It was an incidental afternoon conversation that started with a common question, “Is teacher turnover high at this school?” A newly made friend, an educational specialist at the private school, answered, “No. It is relatively stable.”
Yet, another friend, a teacher with trainer qualifications from another school, arrogantly said, “If the teachers want to leave, let them leave. Why should we force them to keep working for us if they don’t want to?”
Responding to the sudden response, I emotionally replied, “It is actually about moral obligation and empathy. Pretend that you are a parent with one or two children learning at a school. Do you feel safe if the teachers are in and out as they wish?”
“Are you really an observant Muslim if you don’t think that you have a moral obligation to ascertain the availability of qualified teachers in this case?”
If I were a parent with a child at a stable school with stable personnel, I would be very happy. How can we directly entrust a six-year-old child to an on-the-job training teacher, for example, while the child still needs to be attended to by an adult in most of his activities? However intelligent the new teacher may be academically, his maturity and parenthood is needed much more.
One of the biggest problems in Indonesia’s schooling today is about the availability of qualified teachers. State schools, for instance, based on research financed by the World Bank in 2005, can facilitate students academically to achieve better final exam scores compared to private schools. However, we cannot say that the academic “chalk and board” achievement is determined merely by having competent teachers.
State junior high schools focus on their research and tightly select their inputs. They also raise financial aspects such as entrance fees, tuition fees, and other “illegal fees”. Put simply, compared to private schools, the state-owned schools generally have certain privileges that potentially enhance achievement prospects.
Therefore, the more inclusive paradigm of private schools, which enables students from various backgrounds and modalities to enroll, actually positions them in a more difficult situation. The teachers should have broadened horizons and more creative minds. The schools themselves have to spend more energy, cost and time to be prepared to run their “much more difficult tasks.”
Yet, after all, things factually depend more on the teachers because teaching and learning activities are in their hands. It is the teachers who are with the children during the school hours, not the principals or the district supervisors or others.
That is why, for instance, the top ranked schools in the United States advertise themselves through showing their talented and highly achieving teachers rather than displaying other physical or conceptual facilities as we most often see in Indonesia.
Teachers are also called “scholars” since they must be real academics. They should not be just caretakers for schooling because of the shortage of qualified teachers or the unavailability of cash-flow to pay highly skilled professionals.
The question is then, “How great can teachers be available at schools?” What parties can actually make it possible? Who can play a decisive role to help them continue teaching in our schools while others working in field appears to be a more attractive alternative given rising costs of living?
Apart from the “teaching and learning passion” of the teachers as the intrinsic seminal factor, the stakeholders of the schools definitely should play a pivotal role.
First of all, the owners of private schools, or the government as the owner of state schools, must be down to earth. Quality education should not only be related to making policies, operational standards, giving orders, providing good physical facilities or raising financial profits, but is also related to the comprehensive consideration of the teachers.
Fair income compensation for teachers, for instance, must be ensured. What they earn must meet their basic individual needs and gradually meet their secondary requirements. The disturbing disparity of income among state-employed teachers or among private-school teachers is partially due to the ascribed social and economic status of their schools. This must be overcome.
Second, the real education stakeholders, the parents or the communities, must also provide proper care. On one side, the teaching profession is traditionally crowned as among the noblest, but on the other side, teachers are not the only ones with considerable incomes or even social status in our current societies.
“What is he?” a neighbor asked another neighbor.
“He is a teacher,” he replied.
“Oh, [just] a teacher,” he remarked.
The remark implies at least two things. First, the teacher in the neighborhood is commonly perceived as not making as much money as his neighbors. Second, having a profession of providing services, a teacher may be viewed as being in the position of serving those of higher economic status in the community.
We can also see the “dominant parents” at schools who tend to steer the schools and the teachers for their own sake. With employment of teachers as their children’s private teachers, for instance, parents actually play their role improperly. Basic economic needs put certain teachers in an uneasy dilemma.
So, welcoming National Education Day today, conscious stakeholders who play a critical role need to be refreshed, if not to be reconstructed. This way, we can hope to see happier and more passionate teachers soon.
The writer is a teacher in Jakarta and a researcher at Paramadina Foundation, Jakarta.