Fraud in teacher certification program: Who’s to blame?

Setiono Sugiharto ,  Jakarta   |  Sat, 05/16/2009 2:05 PM  |  Opinion

The teacher certification program, which has been in place for the past three years, is reportedly fraught with shameful fraud. Findings from the Independent Monitoring and Evaluation (Monev) teams concerning the teacher certification program (from the 2006-2008 quotas) have revealed the widespread use of forged certificates in teachers’ portfolios (Kompas April 9).

Among the three components being assessed in the portfolios, the last component, i.e. involvement in scientific forums, organizational experiences in education and social fields, and rewards relevant to education, has been alleged to have contained many counterfeit documents. Specifically, Monev suspect that the certificates of seminar attendances, training participation, and workshops often contain fictitious names, dates, and signatures.

However, as one of selected assessors involved in the teacher portfolio assessments during the 2006-2008 periods, I found the other two components – academic qualification, teaching experiences and lesson planning, and education and training, superordinate evaluations, academic achievement and professional development – were also by no means free from bogus documents, which other assessors also found.

This certainly sets a bad precedent for future candidates who are eagerly waiting to be certified. Unless stern measures are taken, it is highly likely that this year’s certification program will be laden with similar fraud – disgraceful acts that can tarnish the image of the profession.

The rampant use of forged certificates indicates that most of our teachers either have no opportunity to attend scientific forums or remain indifferent to upgrading their knowledge in a forum of discussion. As a consequence, they have no valid documents to submit to fulfill the requirements for their portfolio.

However, as far as my experience is concerned, not all documents are fictitious; many teachers did include genuine documents in their portfolio, showing their active participation only as the attendants of a seminar. Few however became paper presenters both nationally and internationally. This suggests that despite the fact that research activity, apart from teaching, is integral to their teaching career, they lacked awareness of the importance of doing research and presenting its findings in a forum of discussion.

It is indeed ironic that a teacher who is supposed to be a role model for their students sets a bad example by committing a fraudulent act in their attempt to achieve professional recognition. In a patriarchal society like ours, teachers are seen as trustworthy and are therefore often emulated. A teacher is portrayed as someone who commits to valuing truth and honesty despite whatever conditions he or she is facing.

It would be unwise, however, to put the blame on the teachers alone. At this juncture, it seems reasonable to surmise here that they justify the means to achieve the ends simply because they wanted to express their long-endured frustration. The teaching profession has long been marginalized. Teachers are low-paid; they receive little appreciation; and their efforts toward professional development are hardly supported.

Yet, despite these controversies, the teaching program should be seen as a government’s noble mission to boost teaching professionalism nationwide. It could be a conduit in which teachers can healthily compete with each other by showing how they have contributed to their profession.

Teachers need also to remember that the prestige of one’s professionalism cannot be measured simply by a piece of paper, even if it is a certificate and most importantly, that the pursuit of professionalism is a never-ending affair, requiring a long-life commitment to the profession one has decided to devote oneself to.

The writer is chief-editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching and teaches English composition at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta

Education reformation needed to rescue our future

Michael Setiawan ,  Jakarta   |  Sat, 05/02/2009 10:40 PM  |  Opinion

The celebration of National Education Day, which falls on May 2, needs to be marked with some introspection. This country, its officials and its people need to realize how education will make this country move forward and become a great country in the future. Our education is left out from other countries, including our neighbors, which used to get our help to improve their education, and it also creates a lot of controversies among us.

We have to admit that we are moving around the “axis of evil” in terms of education. Whatever happens between the government and lawmakers regarding the educational budget, we will never be able to move forward unless we break this axis and achieve some real education reform. The “axis of evil” in education refers to the frequent changing of the curriculum, the doubtful welfare standard of teachers and the changing culture among those involved in education, from students to parents to teachers.

We have to find the curriculum that best fits our country. This country tends to imitate curriculums from other countries in the hope they will be transition flawlessly. It is surprising to discover officials still insist on using these unsuitable curriculums. In addition, almost every time we have a new minister of education, we have another curriculum and other new set of rules that create problems. If we want to be honest, our present curriculum is not working well and it needs revision. For some people, past curriculums have been much better than the current.

On the other hand, we also need to start thinking about our teachers. Their welfare is the determining factor of their teaching quality. The minimum salary of Rp 2.5 million per month, is unrealistic in these tough economic conditions.

Prof. Dr. Laura F.N. Sudarnoto, an expert in education and also dean of the School of Education at Atma Jaya University, recently reminded us in one of her speeches that education reform is needed in all aspects, such as a change of curriculum, adequate infrastructure.

In addition, we have to be aware of the changing culture among our students, parents, and also teachers. Our students see education as a burden in their lives. They do not enjoy what they learn. They come to school because they have to. Their studies are perfunctory.

