Teacher, not curriculum, matters

A. Chaedar Alwasilah, Bandung | Opinion | Sat, January 05 2013, 8:04 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 6

The imminent introduction of a new curriculum in 2013 will not provide any guarantees for resolving the current problems in education in the nation. A new curriculum is always a good notion. However, drawbacks invariably stem from implementation. Thus, what is urgent is not to change the curriculum, but to implement it.

Curriculum implementation means simply putting into effect the curriculum as intended, including a system to appraise its effectiveness. An appraisal process provides feedback for the development process, where the data is utilized for curriculum improvement. The educational curriculum needs continuous improvement, not continuous change.

Curriculum improvement is not necessarily sequential; oftentimes it occurs in parallel as well as in tandem. It is usually begun in a certain area of the curriculum on a trial-and-error basis as an alternative to present practices. Evaluative data is useful for seeing the curriculum in action and is valuable for improving it.

The 2013 curriculum, as Education and Culture Minister Mohammad Nuh has said, is an improvement over the 2004 and 2006 curriculums, which have been said to be competence-based and school-based respectively. Meanwhile, teachers are still learning how to put into action the 2006 curriculum.

Regrettably, most teachers and the public in general are not informed about what essentially went wrong with the 2006 curriculum. The government should have publicized the evaluative data to identify which aspects of the curriculum were problematic. Such data would have made the curriculum change more sensible.

Organizations such as teacher professional development networks (MGMP) should produce best practices that enrich not only the immediate community, but the profession as a whole. MGMP-based programs seem to be more context-specific, teacher-generated, and immediate-needs-driven.

It is a disservice to the MGMP community when we fail to probe the effectiveness of MGMP-established programs and overlook their results. Such a mechanism utilizes the continuous professional development (CPD) of teachers.

Curriculum improvement, rather than curriculum change, is focused on certain problematic aspects. Thus, curriculum improvement is more economic and problem-based. To repeat, what is essential for teachers is CPD, namely a career-long process in which teachers fine-tune their teaching to meet student needs. The major benefactor of CPD is the student. CPD directly tackles teachers’ teaching styles — the patterns of decisions to optimize student learning.

Considering the huge number of teachers, the obstacle of CPD is the inaccessibility of professional development opportunities. Professional development opportunities seldom reach teachers in need. Only around 1 million out of 2.9 million teachers have currently been certified.

However, a recent study by the World Bank on the impact of teacher certifications revealed that certification has improved teacher living standards but failed to upgrade teaching performance. They have failed to motivate students to learn. Obviously it is the teacher that matters most, not the curriculum.

Any of the following could explain why the current government-initiated PLPGs (mandatory teacher professional development programs) have failed to upgrade teacher professionalism.

First, not all teachers are talented and devoted individuals who have a commitment to teaching. The recruitment undertaken by teacher training institutions fails to differentiate teaching-talented prospective teachers from non-talented ones.

Second, teachers differ from one another in terms of their theoretical and professional knowledge and the stages they are at in their careers. At present there are 10 state teacher training universities and dozens of public and private FKIPs (teacher training colleges). All these teacher training institutions vary in terms of resources, and this could explain the disparity in quality of their graduates.

Third, the professional program is not necessarily tailored to teacher needs and motivations, so they do not develop ownership of it. Some teachers do not have good mastery of content knowledge, general pedagogical knowledge or contextual knowledge. Thus the content should be tailored accordingly.

Fourth, some teachers regard professional development simply as an administrative duty, rather than as a career-long endeavor. Once the program is completed, teachers go back to their old way of teaching. True CPD is aimed at determining the factors that contribute to the success of all students and teachers.

Fifth, the professional development program is detached from the entire school culture and climate. The CPD program will have an effect on student learning if it involves knowledge about teaching and learning in the school involved. The success of a CPD program is not measured by the completion of individual factors in the programs.

The effect of CPD program is pervasive through an examination of how factors and stakeholders interact with one another. Professional development should be embedded in their daily schedule. In short, CPD should be schools-based.

To be effective, the professional development should be developed by fulfilling the criteria suggested by Díaz-Maggioli in his book Teacher-centered Professional Development (2004) as follows: (1)collaborative decision-making, (2) a growth-driven approach, (3) collective construction of programs, (4) inquiry-based ideas, (5) tailor-made techniques, (6) varied and timely delivery methods, (7) adequate support systems, (8) context-specific programs, (9) proactive assessment, and (10) adult-centered instruction.

