Indonesian national education paradigm: A rambling rose

 

Budiono Kusumohamidjojo, Jakarta | Sun, 06/27/2010 9:57 AM | Opinion A | A | A |

The daughter of a longtime friend came home recently after successfully completing a one-year exchange program at an American high school in a little town in Minnesota.

Her mother wondered why she looked so dark after the latest hard winter in the United States, as if she had spent a year in a place much more tropical than Jakarta.

She told her mom it was because she had had a lot of free time after school to engage in other activities in the open air. She reminded her mom that in Jakarta she could “hardly breathe” because of the mountain of assignments from school. Again, her mother could only wonder.

Indeed, Indonesian schoolchildren have a hard life. They spend the most valuable time of their life working hard to absorb things, having what is usually called “knowledge” rammed down their throats by their schools and teachers.

On top of that, our national education curriculum system tends to be revised each time a new education minister is appointed. People often forget that revising an educational system has far more implications than revising, say, a regime of national trade and industry. The high risks at stake are because, in education, one deals directly with the future projection of the human mind.

It is rather disheartening to note that the Indonesian national education system hitherto seems to be stuck in a quandary. We overburden our schoolchildren with redundant assignments, which over the years resulted only in uncompetitive students and workforce.

Nevertheless, the good news is that with a new Cabinet and a new minister for national education, not much is being touched with regard to teaching materials and procedures. Instead, work is currently going on quietly with the Board for the National Standardization of Education (“BSNP”) toward defining a national education paradigm. The thinkers involved in the effort carefully launch basic questions at sessions and try to project basic answers about the very basis of education. The usual “copy-paste” technique of dealing with educational systemic issues to date is deliberately eschewed.

With due respect to the BSNP thinkers, it is indeed high time to go back to the essential concept of education. Being the crux of culture and civilization, education should be understood as a process, whereby the heritage of knowledge and capacity to live a human life as individuals intertwined in the collective fabric of mankind is transferred, obtained and developed (Abraham Maslow, 1908–1970).

As such, education, right or wrong, is always the core of the cultural process that only becomes more complex and complicated. Education “becomes” a process where the complex knowledge and capacity of the older generations is transferred to the coming generations, and thereby, become subjected to their own auto-selection (Ruth Benedict, 1887–1948). As early as the Chinese legalist Han Feizi (ca. 280-233 B.C.), who was convinced that each generation had its own way to cope with the challenges of their own age, unknown by the previous generations. Consequently, there is no need for schools and teachers to teach schoolchildren the particular nuts and bolts of knowledge and capacities to survive against nature and the evils of society.

Through the 65 years of Indonesian independence, we have been virtually in an uproar about where to start with education uberhaupt (at all). Yet we seemed to have overlooked Plato’s (428/427-348/347 B.C.) basic principles of education (paidagogike). He was convinced that man should start with logos (the “mind”) as it is the naturally inherited basic capacity of the human being to distinguish between right and wrong. The logos projects the ethics that bestow on the human being the capacity to take the good and avoid the evil, and finally the aesthetics that give the human being the capacity to choose the beautiful and reject the ugly.

With such capacities, the human being would be capable of cultivating itself toward autonomy in order to encounter the future abundant with unprecedented challenges.

Still, a successful national education scheme in any country would always bring about only a very limited number of crème de la crème local geniuses, who are to take the lead in various fields of our world. Nevertheless, a successful national education scheme would at least produce a people that, on average, is well trained to use their mind (logic), their moral judgment (ethics) and their creativity (aesthetic-poetic), all being indispensable capacities to cope with a techno-future.

As a result of the ever-progressing techno-science, future human society will be increasingly marked by plurality and diversity, as the human being cannot help but respond to the wave of techno-globalization, always in its own spatial and temporal perspectives. The next thing mankind will encounter with increasing intensity will be the friction caused by the diversity of values, as indicated by Samuel Huntington (1927–2008). Yet that is indeed what a cultivated autonomous human being is for.

Nevertheless, our concern for the future generations does not entitle us to set goals for them either. We will never know where history will lead humankind, nor do we know much about what will become of our own generation. The German existentialist Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) wrote: “the human being is always more than what he/she managed to understand about him/herself.”

Consequently, what we may expect to draw up is a national education paradigm along proven principles and leave the rest to the prudence of the coming generations. The bottom line of a national education paradigm lies in its task to bring about autonomous Indonesian citizens capable to cope with unprecedented future challenges.

The writer is a professor at the School of Philosophy, Parahyangan Catholic University, Bandung.

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