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.

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