Just remove competence test, trust teachers

Setiono Sugiharto, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, August 04 2012, 1:08 PM

Paper Edition | Page: 7

A sense of complacency, if not utter buoyancy, has once again made the Education and Culture Ministry insist on holding teacher competency tests, intended for millions of certified teachers nationwide. This competence test, it is believed, can provide a map of teachers’ teaching competence, and could eventually accelerate quality education.

Held in two rounds — July 30-Aug. 2 and Oct. 1-6 — the test is conducted both online and in person. And for the sake of practicality in administration, the questions are multiple choice, where teachers are to mark the answer they think most accurate.

Despite resentment aired recently by teachers from the teaching association (PGRI), the Education and Culture Ministry feels obliged to conduct this test as a starting point for teachers’ performance evaluations, especially in aspects such as pedagogic and professional competence (Kompas, July 26 and July 30).

Teachers’ opposition to the test is not unfounded, given that they know precisely that the test is not a reflection of what they are facing in real life contexts like in the classroom.

They also know, given their practical wisdom, that the artificiality of the test cannot entirely capture the very ingenious nuances of classroom contexts, and pedagogical and professional competence cannot be reduced to a formal competence test.

The results teachers obtain from the mandated test yield nothing useful, and nothing meaningful, to the teachers. The results cannot be dependably interpreted in terms of the two competences required. There is no guarantee that good test results mirror the desired competences, and bad results indicate lack of such competence. As such, the predictive power of the test is cast into doubt.

In addition, it seems rather short-sighted to lay a claim that the mapping of both professional and pedagogic competence can be validly obtained immediately by a so-called competence test conducted in only a few hours within a single test format. Any kind of assessment or test — be it in a pedagogic or other domain — always has constraints, which we at the outset need to be aware of.

One of the inherent constraints is the notion of incompleteness. This is to say that any intellectual endeavor to measure teachers’ competence can never be considered complete in a given, and limited, allotment of time. Test results can provide only a partial picture of teachers’ competence, and cannot, therefore, be used as a final reference for the mapping of their competence.

Another constraint is impreciseness. We cannot be certain that the competence test precisely measures teachers’ pedagogic and professional competences. One important question we need to pose regarding the notion of impreciseness is: To what extent does the competence test cover the representative samples of these competences? Put simply, does the competence test really measure the two competences that it intends to measure? To complicate things further, how about teachers’ socio-cultural and psychological variables? To what extent are these variables accounted for in the preparation of the test?

Given that teachers hail from completely different socio-cultural backgrounds, and may have unstable emotional conditions or anxiety, a test with a unified content clearly runs against the grain of the spirit of attaining quality education. Teachers’ competence tests should be abandoned if the test simply ignores the above-mentioned variables. Ethics are at stake.

Pedagogy is an ongoing activity, engaged in a social dynamic, and the success or failure of pedagogical practices cannot be measured simply by choosing the right answer from the given available alternatives.

In this sense, the best alternative for measuring both pedagogy and professional competences of teachers should equally be ongoing, starting from practice rather than from a formal test.

While, admittedly, the latter is more practical in terms of test administration than the former, the educational benefits of the first alternative shouldn’t be sacrificed for the sake of practicality.

Scattered, on-going, and various forms of assessment provide richer outcomes which cannot be captured by a single, formal test. It is more revealing and congruous with the pedagogical and professional needs of teachers, as they take place in a natural context and allow for more engagement with real life situation.

Insights generated from these engagements serve as important lessons to improve their teaching skills, and more importantly, as a conduit to advance their professional work as teachers.

In a nutshell, as the administration of formal tests are often burdensome, costly and without clear benefits to teachers and schools alike, the ad hoc solution we currently think of is to dump the tests and trust the teachers.

The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University. He is also chief-editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching.

Teachers want competence tests ended

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | National | Thu, August 02 2012, 8:16 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 4

Teachers’ organizations have called on the Education and Culture Ministry to cancel the nationwide teachers’ competence test (UKG), saying the test was poorly implemented and the results would not reflect the actual quality of teachers around the country.

Retno Listyarti, chair of the Jakarta Teachers Discussion Forum (FSGI), said it was unlikely that the test, which comprised multiple-choice questions, would adequately measure teacher quality. The FSGI also complained about the technical difficulties encountered during the test.

“A lot of teachers couldn’t even log on to the website, while some junior high school teachers were given the test for high school teachers. This proves that the ministry did not prepare the test well,” Retno said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Retno also questioned why the government had introduced the test.

“We are starting to question the motive behind the test. It appears that for the government, this test is very urgent when, in fact, it is not. We want the government to abort it,” she added.

The Education and Culture Ministry introduced the online test, which went live on Monday, for more than 1 million teachers nationwide free of charge. It is due to run through Aug. 12.

Technical glitches have marred the launch, however, prompting the cancellation of the test in some areas.

Emanuel Srijoko, a teacher from Marsudirini Junior High School in Bekasi, expressed his disappointment after failing to finish the test due to technical problems.

“I was given a question sheet which was apparently for high school teachers. That was confusing, but I decided to do the test anyway. But then, just before finishing it, I couldn’t proceed to the next step and the committee told me to just leave it like that,” Emanuel said.

