Editorial: Testing teachers

The Jakarta Post | Editorial | Fri, August 10 2012, 10:54 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 6

Teachers are up in arms these days. This time it is not about their salaries, which in a number of areas have improved. It is about the testing of their competence, which at the end of the day is supposed to contribute to a “mapping” of teacher competence across the country.

Education and Culture Minister Mohammad Nuh says the mandatory tests for certified teachers will not affect wages, but some teachers fear risking their pay if they do not attend.

This year the teachers’ competence test, which runs to Aug. 12 nationwide, is being conducted online. The technical glitches related to the test, which led to thousands having their tests delayed, are one source of anger, but this is the least of the problems.

Testing teachers no doubt has a positive goal. Indonesian students are far from worldwide performers except when they are picked to attend exceptional training sessions for science, prior to joining global Olympiad competitions. The vast majority of students are, to put it crudely, largely left to fate.

A few classes in far-flung places may have extraordinary teachers — those who are passionate day in and day out, while they may have to teach six grades in one school with poor pay, after walking long distances to school along with their students.

The rest may be just struggling to reach the targets of the material to be mastered by students, as determined by the Education and Culture Ministry and its regional offices, ahead of national quarterly and annual exams. Students from elite families have much better learning experiences with better trained teachers.

It is this huge gap in learning conditions across the country which leads skeptics to question the use of the uniform competence test for teachers. As teachers report, some parts of the multiple choice questions are so complicated that they cannot gauge their relevance. Others reflect the similar multiple choices that students face in the testing of their accumulation of information — but not necessarily knowledge.

Despite the criticism, parents agree that they would only trust their children to competent teachers — it was thanks to the tests that we discovered that most teachers, for instance, scored low in English, which might help to explain students’ poor English skills despite years of study.

The results, the minister says, will lead to further training for teachers found to be “less competent.” This would mean the vast majority of teachers, going by the results of this year’s batches, which have yielded average scores of below 50 percent.

As it stands, the current tests are only another source of frustration for teachers, long left to themselves to improve their own welfare. Suspicion abounds — teachers ask whether the tests are just another “proyek”, suspecting corruption.

The tests must be improved upon, but they will only be effective if other urgent measures are conducted. Less competent teachers are still invaluable assets in schools and communities. Despite a good national ratio of one teacher to 18 students, as cited by the initiator of the “Indonesia Teaches Movement”, Anies Baswedan, hundreds of students in many communities depend on a handful of teachers.

Increasing the number of teachers willing to be deployed to poor and remote areas will require a boost from the government, apart from the local initiatives which have contributed to teachers’ incentives.

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