Quality of education and the national exams

Paul Suparno , Yogyakarta | Sat, 12/19/2009 1:04 PM | Opinion

After the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the go-vernment on the organization of the national exams, controversy over whether it is necessary to maintain the national exams (UN) has continued to make headlines. People, who support the UN, such as the government, explain that the quality of the Indonesia education system will drop without the UN, so they try to defend the current UN system. But those against this system say the nation doesn’t need the national exams because the quality of education does not just depend on the UN. Does the quality of Indonesia education depend on the national exams? Will the quality of the Indonesian education system worsen without them? In my opinion, the UN only measures a small portion of students’ competence in specific subjects, and does not measure students’ competences throughout the semester. It only measures students’ competences in about five or six subjects such as Indonesian language, mathematics, English and science. It also doesn’t evaluate the broader spectrum of subjects taught at schools comprising at least 14 subjects. In addition, the UN does not measure the process of students’ learning. So, if we want to measure students’ competences more thoroughly, we need at least to assess other elements including portfolios, homework, oral and listening examinations. According to the National Education Standards Agency (BSNP), the quality of the education system depends on eight criteria, including standards of content, learning and teaching processes, passing grade competences, teachers, means and infrastructure, management, costs and financing, and educational evaluation. If these eight criteria are met, our education system will improve. The UN seems only to have covered some but not all of these criteria. It does not, for example, evaluate the quality of teachers, learning-teaching processes, infrastructure or financing, which are all very important in improving the quality of education. According to the national education law, the purpose of the national education system is to help students become more holistic. Students should not only be clever in cognitive aspects, but should also become good people and citizens. It, therefore, should aim improve the moral, spiritual, social and emotional aspects of humanity. At present, the UN only measures cognitive aspects, but not others. So the UN cannot evaluate the quality of education as a whole process and values. Apart from the above criteria, the quality of the education system can also be measured by how many students are accepted into good universities and by the employment sector. If more students from one school are accepted at several good universities, and if many of its students are recruited by companies and really able to do their jobs professionally, we know the quality of the education offered at that school is very good. So the quality of education does not just depend on the UN, but on other aspects too. So, can we still use the UN to improve the quality of the Indonesian education system? Or should the UN be erased from the Indonesian education system? In fact, the UN can still be useful as an instrument to evaluate or detect the level of students’ cognitive competence in several subjects, on a national scale. This means that via the UN, the government will ascertain which schools are in the high-standard criteria and which schools are below or in the low-standard criteria. And if schools are still in the low-standard criteria, it is the government’s responsibility to improve such schools. And because the UN is regarded as a means to understanding students’ cognitive levels, it must not be the only factor in students’ graduation. The government also could establish a high-level national test according to the curriculum and standard of content, so that the quality of tests would be high. However, this test should not be held as part of a national examinations. It should be held as a school examination. By doing so, the score of this test could still be considered as an indication of the quality of students. In addition, students would be able to do the test in a free, peaceful, comfortable, but more relaxed situation. Students would thus be expected to do such a test better. Meanwhile, the organization of the test should be carried out by accredited schools. An accredited school is allowed to provide its own tests and give students passing grades. If the government wants to improve the quality of the education system, it has to improve the accreditation of schools. Schools need to be evaluated in terms of the eight national education criteria. The writer is a lecturer at Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta.

Nat’l exam lacks educational sociology perspective

Setiono Sugiharto , Jakarta | Sat, 12/12/2009 1:00 PM | Opinion Amid the public outcry over the termination of the controversial national exams, the Supreme Court finally reached a decision by issuing a verdict obliging the government to revoke the annually held exam. The seemingly unabated spat over this government-sanctioned national exams is indicative that the public has long harbored a deep mistrust about them, with the government, regrettably, turning a deaf ear to the public opposition. When we examine it more closely, the reasons for mistrusting the exams are legitimate and justified for at least two reasons. First, the national exams fall under the category of a high-stake test. It has a great impact on and determines the students’ future academic life. This is particularly true in our educational context, where the results of such nationally conducted exams are used as the sole criterion for successful acceptance at an institute of higher learning. Second, as one of the related stakeholders, the public has the right to voice its opposition to the exams, should it feel that the implementation does not conform to the principles of societal equality. Because the national exams never take place in a social vacuum, society, upon which the exams may impact positively or negatively, has the civil right to demand accountability from the government. It is reasonable to suspect that the impetus for opposing the implementation of the exams nationwide emanates from the fact that it has never been situated in either macro- or micro-sociological contexts. It thus lacks sociological analysis, which is, in fact, of meaningful value to the implementation of the exams, because it can shed light onto the understanding of the social framework within which to assess the benefits and detriments of the exams. It should be admitted that the serious problem the centralized exams pose at the macro-sociological level is that they perpetuate social divisions and social injustice. As such, they further widen the gap among the social strata. This runs against the goal of national education, which is to break down class barriers, to promote equality of opportunity for the people to get access to education as well as to boost social mobility. At the micro-sociological level (i.e. schools and classrooms), the learners are the most conspicuous victimized stakeholders directly impacted by the centralized examination system. The notion “national” in the phrase “national examinations” presupposes a notion of uniformity, standardization and a set of rigid conventions to adhere to. It thus nullifies the uniqueness of the contexts (school facilities, textbooks used, learning and teaching experiences, the quality of the teachers and students, and other relevant resources) in which the system is imposed. These contexts, in fact, constitute major forces that determine the students’ success and failure in the exams. We should be cognizant that examinations are only a small component of the education system. They are only a means, not an end by themselves. If the measure of students’ intellectual capacity is based solely on the results of these exams, we are doing a great disservice to our stakeholders. We are disparaging the potentials of our students as creative and evolving beings. At the same time, we are also showing our distrust of classroom teachers as the people in the right place to exercise judgment of their students. Without understanding the complexities of sociological contexts in which the national exams are always situated, those in authority are not in a position to play their role constructively. Education is not an object to be experimented with sans a clear basis. It is a professional field of enquiry, which needs to be treated professionally. Examinations, a most vital component of education, should be treated likewise. Thus any efforts to implement examinations (both at school and at the national level) should take into account the sociological perspective. As for the contentious national exams, we are in the end faced with two options: either terminate them from the educational landscape as they do more harm than good, or revamp the system so as to accommodate all related stakeholders’ needs. The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta, and chief editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching.

How difficult is it to learn Indonesian?

M. Marcellino ,  Jakarta   |  Sat, 10/31/2009 1:13 PM  |  Opinion

Indonesian has been taught for decades in various countries in the world, including in Australia, the United States and South Korea, to mention a few. This indicates that Indonesian is one of the foreign languages that university authorities have seriously noted and consider important for their students to take in their countries.

However, over the last few years, as far as the current information is concerned, a number of Indonesian classes in various countries, such as the three mentioned above, have either closed or been canceled due to a very limited number of students interested in taking the course.

This article will present some factual reasons for why foreign students might lose their motivation when learning Indonesian, based on my experience and an intensive observation at a particular private university in South Korea. This article attempts to provide some solutions to the problems that foreign teachers of Indonesian may frequently encounter in class.

The first factor why Korean students lose their interest in learning Indonesian deals with their teachers’ degree of language proficiency.

As teachers play a significant role in arousing their students’ motivation and in making the class lively and attractive, the teachers’ lack of ability to communicate in the target language the learners are studying has a negative impact upon the learners’ language acquisition.

In the case of Indonesian in Korea, teachers often speak Korean in class and this can definitely prevent their students from acquiring a communicative skill, a language ability essential for communication.

Teaching Indonesian in Korean may also make the students lose the great opportunity to observe, pick up and use the language naturally.

Korean university teachers often confront difficulty in using Indonesian as the medium of instruction in class interactions. Accordingly, when in class, they speak Korean most of the time and this leads their students to having little time to practice speaking the language and to become familiar with any expression of the language use they are studying.

Lack of practice in four language skills – listening, speaking, reading and writing – will definitely hinder the acquisition of the language skills the students are learning.

When looking closely into the teaching materials, particularly the reading texts, they scarcely present culture-based passages that may both broaden their knowledge and increase their motivation. Passages on Indonesian cultures may be essential for Indonesian classes as they have many functions.

First, learning a language is also learning its culture. Therefore, by having knowledge of some Indonesian cultures, students can also appreciate the people, their customs and beliefs, as well as their way of life and their language that they are studying. Cultures may also attract students’ interest in learning the language, for students may appreciate the cultural values of the people having the customs.

Like other foreign language courses offered and taught in foreign countries, the learning environment of Indonesian classes is mostly not ideal in that the students mostly speak their own language inside and outside the class. This situation prevents or delays the students from acquiring the language they are learning.

With regard to teaching methodology, not many approaches are implemented to stimulate the students’ learning activities. A communicative approach is scarcely adopted in class interactions, instead structuralism has a greater proportion in class practice. As the basic features of this approach concern repetitions, substitutions and language reinforcement with little or no exposure to language use, language is not presented in actual communicative contexts.

Accordingly, students do not learn how the language is used for real communication. Teachers seem not to be professionally acquainted with various teaching techniques in that their teaching style seems to be monotonous.

There are several ways teachers of Indonesian can overcome their problems.

First of all, they have to improve their Indonesian language proficiency and use the language in class. By using Indonesian as the only medium of instruction and communication, students will be greatly exposed to the use of the language, can learn the language naturally and pick up many language expressions useful and meaningful for real communication.

Second, students have to be encouraged to practice using Indonesian inside and outside the class. By so doing, they reinforce their learning, a factor badly required for the process of acquiring a language.

The textbooks the teachers use have to be attractive in terms of their content, well designed and based on an ascending-difficulty principle with respect to the complexity of language components and structures. The textbooks ought to be carefully selected with reference to the level of the learners’ current language proficiency and hopefully have culture-related issues that may arouse the students’ learning motivation.

Third, when learning a language, a variety of teaching approaches ought to be implemented in class to make the class lively. Repetitive teaching styles may easily lead to tedious class in which students can discernibly fall asleep and apparently lose their interest in active engagement in class interactions.

The writer was a visiting professor at a private university in Korea (2008-2009) and a faculty member at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta.