Exam and the death of the sound mind

Khairil Azhar, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, April 13 2013, 12:32 PM

Paper Edition | Page: 6

In front of their friends and parents, the education specialist called the students one-by-one. Every student got a five or 10 minute healing procession. Acting like a hypnotist, or more precisely, like a traditional shaman, he began by asking each of them to repeat what he recited, which comprised Islamic sacred words arranged in a random order.

After making sure of each student’s mesmerization, he started to investigate (or make the students confess), asking questions about the mistakes they committed — mainly related to the preparations for the upcoming national exams — and making them pledge not to repeat the mistakes again and to better themselves in the future.

In a normal situation, when there is no pressure such as the obligation to pass the National Exams, I would not be sure that the students would willingly follow the above practice.

First, public interrogation in front of friends, parents and other spectators is actually an embarrassment. This would be even more keenly felt by teenagers, who often feel awkward among their friends or other people.

Second, while some or many of them seemed to accept the practice, we should be aware of behavioral deviation phenomena, such as masochism or a feeling of excitement when a person is physically or psychologically abused.

At the same time, recalling the fact that our children are mentally socially constructed to a certain extent, we must be more critical with the emerging “religious” practice at almost all schools called muhasabah, or retreat, which is intended to make them better prepared before the National Exams.

Listening to their answers of why they went on retreat, many of the students have said that they would be able to answer exam questions more easily because they were the hands of God.

Many think that it can be an instant way out of their laziness problem or learning disorders.

In fact, we know, positive knowledge of science, math, or languages can only be acquired through learning, reasoning and experiencing. The knowledge is not implanted because of the mercy of God because of their piety.

Many of the students, as well as their teachers, think that a long and often painful process of learning is not necessary; that relentless effort will eventually surrender to the iron fist of fortune. Or else, they are made believe that the process is less necessary than the end result. Consequently, dishonesty materializes in form of shortcuts such as cheating or teachers helping their students to pass the exams illegally.

To this point, while the concept of the National Exams is not wrong, the practices that have evolved before and after their implementation are.

On one hand, the process is intended to ensure a quality education for all Indonesian children. Yet on the other hand, the process lends itself to the assassination of logical and reasoning ability in students.

Back to the story of the education shaman. We have to mention that the National Exams are a blessing for him. He can enjoy more money than what is received by an ordinary teacher in a month.

He need only memorized a few sacred words, possess a rhetoric ability and build connections with school principals.

The shaman would never think that the parents have to pay more than their ordinary tuition fees because of the preparations for the National Exams — a fund-raising practice that has been prohibited.

It is simply because they think like real businessmen without sufficient empathy for the suffering of the others.

Talking to some teachers, I promised that I would never let my children experience the practice. I believe that once sound minds are interfered with by illogical or unreasonable activities, they might lose their passion to learn and experience normally.

Similarly, their consciences will be trimmed down gradually once they are accustomed to enjoying instant or effortless success.

Students who have been forced to do unreasonable things by the people who fear their own failures should have a forgiving heart. Forget the embarrassing public confession and do not let it linger your memory. Just believe in yourself and never compromise your integrity.

The writer is a school manager and a researcher at the Paramadina Foundation.