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.