Revisiting the notion of childhood education

Setiono Sugiharto ,  Jakarta   |  Sat, 07/25/2009 1:24 PM  |  Opinion

In a photo published in the July 14th edition of The Jakarta Post, a number of minors were shown standing trial for crimes they allegedly committed.

Wearing school uniforms and masks to conceal their identity, these children face charges at the Tangerang District Court for illegally offering shoe-shining services at Soekarno-Hatta airport and for allegedly gambling at the airport vicinity.

It is not surprising to see many children in Indonesia dropping out of school to help their parents make ends meet. With many living below the poverty line, child labor has become an everyday occurrence in the greater parts of Jakarta.

What is shocking however is that minors wearing school uniforms dared to *gamble’ in a public area. What is even more shocking is that rampant social problems such as child prostitution, drug abuse, gang activities and student brawls are on the rise among young people.

Child psychologist Irwanto suggests that the increase in juvenile delinquency across Indonesia is the result of government policies which are not sensitive to children.

He estimated that statistically 60 percent of Indonesian children no longer attend school by the time they reach 15, and instead choose to work in the informal sector, or even on the street. Some find more steady jobs, but others also become hooligans.

Viewed from an education perspective, criminal acts committed by school children are, in my opinion, the result of childhood pedagogy devoid of social structure and cultural practices.

Indonesian childhood pedagogy still zealously adheres to a theory of child development that takes its root from the Piagetian developmental psychology, which places an emphasis on development through linear stage: cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional, moral and physical development.

This approach to teaching children, known in developmental psychology as the biological determinism approach, is not without its problems, however. The most serious one is that this method is often applied to teaching children in all contexts. It denies the intricacies of the socio-cultural realities of each individual students’ life.

Another problem is that a linear view of childhood considers children as natural beings rather than as social phenomena. A child’s path to maturity is often viewed in a rigid and fixed order, where people only observe their cognitive, linguistic, emotional and physical development.

Our schools here adopt a school curricula that reflects this view of maturity and development. This approach totally ignores the social realities in which children grow as individuals and can have devastating consequences on the lives of children.

In this respect, it is quite plausible that children view their identity as hierarchical, fixed, static, linear and chronological.

Kerry H. Robinson and Criss Jones Diaz, experts on childhood education, contend that when applied to teaching children from diverse socio-cultural communities, such an approach denies the varied and often contradictory realities of social and cultural practice from which children’s identities are mediated.

Influenced by positivistic intellectual traditions, developmental psychology also stresses rationality, universal truth and objectivity. Seeing the maturity process of children from these standpoints, as has been the case in our contemporary childhood pedagogy, negates the uniqueness of individual children, which in turn causes a loss of identity.

These children facing criminal charges (which they were probably not aware actually existed) probably are only a few of the millions of children who have lost their identities. They are the victims of a structure which lacks a cultural or social interpretation or room for diversity. They are powerless, positioned as irrational, marginalized and underdeveloped beings.

Putting them behind bars is of course not the right solution. It will not guarantee that they will refrain from committing future wrongs, but will definitely impede on their effort to establish their identity as children.

What they need now is education which can empower them and open their eyes to their rights, so they can understand the context in which they live. In so doing, they will eventually develop a heightened awareness that in the process of maturity, their lives are always socially constructed through the contexts in which they are situated.

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

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