how the money we have for education may be better used, and how more money can be attracted into education.

The cries for more money for education claim we need to finance the building of more schools, we need to renovate existing schools and we need to pay teachers more. But more is sometimes not the answer and in effect more can end up equaling less.

Certainly more financial support for schools seems a logical request when it is possible to see schools that are terribly underfunded and practically falling down, but we need to create a drive and ambition to improve. If we just throw more money at the problem, the problem may not go away.

There have already been many stories of people working in education squandering money either corruptly for themselves or in nepotistic practices to support their families and friends. If more money is just given up to such people, the problems may be exacerbated rather than relieved.

In the U.S., education spending is said to have increased 100 percent over the last 30 years and yet the graduation rates and general levels of achievement of students there have remained almost the same.

This has led people to conclude that more money can equal wasted money. It has also led to the conclusion that there is not a link between putting more money into education and improving student achievement. Without sufficient motivation and stimulation, schools can end up remaining the same.

The status quo can be so deeply rooted in the minds of educators and education managers that even with more money at their disposal only relatively limited change will occur. What they need is a stimulant, a prod or poke to get them moving and drive them to change and improve.

But what is the stimulant? Competition could be the answer. If more money is just given to schools, their managers and teachers, there is the danger that money will just be wasted in existing and effective practices. What is needed is a different approach and practice that creates a context for change and improvement.

In some countries a system of education vouchers is used that creates a new approach for schools and their management. In this system, vouchers are given to families to choose which schools to send their children to.

Parents are then encouraged to research and learn about the schools. They are effectively asked to act as consumers and check on the quality of the schools available to them and then make a choice, of course, for the best or most suitable school for their child.

This creates an immediate context for schools that forces them to compete and work harder or better to achieve results and also income through the enrollment of students. It ends the condition of the status quo by forcing schools to be more responsive and proactive.

In a monopolistic environment the impetus and need to change is negated. In a monopolistic environment of state-run schools, schools can be negligent and even arrogant toward the students and their parents. But a voucher system that empowers parents and their children to choose, challenges the status quo.

With a voucher system that stimulates competition, good money is not being thrown at bad practices, or in this case, bad schools. Schools that are failing will be seen for what they are and will effectively be shamed into change or even closure.

In this voucher system of choice, schools are encouraged to pursue success. Through success they can and will attract more students; success then breeds success. As parents see successful schools they will choose them and avoid failing schools.

This has been shown in the U.S. state of Florida, where a voucher system has been adopted. There it was found that vouchers actually led to better education being supplied to students at a more efficient cost. Bad state-run schools were forced to improve themselves as they lost students to schools that performed better.

There are basic and understandable economics laws or theories at work here. Competition can create a context for empowering the consumers, and in this particular context the consumers are parents and their children. With competition comes more choice.

Where consumers are given a choice that choice can influence and alter the supply; the consumers will naturally seek quality and cost-effective options. This means that suppliers (in this context the schools) will be forced to provide quality and so, too, work efficiently with the funds they have.

More money for schools in Indonesia is certainly required but before more money is pumped in, rigorous structuring and goal-setting should be set in place. We cannot allow or afford waste. A scheme such as school vouchers could be one way in which more targeted funding may be achieved.

This is critical; we may all recognize that there is a need for greater funding of education but we should demand better and more effective use of funds. Competition can help stimulate both a change in approach and an improvement in performance.

The writer is a senior researcher at the Cunningham Research Centre, Manchester, England.

New teaching style needed

New teaching style needed
Taken from JP; Saturday, November 10, 2007 Hanung Triyoko, MelbourneMany teachers and parents know children nowadays listen more to their iPods than to their words. Students have huge numbers of sources of information in this era of information technology. Teachers and parents are challenged by the attractiveness of computer-assisted information resources and their being more affordable for wider communities.As a consequence, it is becoming harder and harder for the traditional approach of teaching to control student behavior since students share other values offered by the multimedia. Take an example; teachers may need more than just words to ensure students read the recommended books for the following lessons. Students may spend most of their time after school utilizing advanced technology like the internet and cyber-gaming, and think that books are just out of character. It does not mean that teachers can no longer refer to books as lesson materials, but merely depending on books in today’s classroom is like going out for dinner in a Padang restaurant with no intention of spending more money. We may satisfy our hunger but may not satisfy our appetite despite the variety of food available. It is wiser to understand than to control students’ behavior. Teachers need to apply new methods of assessment that allow students to choose what they want to learn and to show in their own ways the results of their learning. Teachers also need to collaborate more with parents and other stakeholders in assuring the achievement of individual student learning objectives. Tests as the traditional way of student assessments are limited in their capacity to cover all domains of students’ abilities. Tests generally measure the students’ cognitive ability, whereas the psychomotoric as well as the affective abilities remain unseen. The main purposes of assessments are to report, to guide and to diagnose student learning. Therefore, considerations of sources of learning and preferred styles of learning are also very important in choosing appropriate kinds of assessments for students. All the high-tech stuff that students today are engaged with every day influences the development of their three skill domain sand assessing their cognitive skill only is unfair. In his thesis “Continuous Assessment in Bhutan: Science Teachers’ Perspective”, Chewang (1999) defines continuous assessment, or authentic assessment, or alternative assessment, as a special method of assessment by which teachers at regular intervals assess students over the whole course. Thus, things to assess can be diaries, videos, power point presentations, audio recordings, simulations of real-life problems and even parents’ notes and commentaries. The application of this new method of assessment allows students to develop positive feelings of achievement by showing others what they can do rather than what they do not know. Very few students perform well in all subjects they are studying but all students deserve appreciation for what they are good at. Imagine what opportunities this continuous assessment provides for students who are only average at many of their courses, but skillful in others. Besides, continuous assessment enables teachers to diagnose the relevance of their curriculum and lesson materials to students’ life outside school. Students are also in control of what they are going to learn. Students are expected to assess themselves in all stages prior to their final projects using all possible data like notations in group meetings, footage, photos and portfolios to see their progress toward the objective of their studies. Parents and other students may take part in this process through parent and peer assessments. Teachers make themselves available for giving quality feedback to highlight each student’s strengths and weaknesses on continuous scheduled assessment days. Students should clarify all commentaries given by teachers to remedy all their weaknesses and most importantly to spell out any misunderstanding of value judgment. Students are permitted to defend their own criteria of accomplishments based on their personal traits and background, and teachers should place more value on students’ critical thinking and move beyond the one-right-answer model. Continuous assessment gives teachers more responsibilities in students’ learning progress and they may have to spend much more time preparing and doing the assessments. Applying consistently the continuous assessment in one particular subject will eventually lead to students’ improving in other subjects as well. Indeed, all records of students’ performances may be retrieved for future use such as when students need to convince interviewers for job vacancies of their computer and interpersonal communication skills, as well as foreign language mastery. No matter how complicated and problematical this continuous assessment may sound in the context of our education system, consensus should be made by educational leaders to give the continuous assessment a go. The writer is a lecturer at STAIN Salatiga and a student in the Master’s Program of Educational Leadership and Management, La Trobe University, Melbourne. He can be reached at

When teachers don’t speak English

When teachers don’t speak English
Taken from JP; Saturday, April 28, 2007
Jan E. Dormer, Malang

Effective foreign language learning in school requires the presence of a good teacher and textbook combined with appropriate methodology.

Qualified English teachers are lacking in Indonesia, therefore, schools will often use teachers who have very limited English language skills. The textbook then becomes the only language source in the classroom.

If language is learned solely from a book, we can assume that only reading and writing skills in the target language will be learned. Speaking and listening will not be taught, thus, students will not learn to communicate orally. Furthermore, locally produced English textbooks frequently contain many errors. But the greatest drawback in the classroom is when the teacher does not speak English and fails to engage their students in speaking practice. English then becomes a drudgery of bookwork and grammar rules instead of a way to communicate interesting ideas.

Appropriate and effective language-teaching methods are needed. The government has adopted some of the latest approaches and methodologies, including “communicative language learning” and “competency-based” curriculum. Indeed this is a good start, but unfortunately these new ideas are not explained clearly enough to teachers.

I have often seen very puzzled looks on the faces of teachers when asked to describe how their classes are “communicative” or “competency-based”. Many seem to not know what these terms really mean, or what kinds of classroom activities do or do not support them.

Teachers rarely receive sufficient training, and so they often resort to lessons in grammar, which invariably do not result in the students being able to speak, listen, read and write in the target language.

The evaluation system must support, not drive, language learning. Teachers complain that they should not have to conduct communicative activities because “it won’t be on the test”, and there is not enough teaching time to engage in learning that won’t be tested.

Schools rarely have sufficient funding or appropriate personnel to provide testing of oral language skills. Does this mean that oral language skills should not be taught? A bigger problem is the fact that some tests have been found to actually contain language errors. These poorly-designed tests sometimes end up setting the language-learning standard. In education, this is called a “negative washback”.

Is there any solution to overcome these problems?

Teachers need to be given the opportunity to develop their English skills.

The standard of methodology also needs to be raised. Effective language-teaching techniques are not difficult or complicated, and effective training would be very beneficial.

The current national curriculum embraces the teaching of oral communicative skills. However, many teachers do not teach communicative skills because they are not specifically tested. This problem can be avoided if the test writers focus on well-written communicative items. Even though a test may be taken in written form, it can still focus primarily on communicative skills.

Another issue is time. Many experts believe that elementary school is the ideal time for foreign language learning. If this is the case, why not allot more time for language learning in elementary school? In my experience, children in lower elementary school who have one 40-minute period of English per week are largely wasting their time. If the total elementary school allotted time for learning English was concentrated in grades 4-6, giving children 3-4 hours per week, the potential for language learning would increase.

When teachers are able to speak English fluently and correctly and they use good methodology, their students’ English language proficiency is almost virtually guaranteed.

The writer is the director of the Nusantara Educational Institute, which focuses on teacher development, and specifically on the training of language teachers.