Adopting international curricula for the Indonesian context

Frederik Dharmawan and Eric Koo Peng Kuan ,  Contributors ,  Jakarta   |  Sun, 11/09/2008 11:04 AM  |  Supplement

Importing international curricula to Indonesia became a booming trend after the nation slowly recuperated from the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis. For many Indonesians, the arrival of such an option gives them an alternative when they would prefer to give their children a taste of foreign education without having to pay the expensive cost associated with sending their kids abroad. One question that could be asked from such an arrangement is to whether international curricula are ready to serve the needs of Indonesia students. This question is a rational one because these curricula are built based on the needs of students from various foreign countries. Will such curricula prepare the students for the next level of education in both Indonesia and other countries? These are legitimate concerns that we must ponder because educating children is not a light matter, nor is it a small investment for parents.

The educational system in Indonesia is a unique one. Many schools in Indonesia inherited the model from the Dutch colonial era, but simultaneously many miscellaneous facets from educational systems of other countries have also been adopted. As a consequence, the Indonesian curriculum could be said to be an amalgam of many other curricula. Certain unique problems could therefore arise.

First, one definite feature of the contemporary Indonesian educational system is that it is designed to merely supply fixed study materials for students rather than evoke their creativity. The international curricula adapted for the Indonesian context, however, does not work this way, but is designed to nurture students’ creativity and this presents contradictory problems. When freedom is given to a rigid system in place for a long time, there is the danger that the system may end up running wild without direction or purpose.

The second problem is that of the fact that the expatriate teachers who are capable of teaching these curricula have to be recruited from overseas. Schools must recruit such teachers from foreign countries with different cultures and expectations. Differences in culture might lead to misunderstandings or miscommunication with the students. Often there is not enough time to equip such expatriates with the necessary skills to assimilate with the local population and to fit in with Indonesian society. A crash course or seminar is probably enough to give expatriate teachers rudimentary skills in daily dealings with other local people, but that is definitely not the right solution in the long term. Such small problems of ineffective communication may subtly but eventually snowball into situations where the damage done could well become irreversible.

Third, universities in Indonesia tend to be reluctant in accepting high school students with foreign qualifications. That being the case, one must also take into consideration that the economy of Indonesia has not fully healed from the 1997-1998 crisis, meaning that parents who have given their children a foreign-based international education may not necessarily have the means to let the latter carry on tertiary studies outside Indonesia. Therefore, it is a wise policy to prepare a ready alternative available for such disfranchised students, without denying them a fair chance to further their education just because of the financial factor.

Last but not least, the presence of the former Indonesian curriculum will then defeat the purpose of importing alternative international ones. For the sake of argument, assuming that a school wishes to give its students all possible options, finding the correct balance between Indonesian and international curricula is a very tedious task that may not be very feasible to accomplish fully in reality. This can be a literal dead end where neither systems can concede or adapt flexibly to the other.

However, adopting international curricula is still a noble policy that needs to be examined to see whether they are suitable for Indonesians or not. On the one hand, it is benevolent to give students the chance to experience foreign education without the burden of the cost, but at the same time we are faced with the hurdle of methodology, cultural expectations and qualification differences. If there are ways to remedy such problems, both Indonesian and foreign educators must sit together on equal terms and discuss how to bridge the difference between these two systems. This is an issue that must be given attention and addressed at the national level.

The writers taught at an international school in Jakarta. They can be reached at: pkkoo@hotmail.com.

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