“What should I think about a test that was supposed to measure my competence, which I couldn’t finish due to technical problems? The test was not even meant for junior high school teachers,” he added.

Longga Rajagukguk, a teacher from SMP 26 Junior High School in Jatinegara, East Jakarta, said she decided to abandon the test due to doubts about the reasoning behind the test.

“During my 20 years as a teacher, I have never had a visit from the school’s principal when I was in class, and now all of a sudden we have to face this test,” said Longgan.

He suggested the government take a more comprehensive approach in its efforts to improve the quality among teachers.

“The ministry has to oversee our teaching practice first. The quality of teaching should not be based solely on our pedagogical knowledge and professionalism,” she added.

The education ministry requires all certified teachers in the country to complete the teachers’ competency test to produce a map on the quality of teachers nationwide.

The ministry said the test was aimed at reviewing the quality of all certified teachers, eligible for an additional month’s salary on a quarterly basis. (nad)

Ramadhan, children and persistent violence

Khairil Azhar, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Opinion | Fri, August 03 2012, 10:23 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 7

Nearing dusk and carrying an infant on her back, a six- or seven-year-old girl walked toward a traffic-light intersection on a street in Eastern Jakarta. Both of them seemed accustomed to inhaling the polluted air and ignoring their surroundings.

With the perhaps seven-kilogram infant on her back, the girl had to walk several kilometers backward and forward along interconnected streets. She only enjoyed brief moments of sitting when there was no opportunity to beg from jammed cars or passersby.

Not far away from her begging spot, a woman — possibly her mother — supervised her activity. She had more of an angry looking face than a loving one. A fierce glance was enough to make the girl get to her feet again although she was already trembling.

If we try to adopt a “sense of caring”, we may be able to appreciate the woman’s necessity of ascertaining if both the children are able to beg day in and day out. Having a cold, a cough or scabies is commonplace among these children. If we look carefully, we can see swellings or wounds on the bodies of street children who beg.

The use of violence to force children to beg is a preferred choice. We can hear the women shout at their children. If we keep watching for longer, we will also catch sight of the women using sticks, pinches and slaps against the children, or clutching their hair.

During Ramadhan, we see many of these child beggars wearing Islamic symbols, such as veils, and uttering Islamic phrases. However, in certain places, we can see them eating or drinking or even smoking.

In contrast, at almost every intersection in Jakarta, on both sides of the flyovers or crossing bridges, we can see banners in different colors telling us what we should do during Ramadhan. Besides urging us to perform good deeds, there are also ads telling us what to eat, drink or wear and where we can purchase these items.

Our political leaders, despite some of them being under investigation or standing trial for corruption, have often spent millions of rupiah on these Ramadhan banners. In fact, if we read newspapers or watch the news on television, for instance, relatively few of them talk about the suffering and violence that exists on the streets. Their smiling faces look nice on the banners but their intention is aimed more at forthcoming local or national elections or political events.

We can also see the blue banners with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono telling us to practice our Ramadhan rituals. Seemingly prepared by members of his political party, with or without the party’s symbols, the banners show no appreciation of the plight of street children or, quite frankly, any degree at all of social responsibility.

On the other hand, the start of this year’s Ramadhan coincided with the uncelebrated National Children’s Day, which fell on July 23. We know from the media that the President was very busy and the commemoration had to be postponed until an uncertain time.

Regarding the postponement and in evaluating what the state is for the children, Seto Mulyadi from the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas Anak) confirmed that the ruling government has paid very little attention to the providence of Indonesia’s children.

In conjunction with this fact, since the beginning of the reform era we can see that children’s affairs have been regarded as less important than private palatial events, such as the marriage of the President’s son, which cost a fortune.

Moreover, the misfortune of disadvantaged children is regarded more as a political opportunity.
Especially on special days, such as Ramadhan, charity shows appear to be a must.

Political leaders and high-ranking officials perform gimmicky play-acting to show their “generosity”.

Last week in Gowa, Sulawesi, we were reminded of another form of violent exploitation of children. Dozens of orphans had to be hospitalized because of eating food and drink containing poisonous chemicals, which were served at a mosque during a breaking the fast event.

Apart from carelessness or other excuses, orphanages, children’s houses and other social houses have for a long time been treated as economic institutions.

The big idea is that the exploitation of other people’s poverty is a very effective way of making money. In this satanic circle, we find three components: The disadvantaged, the management in the houses and the donors.

For many (not to say most) donors, for example, prayers, fame or political advantages are expected in return for what they have spent on the houses. Sincerity has become a problem of verbal expression instead of a matter between a servant and his God.

How can we say “sincerely” when we always tell others about our endowments or include mention of them on our curriculum vitae?

As to the house managements, how can we be sure that they are managing the poorhouses sincerely; perhaps they’re thinking more about buying a new car or a larger house rather than providing a better education or more nutritious meals for the children? We can see on the street banners that these charitable institutions emphasize that we should give them more money in exchange for heavenly promises instead of detailing their achievements in caring for the children

Perhaps, this Ramadhan could be an opportunity to remind ourselves of the plight of disadvantaged children in the hope that we may find our own ways to help them. Amen.

The writer is a researcher at the Paramadina Foundation and Ciputat School for a Democratic Islam.