The enactment of a new curriculum has always been greeted with doubt and cynicism. It is the teachers who will be held liable when it fails to function as expected. It is time to change the paradigm from government-initiated and top-down curriculum change to the teacher-centered and school-based continuous professional development as a part of curriculum improvement, rather than curriculum change.

The writer is a professor at the Indonesian Educational University (UPI) in Bandung.

The sanctity of multicultural education in teaching and learning

Kunto Nurcahyoko, Columbus, Ohio | Opinion | Sat, January 05 2013, 12:55 PM

Paper Edition | Page: 7

The Joko “Jokowi” Widodo-Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama victory in the Jakarta gubernatorial election last year demonstrates that Indonesia’s democracy has progressed to a higher level.

The rigid notion about how a particular group should lead the government has started fading. The tough “ethnicity” wall also appears to be crumbling.

But is it true that intolerance has disappeared altogether? Or is the Jokowi-Ahok phenomenon just a superficially attractive delusion for what we call multicultural tolerance?

Probably we should contemplate more on what has been happening. Some examples, like the inter-village clash in Maluku that claimed five lives just before New Year’s Eve and the warning by a particular group against Muslims wishing Christians a merry Christmas, do not follow the same path as our previous euphoria. Indeed, our multicultural tolerance still has a long way to go.

Some aspects might cause intolerance. They might be personal experiences, parental issues, environmental or educational. The latter, especially formal education, plays a significant role in shaping the understanding of multiculturalism. Therefore, we should pay attention to the school element, particularly the teachers. Teachers must be able to prepare students as part of a multicultural society.

Teachers hold a responsibility to create teaching and learning environments that promote a democratic exchange of ideas. By doing this, there will be strong multicultural education in our education system. According to Bannet et al, multicultural education is a democratic approach to teaching and learning that seeks to foster cultural pluralism within culturally diverse societies and an interdependent world. In the US, more than 63 percent of American universities require multicultural diversity in their core course for teachers’ education.

Multicultural education focuses on students’ performance, both academically and socially. Nowadays, often as educators, teachers perceive teaching and learning as processes that solely concern the academic achievement of their students. In Indonesia, for example, most schools employ the results of academic tests as the primary measurement of being a “successful student”. This must change since it focuses more on cognition than preparing students to be responsible citizens of a multicultural world.

Helping students to develop positive attitudes and become responsible individuals is extremely essential in a classroom. Teachers should encourage students to be active learners.

To do this, teachers must lead students to know each other as individuals, regard each other as equals and be able to work together on common interests and goals in a safe and supportive classroom environment. Creating such a classroom climate that promotes the internalization of these shared values through multicultural education will help students actively develop as learners, as people and as citizens.

Multicultural education will prepare students to be responsible members of society. Students must be aware that they are a part of society.

As Pacino eloquently says, teaching and learning in the context of community is truly a moral, spiritual and ethical journey. The concept of ethical and moral values and actions in society should be integrated in their classroom.

Hence, educators should acknowledge and address students’ need to carry on the real experience of being part of a community, not only of individual academic achievement at school.

In addition, in multicultural and democratic countries, teachers should educate students how to actively participate and contribute to their society. By acquiring moral and ethical values from school, students will understand the dos and don’ts within a participatory democratic society. In order to achieve this, teachers should place themselves as the facilitators of information, not as dictators of information. This kind of active classroom setting enables students to experience the feelings of respect and self-autonomy.

There are specific methods that teachers can implement to achieve multicultural education. One example is implementing activities and discussions that focus on the positive aspects of cultural identity, heritage and differences, such as involving students in developing personally relevant multicultural stories, books or even autobiographies. Teachers can ask students to actively present and discuss their own story.

One of the purposes of inviting students to share their stories is to better understand how the students can use their background knowledge to gain access to curricular content. This will also include an understanding of cross-cultural differences and social challenges.

Teachers can reinforce the importance of multicultural education by involving students in community service/learning activities. This gives students the opportunity to be more responsible, knowledgeable and sensitive to their own
surroundings.

This sensitivity is essential for the students’ personal moral development, their sense of community and increased tolerance, acceptance and respect for others.

To realize multicultural education, a Herculean effort from all education stakeholders is mandatory. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding. Hence, let’s keep up the spirit of multicultural tolerance in Indonesia once and for all.

The writer is pursuing a PhD degree at the Ohio State University, in the US.