Quality education improvement

 Anita Lie, Surabaya | Sat, 05/29/2010 10:25 AM | Opinion A | A | A | This is an exciting time for education in Indonesia as national and local governments, private philanthropists and foreign aid focuses on education reform based on national standards. In spite of the various motives behind this increasing concern about education, the unprecedented flow of funding for education makes it especially advantageous for schools and educators to identify and implement good ideas. One of the eight standards as stipulated by the 2005 government decree on national education standards refers to teachers. A disheartening number of teachers (ranging from 32 to 49 percent depending on the grade level) all over Indonesia are still not qualified to teach, while almost 50 percent of the 2010 education budget of Rp 195.6 trillion is allocated for teachers’ salaries. A significant part of the education reform strategy has focused on teacher improvement and should proceed in this direction. The teaching profession has changed dramatically in this country. At the dawn of this Republic, the teaching profession, as Umar Kayam portrays in his Para Priyayi, was used as a path for upward social mobility. The profession was associated with nobility and respect. During this era when education was designed only for the elites, the profession was chosen and strengthened by the cream of society. As the movement toward mass education coincided with the industrial revolution, teachers have gradually been left behind in terms of their welfare and respect for their profession. As of today, there are still teachers earning only less than Rp 300.000 a month. The profession no longer attracts the few good men and women who were capable and dedicated. When the profession becomes a second or even third choice of young people entering the job market, children suffer from a poor quality of education. The government has been engaged to upgrade the quality of teachers through the certification program. In spite of the occurrences of faulty practices in the portfolio mechanism within the certification and the long queue for their turn, teachers all over Indonesia are hopeful that this certification will enable them to improve their lives and their professional development. When the promise of improved welfare for teachers is delivered, we are hopeful this profession will once more attract the most capable and dedicated young people. An increase in salary alone will not guarantee the improved quality of education. As a matter of fact, education expert Darmaningtyas described a phenomenon in the countryside where teachers earned more and began investing their extra money not in their professional development, but in capitalizing their money to earn more (for instance, by operating ojek). In the big cities, teachers — especially of certain subjects such as math, physics, and English — engage in providing extra lessons outside of school to earn extra income. The moonlighting activities have gradually drowned them in personal and professional fatigue. Worse, the dignity of the profession may be tainted by violation of professional ethics as in cases of preferential treatment for students who pay for the extra lessons. Therefore, the government’s efforts to upgrade the quality of teachers by providing a more decent salary need to be complemented simultaneously with a vision and programs for professional development. First and foremost, professional development should incorporate pre-service as well as in-service programs. Pre-service programs are carried out by faculties of education and professional education programs in public as well as private universities throughout Indonesia. Various government grants have been disbursed to improve access and quality of the pre-service programs. In the years to come, sustainability of the quality improvement needs to be ensured especially when the grants have come to an end. In-service professional development programs should include both competence as well as commitment building. Good teachers are not merely teachers with good techniques. Good teachers are first and foremost teachers who know why they are teachers and who care for their students. Because they care for their students, they are motivated to improve themselves to become better teachers for their students. There is much room for corporate social responsibility and philanthropists to take part in the national education reform by investing in in-service, professional development programs for teachers. A number of corporations and private philanthropists such as the She-Can Teachers have sponsored teacher workshops and school improvement programs. This social investment has become a significant partnership between the government and public participation. However, one complication is the extensive variation in the Indonesian education landscape. In the context of teacher quality, there is a wide disparities across the nation. A small number of teachers have demonstrated their ability to prepare their students to compete in various international settings, while a great number of their counterparts are still struggling with basic mastery of the content they are teaching. The worth of private initiatives in this endeavor is their capacity to take into account the variation while the government apparatus tends to be rigid and comply with the forms at the cost of function and purpose. Partnership between the government and public participation in 3E professional development programs (enlighten, educate and empower teachers) may be the key to improving the quality of education in Indonesia. The writer is a professor at Widya Mandala Catholic University, Surabaya and a member of the Indonesian Community for Democracy.

