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As the Education and Culture Ministry is about to evaluate the school curriculum, schools need to be prepared for the reallocation of resources, a reduced number of subjects and longer school hours.
The results of the curriculum evaluation should input into the revision and development of the next curriculum and be used in elementary to senior high school levels. To assess what to retain and what to let go in the upcoming curriculum, it is important that we remember the three imperatives of schooling: personal, economic and social.
At the personal level, schools facilitate students to discover themselves, grow and enhance their interests and talents. Throughout their years of schooling, children learn to shape themselves to become better human beings, appreciate life, and glorify their Creator.
At the curricular level, certain subjects help students achieve this particular purpose of schooling. Religion, literature and the arts provide knowledge and values to lead young people to be whatever they are capable of becoming. Physical education helps them form healthy habits. In addition to these subjects, the hidden curriculum, including any human interaction happening in schools, also helps students enhance their personal growth.
Schools have also prepared students to contribute productively to the economy by providing vocation-related and skills-based subjects. A 21st century curriculum requires that students be equipped with information technology skills and media literacy. In this era of global competitiveness, the economic purpose of schooling has overridden the personal and social purposes of schooling.
It is easy to get rid of the seemingly less practical subjects such as literature, arts, history and philosophy to make room for the math, science, technology and vocation-related subjects. Focusing heavily on the economic imperative and neglecting the personal and social purposes of schooling will lead to the formation of individuals with capabilities to use their minds and skills but who lack an understanding of the purpose of their work.
The social purpose of schooling is to establish each student’s connection to humanity. A global economy, too, requires more knowledge of world cultures and world history. The study of humanities will enhance students’ lives and enable them to contribute productively to the economy while maintaining their sense of purpose as part of the human race.
A terrorist’s action is an extreme demonstration of a human capacity to utilize knowledge and skills to destroy life, when the learning process is disconnected from personal and social purposes. Terrorists who aim to destroy individuals and groups whom they label as infidels fail to understand the history of their nation-state building and to feel connections to the people they hate.
Less dramatic than these terrorists, but just as abominable, are individuals and corporations that accumulate wealth at the cost of ecological destruction and the impoverishment of local communities. They too are the product of a system and culture that celebrates economic success and competitiveness per se.
So, what do our students need to learn? Concerns that there are currently too many school subjects have been raised by educators as well as by stakeholders. The number of subjects does not automatically correlate with how much students learn in school.
By the same token, reducing the number of subjects in our next curriculum should not be equated with reducing essential knowledge content and values our students should be acquiring in schools.
To prepare our young people so they engage in personal growth and become contributing citizens of their country and the world, our national curriculum should cover general education that provides liberal arts and humanities, math and science, as well as 21st century skills such as information technology skills and media literacy.
Reducing the number of school subjects should mean simplifying the organization of units of studies into fewer subjects and making the scope and sequences of knowledge content more efficient, not watering down what our students ought to learn.
Furthermore, an effective curriculum takes into account the delivery or implementation levels, that is classroom instructions. A well-written curricular document will not result in its intended outcomes if teachers are not properly developed to deliver them at the classroom level. A competent teacher should be able to deliver the appropriate breadth and depth of a curriculum and translate it into engaging classroom activities.
The writer is a professor at Widya Mandala Catholic University, Surabaya, and a member of the Indonesian Community for Democracy.