Growing internationalism in Indonesian education

Simon Marcus Gower ,  Contributor ,  Jakarta   |  Wed, 08/27/2008 10:29 AM  |  Supplement

Education is an area of human development that is seemingly forever the subject of debate, discussion and even outright conflict and enmity about what works and what does not. Theories are developed and either accepted or sometimes discredited. Policies and practices are applied that may or may not meet with success.

One thing that largely remains constant, though, to all this debate, discussion, theorizing and practicing is the pursuit of a better, more suitable way of educating. Times change and so too, then, do educational needs. One only needs to think of technological development to recognize this.

What was effective and standard practice in teaching and learning yesteryear may now be simultaneously irrelevant and ineffectual and so redundant. Times have significantly changed in and for Indonesia and its education provision, although it sadly has to be admitted that many, many schools across Indonesia are effectively lagging behind the times.

But changes have certainly come, continue to be arrived at and indeed are sought. A particularly significant change is the manner in which schools and schooling is being internationalized. This leads to changes in practices, procedures and philosophy.

This is perhaps most directly and obviously represented by the significant number of both international and national plus schools that have come into existence relatively recently.

Such schools, although significantly residing in the private sector, are creating a more internationalized context for education right here within Indonesia. Indonesian teachers, education administrators and indeed students and their parents are gaining exposure to and experience of international models of education.

But this internationalization of education is not solely limited to such private sector schools. Public sector schools too are now offering international courses of study leading to international qualifications. Public schools have increasing participation in and delivery of international curricula.

These schools are offering programs such as the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (or IGCSE) which is sourced from Cambridge in the United Kingdom and so, as Indonesian schools, have to develop the capacity and capability to actually deliver such programs.

This very directly and explicitly means that Indonesian schools now have to examine and pursue international standards of education and this is no small task and challenge.

From the provision of adequate and acceptable facilities such as science laboratories and suites of computers through to possessing a sufficiently trained and qualified staff of teachers, the challenge that accompanies becoming international can be onerous but it is a good onus.

Also, accompanying educational change to become international is the challenge of bilingual education. As the majority of international programs of education utilize English as their medium of instruction and general response from students, there is a need to develop greater competencies in the English language.

This means that Indonesian students genuinely do need to develop a level of working and practical bilingualism. The kinds of tasks and activities that they will be required to perform and achieve in international programs of education demand higher level skills and abilities within the language.

Conversational English is simply not sufficient here. Students need to have the ability to listen and take copious notes, write essays and exam answers in flowing and articulate prose, make presentations and speak intelligibly and intelligently to show and communicate their thoughts.

All of these higher level language skills can prove challenging but the good news is that there are clear signs that Indonesian students are coping with these language challenges. It seems that with the growth in international and national plus schools, many more Indonesian students are attaining higher levels of proficiency and acumen to handle academic tasks in English.

Students can, then, be seen to be “growing into” the more international context for education to be encountered within Indonesian borders. The same may also be said for a number of teachers within Indonesia, and the more teachers that can benefit from such international exposure the better.

For teachers as well as students, international programs of education can set a different tone and a different manner in which education is both managed and delivered. Perhaps one of the most striking differences can be the ways in which students are assessed and indeed challenged to perform.

The idea of students being relatively passive “receivers” of education that is largely diluted down into information and facts that require memorization is largely cast out within international programs of education.

This represents significant change in educational philosophy and goals. The student, in this context, is viewed and indeed required to be much more of a participant in his or her own education. Quite robotic and relatively thoughtless following of the textbook and/or teacher is not the goal.

Students are required to be much more active and thoughtful. Their ability to analyze, interpret, challenge, critique and generally show originality and independence of thought is much the more desired outcome.

This too imposes requirements of teaching staff. They cannot be the impassive, distant and disdainful mere imparters of quite static information, as perhaps they have previously been. They too must be learners.

This may not always be a comfortable notion for a person who somewhat proudly may claim the title of “teacher” but the role of the teacher too is a changing one as educational change and adaptation occurs.

Naturally, the teacher needs to hold a sound knowledge of his/her subject but the teacher must also be an inquiring and inquisitive spirit. The teacher in this context needs to be a person that has a curiosity and a thirst for new knowledge.

There may be cultural influences and traditional ways of thinking about the role of the teacher and education generally but for educational change and development to occur and prove beneficial, cultural and traditional predilections need to be overcome.

Indonesian education is showing clear signs of change and Indonesian people often show a willingness to adapt and respond to new ways. These are things that need to be accepted and promoted. Those that resist change and cannot contemplate adaptation are consigning themselves and others to irrelevance and incapacity.

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