The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Sat, 09/22/2007 3:08 PM | Opinion
Abdullah Yazid, Malang, East Java
Almost everyone recognizes teachers as the most important human resource element in education. At the same time, people acknowledge teachers do not receive descent pay for the service they provide. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that discussions about teachers always concern the low level of their welfare.
If we were to ask any of today’s generation of students, we could hardly find any of them who aspire to become a teacher. It is as if the profession had lost its pride. The “”big earning”” professions, such as business and law, are much more sought after. Poor income and lack of respect are among the reasons why teaching is not a favorite profession, compared with what it was in the past. This is not to mention the minimal attention paid to these “”heroes without medals””.
Those facts only explain how Indonesians perceive the teaching profession very differently from in neighboring countries, such as Malaysia and Japan, where the profession is very well respected and very much influential. The public and the governments there rank teachers higher than other professionals.
In Indonesia, teachers no longer enjoy economic (income and welfare), political (bargaining position) or social (public appreciation) value. It is understandable therefore that the quality of our education ranks among the poorest in the region.
This situation is exacerbated by the low budget allocated for education from year to year. Almost one-third of the annual budget is used to pay debts or interest, instead of education spending. Everybody knows the education sector is a major investment that requires a huge budget, especially to meet the needs of teachers and students.
As of 2006, there are at least 2.6 million teachers working in elementary, junior high and high schools across Indonesia (Kompas, Nov. 17, 2006).
Despite their lack of appreciation, teachers bear a heavy responsibility. They are expected to be capable of playing a role as both trainers and motivators. Teachers are also required to facilitate solutions for various life issues, seek breakthroughs, initiate change and exercise conscience in conducting their professional duties.
Despite the limitations placed on them, teachers must posses adequate knowledge, a high level of personal integrity and pedagogic skills so that students can depend on them. On top of that, teachers have to be able to create a pleasant, healthy and conducive educational environment.
An educator really takes on a difficult job. He or she is expected to sacrifice their after-school hours to help filter information beneficial to their students. It comes as no surprise Ilbert Highert once said that teaching is an art. Pedagogy demands expertise, skill, intelligence and creativity from teachers. One of the supporting factors toward success in this noble profession is sincere dedication.
Unfortunately, up to now the policy-makers have not shown any appreciation for this dedication. As a result many teachers have opted to moonlight. They teach at different schools day and night or seek side-jobs for extra income to feed their families.
How can we expect a quality education if teachers have to struggle to survive?
There are many teachers who perform unsatisfactorily to the point of being unprofessional.
The national education system has introduced a teacher certification program in a bid to boost the competence of educators. This systemic approach aims to see no more schools employing high school graduates or non-teacher institute graduates as teachers. The teachers will have to go back to the classroom to get the appropriate diplomas or certification in order to ensure their teaching proficiency.
For that purpose, the government has increased the education budget.
Teachers are the key to the sustainability of efforts toward improving the quality of the nation in the face of future challenges.
But the policy-makers cannot leave teachers unprotected. The welfare of teachers is the responsibility of the state. Articles on teachers’ protection and welfare in the 2004 law on national education must be translated into concrete action.
The writer is an Averroes Press editor and founder of the alternative education Civil Society School in Malang. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.