After the board of education is scrapped

Paul Suparno, Yogyakarta | Sat, 05/29/2010 11:28 AM | Opinion A | A | A | The Legal Board of Education (BHP) law that would manage and give legal foundation to several Indonesian public universities has been scrapped by the Constitutional Court. The problem is, what do we do now, especially for the public and private universities in Indonesia? Several universities including Gajah Mada, University of Indonesia, the Bandung Institute of Technology and Erlangga are supposed to be governed under the BHP. Since the BHP has been canceled, the universities should be provided another legal foundation. If they do not have a new foundation, they will have functional difficulties, especially if they want to make agreements with foreign institutions. Whatever the name of the legal foundation and its regulations, it should be given the following characteristics. First, the legal foundation should give the universities autonomy to run their programs with creativity and allow them to progress. By becoming more independent, they will be able to run their programs more freely and can develop their universities according to their vision and mission. Left to their own devices, several universities have actually become better and better, rising in the world’s ranked tertiary institutions. This is because they have been allowed to develop their university freely, without too much influence from the bureaucracy of the education department. Second, according to the people, the foundations should not run their universities as businesses, and avoid commercialism. Students will not benefit from any commercial interests the universities pursue. For instance, poor students would not be apply to the universities because they would not be able to pay the high tuition fees. The poor but clever students should receive the same opportunities to learn at the higher education level. A university that is run like a business will tend to only accept rich students that are able to pay higher fees. If public universities go down this path, there will be massive discrimination among Indonesian students. Third, the new legal foundation should be based on the knowledge that students are the subject of the universities. They are not objects to be oppressed by the institution, they have to be allowed to talk and participate in deciding institutional regulations. Students have to be allowed to delegate a member of the legal foundation so that they are able to voice their opinions and needs. In the democratic era, the university should be open to the students’ opinions. Fourth, the board does not override the government’s responsibility, especially in improving the education system. The government has the responsibility of providing education for the people. If more and more public universities are improved, more students will become more competent at the public institutions. By doing so, there will be equality in the higher education. The problem now is only several public universities are very good, so only several students are able to study there, while other students have no opportunity at all. Fifth, because public universities vary in quality and qualification, their legal framework should also vary. By doing so, public universities would be free to choose the legal foundation appropriate with their situation. Most importantly, the public legal structure must not be imposed on private universities. Even though the BHP law has been scrapped by the Constitutional Court, private universities and their foundations should not stand by and do nothing. Despite the fact private universities have their own boards and foundations leaving them free to manage their institutions according to their vision and mission; there are still many problems that should be solved. The first problem is about the harmony and communication between the foundation and the president of the university. We often hear of conflicts at this level, many of which go unresolved. The effect that this discord has on the schools’ primary function of teaching and learning could not possibly be conducive. The only ones that suffer from these situations are the students, either financially or intellectually. The foundation and the president should be aware that they work together for the same education. They have the same job to improve their university and help students achieve their best. To help guarantee this, university presidents should attend all foundation meetings. After all, it is they who are meant to be best in tune with the running of the university. How can foundations expect to run their universities, if they don’t fully understand the situation of the university they are trying to run. The second problem is about finding donations for the university. Maintaining a university costs a lot of money. Students’ fees alone are not enough to develop and accelerate the institution, especially if they accommodate research and technology departments that require more equipment and laboratories. Foundations should appeal for income from outside the student body. Together with the president, they have to improve collaboration with industries and foreign countries that care for education. By doing so, students will not be burdened with additional costs and poor students will see a reduction in their tuition fees. The member of the foundation should also learn about higher education problems, and know how to guide the university. So, the foundation does really guide the university, and work together with the president in improving the quality of the university. The writer is a lecturer of Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta.

Exploding the myth of non-literate culture

Setiono Sugiharto, Jakarta | Sat, 05/29/2010 10:46 AM | Opinion A | A | A | A serious accusation often directed at our culture is that we are predominantly an oral culture rather than a literate culture. Such an accusation seems to be proven true when we witness the fact that most of our people spend their spare time chatting with each other rather than reading books. Nevertheless, this sweeping generalization is proved unfounded when we closely observe our children’s behavior. Contrary to popular belief that our children’s reading habits lack, children are, amazingly, readers by nature. The famous slogan “everyone is a reader” seems to support this assertion. It seems that our species have been destined to be readers to satisfy our inquisitiveness. It is indeed a remarkable fact to find that children are inherently endowed with such an inquisitive mind and are voracious readers. Finding evidence to show that children are truly readers is not difficult. I am often amazed to see many kids and teenage boys and girls enthusiastically selecting and picking up books from store bookshelves. Many of them sat on the floor, reading an assortment of books from a variety of genres such as fairly tales, comics, teenage novels and a series of popular sciences. Moreover, just visit community libraries, mobile libraries and community reading playgrounds! One will be flabbergasted to see that most of the visitors are young children and teenagers. Surprisingly, children are wittingly selective in choosing what they wish to read. They tend to prefer “light” reading material — books with content demanding less cognitive load and are entertaining. Such a reading activity is known, in most reading literature, as free voluntary reading or pleasure reading — reading because one wishes too. Evidence showing children are avid readers suggests that the prevailing perception that our children lack a reading habit, and that we belong to a more oral than literal culture, is in fact a sheer myth. Unfortunately, our pedagogy has wrongly contributed to the shaping of public opinion, and as such helps perpetuate the myth among our community members. It has infamously set unrealistic standards for our children to achieve academic success in their literacy development. It is common knowledge that in early schooling children have been exposed to “heavy” or “serious” reading material with the assumption that reading such material offers cognitive advantages for children. Student’s resistance to this reading material has been interpreted as a lack of reading habit, which sadly most parents in particular and people in general believe. After all, reading material of a serious genre such as school textbooks have been deemed mandatory for students’ academic development, and are therefore exhorted even in early years of learning. The serious problem in both our general pedagogical and literacy practices is that, in my view, they fail to play their facilitative role in assisting children to nurture their potential as readers. They fail to recognize that every child is in fact a reader. The best effort the government can offer to deal with this quandary is to promote a reading campaign nationwide. Yet, such an effort is not necessary because even without being encouraged children are already book lovers. They know by themselves what and how to read without necessarily being cajoled and “bribed” by adults. Unlike what has been commonly assumed in our pedagogical practices, academic research presents a completely different picture. There is no better way of helping children boost their literacy skill than lowering our expectation of them. That is, we need not restrict children in their attempts to explore their own world for the sake of fulfilling our unrealistic goals. Academic success doesn’t start from a massive exposure to reading serious literature, but instead begins from light reading materials such as comics, short story, folk tales, and teen romances. In other words, light reading serves as the best conduit to serious or heavy reading. Another serious factor responsible for perpetuating the myth of our non-literate culture comes from the lack of access to libraries. Most children in remote areas in the country are children of poverty. Despite their inherent drive to satisfy their curiosity through reading, many children from these poverty-stricken regions can’t access books. It sounds plausible to assume that more access to libraries means more reading, and in turn results in more literacy. In the end, it is fair to claim that due to lack of access to books these children of poverty might be more illiterate than those from a well-off family. Nevertheless, it is unfair to make a sweeping generalization that the former exhibits a lack of reading habit, hence non-literate culture. The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta. He is chief editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching.