Appropriate methods can help bad schools overcome problems

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Tue, 05/20/2003 12:44 PM | Opinion A | A | A | Sunitha Girish, Contributor, Jakarta

The Jakarta Post’s recent focus on international schools took me back to my own school days. Being part of an international school with air-conditioned rooms, a pool, well-equipped gym, attractive books complete with photos rather than drawings, students from all over the world, meaning lots of varied programs, an exciting curriculum, no end of the year exams, an active student council where we learned the fine nuances of governing, the promotion of common interests rather than the pursuit of self-serving interests and, most of all, humane, gentle, progressive and talented teachers, all seems like a dream today.

Policies like never giving an outright “”no”” to our answers (classes were an ocean of raised hands), making scrapbooks and evaluating them in “”our own words””, a mantra in our work, reading out stories to us right up to grade six to ensure we happily came to class to hear the continuation, the embodiment of teamwork in all our activities and most of all respect for our characters, contributed to a powerful combination of knowledge and understanding.

Obviously good infrastructure is a plus point but comes at a cost. Otherwise, what can schools do to become good? First of all, they can see value in the implementation of educational policies, programs and practices, considering the long-term impact of every action and basing them on research. The results, when applied, contribute to a steady climb for students from elementary, to middle to senior levels.

In elementary schooling (age five to seven), the emphasis would be on teaching through fun methods, a lot of arts and crafts, learning to get along and building trust in the teacher. Pressure is not beneficial therefore methodology reigns supreme.

Varied activities are employed as the attention spans of children are only one and half times their age. Not a time for competition. However exciting it is to discover the most “”amazing”” child it is detrimental to children’s interests and doesn’t help them in learning to respect each other for their differences. It has been proven that by the age of five, 80 percent of a child’s skills have been developed, so every child must be helped from then on. Written work is minimal as a child’s hands do not develop fully till the age of seven. Tests should be steered clear of. Appreciation for every child is the code. Words like “”bad handwriting”” or “”not neat”” are forbidden. Homework, if given, should be very light.

In middle schooling (age eight to 11), students are placed on track for mastering subjects of which the foundation has been laid earlier. Some homework is given with the aim being developing independence in tackling schoolwork.

However, it is important to remember, although homework ensures better grades the student’s bag should not weigh more than 10 percent of his weight. Thus the homework should be spaced out. By the age of 10, they can accept tests.

In senior schooling (age 12 to 17), students continue to acquire knowledge, discovering their areas of strength with the help of teachers. It is time for healthy competition induced by the students themselves, time to start debate sessions, to put on their own shows and to take home considerable amounts of homework.

The ultimate test, final exams, should ideally be given from grade eight onwards.

Factors like the curriculum, sports programs, extracurricular activities all matter. The academic curriculum must be designed for the average child (discovered through research) in order to help all of the students.

Obviously, it is only possible to improve a school’s programs if the parents and teachers cooperate. PTAs should be seen as joint efforts rather than as battlegrounds. Programs like in-house training for teachers help because teaching courses are often inadequate, leaving teachers confused by shy, sensitive or aggressive behavior. Teachers should not remind children of their vulnerabilities (why are you so silent, naughty, etc.).

They must them in mind and help them. They then can convey to the parents the positive aspects of the child’s character and skills. Parents in turn can let teachers know their appreciation of their sincerity.

However, no one parent or child should be pointed out. Good schools convey such messages through circulars with fair policies for all. Incidents of bullying, teasing or racist remarks should not be tolerated.

It is vital that the design of the education system and all involved with it like administrations, teachers and parents are extremely fair. The education system must be one where each child gets an equal opportunity to grow (children are the future), one that consistently avoids marketing hype (“”take only those four students so that the show looks good””) and allows imperfections from the students (being different is fine). This instills a sense of justice, idealism, knowing what is right and moving forward to change the wrong into right instead of fatalistically accepting it. By doing so every student finds his worth one day, and this is exactly what a good school helps in.

It is not easy for a school to overcome its problems overnight as most schools face vast curriculums, standardized tests and restrained budgets. However, if the principal, along with the teachers and parents have a sound vision, follow the latest educational policies and child psychology research, get input from the best schools, do appropriate budgeting and last, but not least, do some serious introspection, overcoming problems is certainly not unattainable.

Promoting Jakarta green school and educational practice

Khairil Azhar, Jakarta | Thu, 05/27/2010 9:23 AM | Opinion A | A | A |  

We were a bit surprised when some students said “muna banget” (what hypocrisy) in response to the “Go Green” campaign launched by teachers that suggested we should turn off unused lights and air-conditioners. Coincidentally, there was the Jakarta Green School 2010 competition that our school has been nominated for.

To the principal, in a meeting, a friend and I related to the students’ “sarcastic” comments. We realized that they were right to a certain extent.

There is always hypocrisy when we deal with something idealistic: We know the urgencies and ideals but we tend to forget to make them a reality or consistently maintain and keep the good things running.

Before I was moved to the Jakarta branch of the school I work for, in some occasions of meeting the parents, there were usually questions such as: “Why aren’t there air-conditioners in the classrooms? My child has been accustomed to an air-conditioned room.”

Or, “School tuition is expensive, shouldn’t schools buy air-conditioners? Shouldn’t we provide more facilities?” And there are some other similar questions.

Simply put, as if there is criterion: A good school is one with air-conditioned rooms. A cool school is a school with modern electrical equipment that resembles five-star hotels.

The talk about academic achievement comes later. Morality comes third or fourth or possibly is not important.

Here, in the Jakarta branch, we use air-conditioners. I don’t know exactly what the reason is. But, thank God, most teachers realize that they are dealing with the morality or attitudes to nature. With modern appliances in hand, some questions come to our minds, “With those contributions to global warming, are the efforts to make the school green at least equivalent. Or do our green initiatives counter the destruction we cause with use of electricity, fuel and the like.

Some years ago, in a visit to my former school, an Islamic traditional one, I was shocked and sad. Later on, after I became a teacher, I became more disappointed and blamed the change. The main yard, where we used to play mini-soccer at recess time and after school hours, was now occupied by an arrogant storied big building. The trees around it were chopped down. There was only cement and stone buildings.

I tried to ask some ustadz (teachers) about the change. Even I possibly was impolite in doing it (I later realized). One of them said that the school was really in need of buildings with modern facilities.

Another one said that it was not appropriate to reject the donations submitted by the generous people who wanted to see their money manifested into something long-lasting that the heavenly reward would never cease to pour on them. The other one said, “What we did was meet the standards of a modern school”.

What does education actually mean? Why should the quality of education be associated with nice buildings or modern equipment, which I found in some schools are unused or rarely in use? Is the wish of the students to play as normal children out of concern that they do not deserve to have even some space to play?

How could we make sure that the students learn about nature and greenery if there is no exposure and examples? Aren’t the open spaces at a school providing the inhabitants better atmospheres to breathe and think?

Every time I see a Western movie, a school advertisement, or even an educational brochure there is a touch of jealousy. First, such as in England, many old educational buildings are preserved well and have open spaces. I am jealous when I see greenery and big trees in the schools’ yards in Denmark or Finland. Compare this to the green drought and dust in many state or private schools in Jakarta
Second, I am jealous that good schools overseas have good traditions related to their concern for nature. When many of our students here prefer to staying in an air-conditioned room, their counterparts in California hike or enjoy scouting activities around the hills or valleys.

There are some private schools, as far as I know, which also have good traditions related to nature in Jakarta. But the ratio is likely to be disproportional. Here, for sure, most students are educated with paper and pencil, and are not taught about the resources sacrificed for these tools.

The presence of the Jakarta Green School program is therefore raising an audacity of hope. No bureaucratization. The judges, as far as I have read in the mass media, work independently. They are fully aware of “the sudden green”, which is likely to occur in some schools for the sake of the trophies. They are looking for traditions and habits and examples.

That’s the reason why, despite the hope to win the competition, we should keep telling the students that we absolutely must prove that we are not hypocrites. Being green is a way to educate ourselves about the violations against nature as well as find out the possible ways to restore it with what we have.

Later on, we will be able to proudly tell our children that we are definitely not “muna” because being green has become truly an educational practice. Amen.

The presence of the Jakarta Green School program is therefore raising an audacity of hope.

The writer is a teacher in Jakarta.

Enlisting educators to uphold multiculturalism

Choirul Mahfud, Surabaya | Sat, 01/10/2009 10:19 AM | Opinion A | A | A |


The rampant ethnic and religious tension in Indonesia has frustrated the efforts of many social scientists, educators, scholars, Civil Society Organization (CSO) activists and community leaders for the past few years. There were indications of gains in the country’s struggle for democracy.

But the continuing ethnic and religious violence and unrest in some parts of the country show how prevailing and intransigent the problem of prejudice and discrimination has been. At a time when demographic changes and economic pressures are forcing people to come into contact with those from different backgrounds, feelings of distrust and alienation are rising.

While schools and educators cannot change economic growth and the constraints affecting factors of many of those human problems, they can make a difference in helping shape the students’ views of the world, respect for diversity and strengthening democracy.

During the last few decades, multicultural studies have enabled scholars and practitioners to see in all areas “the invisible paradigms” of the academic system and the larger cultural context that marginalize or trivialize the lives of women, ethnic minorities and those outside the dominant class or culture.

In Indonesia, the heavy pressure toward integration and national unity since its independence provided a different setting for the role of multiculturalism. The nation’s collective memory had been traumatized by the tension and violence resulting from various attempts at secession based on ideological, regional, cultural, as well as territorial differences and the efforts to terminate those attempts.

Yet, by the national motto of Bhineka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity) in Pancasila, the emphasis on unity should not neglect diversity. Education that stressed only unity above all would produce narrow-mindedness and uproot individuals out of their indigenous heritage.

For the same periods, education in Indonesia had discussed a little about how we appreciate and respect the religious or belief diversity and variety of cultural wealth. There was a tendency of homogenization introduced systematically through the education under the national cultural protection, the hegemony of Javanese culture as a center and others as the edge and pauperization of culture by shortening the variety of cultural identity into a number of Indonesian provinces.

In 1999, Anita Lie said the process of homogenization and the cultural hegemony and pauperization was taught in civic education, such as education of Pancasila and citizenship, national history and struggle, training of P4 (guidance for internalization and externalization of Pancasila) — and even religious education.

The recent tension and violence in different parts of the country showed that the excessive drive for unity that had been enforced especially for the past 30 years was not an effective response to the risk and fear of disintegration. Now that the nation is at a crossroad as a reform movement has started, ethnic, religious, racial and class differences should be regarded as the nation’s rich heritage.

Within this perspective, multicultural education is needed to foster peace, understanding and respect among all members of society. As we know, the perspectives in multicultural education encompass many dimensions of human difference: race, ethnicity, occupation, socioeconomic status, age, gender, sexual orientation, various physical traits and needs, religion, and culture.

One of the multicultural education premises states that teaching learning is a cultural process in a social context. In order for teaching and learning to be accessible and fair for various background and origins of students, cultures need to be clearly understood. Such understanding can be achieved by analyzing education from various cultural perspectives by which it can avoid the hegemony of dominant cultural experience.

School is an epitome of society. In the norms of procedure, attitudinal code, structural order, power distribution, special feature and responsibility, school reflects society’s cultural values. Classroom teachers, school administrators and policy makers bring their own experience and cultural perspective and influence the policy and education actions.

In addition, the students who come from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds are unavoidable to bring them, too. The various different cultural systems meet in school and classroom and can cause a cultural conflict, which can only be mediated and reconciled by the effectiveness of the instructional process that enlightens and opens the awkward, diluted cultural boundaries.

In 1987, Ramsey said multicultural education was not a set curriculum but a perspective that was reflected in all decisions about every phase and aspect of teaching. It is a lens through which teachers can scrutinize their choices in order to clarify what social information they are conveying overtly and covertly to their students.

In other words, educators should be aware of and responsible for the underlying goals and values of the curriculum designs, materials and activities they deliver to the students. Education occurs in a sociocultural context and all curriculum materials and practices reflect certain social values.

Shortly, in light of the need to foster peace and development, educators should recognize the underlying goals and values of the curriculum designs, materials and activities they deliver to the students. All curriculum materials and practices reflect certain social values.

As the curriculum processes still depend mainly on textbooks, educators should therefore ensure that the books they use in their classrooms be culturally sensitive and respect students’ varied sociocultural backgrounds, which affect their learning.

In this context, teachers should be aware of the growing diversity in schools and the implication of using a certain set of curricular materials in their classrooms. Social scientists and commentators often point out the rich blend of cultural differences found in Indonesian society. While these observers have a point, it is equally true that diversity is difficult … especially in schools.

However, as Aristotle saw it, the challenge of ethnicity (or multiculturalism), is one of augmenting familial love, expanding the natural links to one’s own “kind,” so that these links also include others who are more distantly related, rather than doing away with the initial links and bonds as such.

The writer is the author of book of Multicultural Education (Pustaka Pelajar Jogja, 2008), and a lecturer at Muhammadiyah University in Surabaya.