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.

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