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.