Besides, finding teachers who have the idealism to train future leaders is a difficult task. Parents usually do not care about education and its processes. They only want to see the results, not the process.

In order to have real education reform, we need to find the most suitable curriculum. These processes take time.

In addition, we need to dramatically increase the welfare of our teachers, it will result in full dedication to their students. To escape the “axis of evil” in education, we have to shift the mind-set of our students, teachers and parents. Good education will be the result of the co-operation by these parties.

If these ideas are not actualized, the future of education in the country will worsen and be disastrous for the next generation. It is time for us to commemorate this month of education by taking real actions.

The writer is a lecturer in the School of Education, English Department, Atma Jaya University, Jakarta.

National exam: Searching for fairness, justice

Setiono Sugiharto ,  Jakarta   |  Sat, 07/05/2008 12:21 PM  |  Opinion

In his book A Theory of Justice, John Rawls, an American political philosopher, says that one of the principles of fairness is that institutions or practices must be just. Rawls’ statement is an entirely appropriate reminder for us to reflect upon an annual tradition in our education sphere — the national examinations (UAN) for both junior and senior high schools.

It has been reported that 7 percent of students who took this year’s exams failed, up from 4.71 percent in 2007. There is thus a drop in the number of graduates this year.

Despite the drop, the Board of Middle and Higher Education (Dikmenti) claimed that students’ learning achievements in Jakarta are much better that those from other provinces, and that students from Jakarta still excelled compared to their counterparts from other regions.

With regards to this sweeping generalization, one may react by posing some critical inquiries. Can the national exams be used as a valid standard measurement nationwide? Were the exams constructed and developed by catering to test-takers’ diverse backgrounds in terms of political ideology, race/ethnicity, gender, native language and socioeconomic status? Who constructed or developed the exams? Are they representative of test developers from different parts of the regions? Does the content of the exams accord with the learners’ learning principles and beliefs and accurately measure what the learners know? The answers are, in my view, less than likely to be “yes”.

In addition to subtle individual learning differences, multiethnicity and multiculturalism have been characteristics of our society. It stands to reason then that a centralized exam intended for the consumption of the population in all provinces here cannot serve as a standard measure for claiming that one region has achieved more gains than others.

Even in the same region, a centralized constructed test cannot be used as a valid standard of measurement. Students coming from varied schools undergo different experiences due to different schools’ teaching and learning philosophy, the quality of the teaching staff, the teaching resources available and teaching materials, to mention just a few things. These varied experiences that students bring to the test room undoubtedly affect their performance on the test, both negatively and positively.

Clearly test takers from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds may be disadvantaged and advantaged in taking the national exam.

The public outcry to annul the exam is certainly understandable. In fact, the uproar against the practice of the exam nationwide takes place every year, with those in authority turning a deaf ear and insisting that the exam be maintained as an instrument for evaluating the nation’s learning achievement.

The annually unabated spat over the national exam that always colors our education sphere, in my view, stems primarily from the fact that there is no synergy between the ministry of education and test stakeholders — test-takers, teachers, parents and society at large.

The lack of this synergy helps create what many testing specialists call the abuse of test by the elite and those in power, often marginalizing test-takers and other indirectly related stakeholders.

As the construction and development of the national exam is part of the manifestation of the education policy set by the authoritative body, many testing specialists see a test as a powerful device through which control is exercised authoritatively. This in turn is used as a mechanism of legitimizing the power of bureaucrats and related groups.

Thus, if those in power are still in control of the academic systems, the execution of the national exam is susceptible to abuse, resulting in a test that is not fair, just, ethical and democratic.

The application of a centralized test for all students in the provinces is an instance of test abuse because it doesn’t hold the principle of societal equity, a basic condition of fairness.

To safeguard the practice of the national exam (if the government insists it be maintained) from any kind of test abuse in the years to come, the formulation of a code of practice by an independent monitoring body of the national examination, as a professional association, involving testing specialists and related stakeholders is imperative.

For one thing, the national exam falls into the category of high-stake test — a test that has a major impact on a large numbers of students. This kind of test is used to make important decisions such as the admission to academic institutions and the awarding of scholarships.

For another, because the results obtained from the national exam have broader societal implications, the way it is constructed, developed, administered and scored should conform to the principles of societal equity. A test, no matter valid and reliable, is of no meaningful value unless it is ethical, democratic and fair.

The price of such efforts is high. More professional people, more financial resources and more time and energy are called for. Yet, if the high-stake national exam is deemed central in determining the fate of students hailing from various regions nationwide, the price is worth paying.

The writer is chief-editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching and teaches English composition at Atma Jaya University Jakarta. He can be reached at setiono.sugiharto@atmajaya.ac.id