Discriminatory education and violence

Salvatore Simarmata ,  Makassar   |  Mon, 07/14/2008 10:08 AM  |  Opinion

Society is a complex system with interrelated parts, with one part affecting another when a certain aspect is crippled. This idea was long ago introduced by Talcott Parsons through his well-known system theory, but it’s still relevant today, as evident in Indonesia’s education sector.

In the education field this idea of a complex system is much more obvious, as discussed by Budi Hermawan in his article (The Jakarta Post, June 25, 2008), which is worth thinking about and elaborating on. His challenging point is that classrooms can become representative of the whole society we live in.

If we want society to move on the right track we should start from the classroom, including by disseminating pluralism to cope with any ruthless action by radicals and extremists. As usual, teachers (or lecturers) are at the forefront in making this work

Positioning the classroom as a “prototype” of society is much more complex indeed because so many interests intersect invisibly. Schools have goals that are likely different to those of the teachers. Also, teachers have been powerless in deciding what to teach in their classroom.

So, teaching pluralism without political will or a fundamental curriculum rearrangement could end up dissuading people to be open and attentive to pluralism. Government, schools and teachers should be on the same page in disseminating pluralism and other universal values.

However, it’s not always about the content of curriculum which teaches our students to be pluralist-minded society members, but even more so the policy either of the school or government in managing the classroom. The existing discriminatory treatment over the heterogeneous students at schools in terms of learning ability would reap new seeds of social turbulence.

There are three kinds of such discriminative approaches in schools that are highly possibly to bring about subtle but dangerous effect on student lives and threaten the pure goals of education.

* First, the leveling system which is so familiar in today’s school trend. Many schools take it as a pride when they can run a leveled-class system and promote it as a newly developed education management tool.

There are two common reasons why schools arrange leveled classes.

First, it is easier for the teachers to teach students with the same (high) ability in a class since they don’t need to make extra efforts in explaining the subject thoroughly. Ironically, the focus of this argument is only the highest level of the classes. As can be predicted as a result, the modules can be finished prior to the time prescribed. But, what about the lowest class students? Then problems appear.

In my point of view, consciously or not, this kind of school could spark envy and early structural discrimination in society, at the very least in the students and their parents. The leveling system has been a stigma-generating system which underestimates students’ ability to learn. Shouldn’t the equality of education prevail as guaranteed in the Constitution?

Second, the school has a chance to promote its “most prestigious class” as a selling image to parents and student candidates. But honestly, that’s just only for the short-term purpose.

Those education institutions set a discriminative education and undermine cooperative learning just for the sake of easiness and narrow-minded achievement. If the purpose is to make the learning process become smoothly flourishing, dividing students into hierarchical order of stratification is not a sage solution. But it is in the learning process that needs to be well-orchestrated by the teachers and schools administrators so every student can experience the same pleasure of learning through interesting and accommodating activities.

Cooperative learning is undoubtedly the answer for the heterogeneousness of the students’ ability. The fast students can share his understanding, and his/her slower classmates will comprehend and respond in their own way. Besides, this is the very beginning where social interaction and cooperation begin and lasting forever in the form of harmonious relations in society. Accommodating the way students learn is an added value to boost a satisfactory result of learning despite differences in students’ learning ability.

Howard Gardner, an educational psychologist, suggests that this kind of phenomenon is best implemented by putting into practice the theory of multiple intelligences. Intelligence is the ability to solve problems, or to create products, that are valued within one or more cultural settings (Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind, 1983). If we see it from the teachers’ side, teachers could modify varied learning methods for meeting different conditions of the students’ learning styles.

* Second, the accelerated class which undermines social development of students ending up in isolating personalities. Accelerated classes are no more than just a trick of schools to spark self over-pride. Students with bulky financial support feel proud of the services they are given, but at the same time, regular class students put the second group of students at the same school implicitly. Of course, accelerated class is much more expensive that the regular classes. This is just another pattern of the result-oriented education.

* Third, the new standardized types of school passed by government recently. Three types of school: International School (SBI), National Standardized School (SSN) and Favorite Schools (SU) show a strict segregation of leveled types of schools. Again, another daunting figure of education threat which segregates society based on their possessions or wealth toward education need.

Leveled class, accelerated class, and these three types of school signal a questionable orientation of education. Students belong to that trend of education practice are coming from high class families and at the same time is the first school’s priority.

What seems possible to reoccur again is the colonialist implementation of education where early young generations of this nation were struggling so hard to have a chance to step into school which hardly they succeeded at.

I am afraid if the historic discriminative education in the Dutch colonial era arises again within this current education policy, keeping in mind that education is still apparently a luxury in our society.

Those unjust education policies, sooner or later, could trigger violence in society, as proved by history. I ask myself; has our education today already given positive effects on our society? Or, could it be the economic trends of today’s capitalist society dominate our education goals and policy? If so, then I worry the mission of disseminating pluralism through education will be left in history and a time bomb of violence is ready to blow.

The writer is a sociology teacher at the Dian Harapan School. He can be contacted at ss_tore@yahoo.com.

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