Assessment is education

Totok Amin Soefijanto, Jakarta | Opinion | Fri, May 24 2013, 10:55 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 6

The national exam was an unfortunate series of events and the troubles are pouring in like Lemony Snicket’s thought-provoking fiction. They keep coming and disturbing everyone, certainly for the test taker students, their parents and teachers alike.

However, we have a delusional education and culture minister who finds excuses at every turn of the exam process. The public is left in the dark about the role of assessment in education.

Education has at least three important processes: curriculum, instruction and assessment. Let us discuss the last part of the process. Assessment takes an important role in education because it has at least five goals. First, it provides information about the students’ understanding of the subject matter. Second, it emphasizes the important aspects of the subject matter that students must master. Third, it gives teachers an important tool to adjust and adapt the subject matter. Fourth, it guarantees an objective evaluation of students and teachers. Fifth, it inculcates good values in society, such as discipline, fairness, honesty and promptness.

What is important in meaningful learning, according to Dietel, Hermann and Knuth (1991), is how and whether students organize, structure and use the learning subject matter in the context to solve complex problems. Have we educated our children properly? More importantly, have we assessed our students properly as well?

We have been conducting high-risk testing annually and dutifully, amid the criticism. The National Education Law is a blanket guarantee for the national exams. Indonesian educators, bureaucrats and I may overlook the essence of assessment due to the gravity of routine and administrative tasks around us. We learned from history that this kind of attitude might shoulder a risk of sacrificing the bright minds of future generations all over the country.

There are two types of assessment: formative and summative. National exams or other high-risk testing are summative type. In summative testing, a student is assessed in the end of learning process, one time and one chance only. An interesting analogy by Stake, R. as cited in Earl (2004) as the following, “When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative; when the guests taste the soup, that’s summative.”

Formative testing type, on the other hand, is a continuous assessment during the learning period. Students take the test on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. The advantages of formative testing are twofold. First, it gives the students an early warning to study now, not later. The test persuades students to study frequently, to be aware of his or her gap between what s/he knows and what s/he should know in certain stage of learning subject matter. Cramming, studying in a hurry just before the test day is discouraged.

Second, it provides the teachers information about the students’ comprehension and gives warnings to adjust, adapt and improve the teaching process. Formative evaluation facilitates a meaningful and constructive learning process. Students learn new things based on what they have known; meanings were developed and created by the students from their reflection and experience.

Assessment is not a rocket science. Why can’t we conduct formative and summative assessment harmoniously in our schools? The answer is teachers. Our teachers are not trained to conduct proper assessments. Some experts believe that teachers with good assessment skills will overcome many learning problems in their classrooms because they know what is needed to deliver the subject matter. A skillful teacher can integrate assessment in a classroom action research through a quantitative or qualitative method or both.

For example, teacher A just delivered the theory of gravity. At the end of session, she asked students to fill out a quiz that neatly listed all the knowledge items from the subject matter. The quiz can be arranged as building blocks of gravity theory and its each relation to the teaching and learning techniques that have been implemented. Teacher A then could build a schematic platform that describes the relationships between students’ comprehension and the teaching techniques.

In the next session, the teacher can adjust her teaching technique to the one that is most effective in conveying the knowledge to students. This test-and-adjust process runs along the learning process until the end of semester or year. At the end of the learning period, the teacher can be rest assured that the students can take a local, regional or national level summative assessment.

The national exam in this scheme is assembled on the formative assessments. Students have been taking the tests and building their knowledge on the subject matter from day one. Ideally, the formative tests are conducted every time students complete certain stages of the learning process. Students learn from their mistakes and successes because assessment is an important part of teaching and learning.

A good assessment develops good learning; good learning builds good education. Indeed, it is a beautiful concept that first and foremost requires qualified teachers. We need to train and upgrade our teachers, especially in assessment and research skills.

In conclusion, assessment must be done thoroughly by teachers. Failure in managing assessment is a failure in managing education.

The writer is the deputy rector for academics, research and student affairs at Paramadina University, Jakarta.

Earning while (still) learning

Nugra Akbari, Melbourne | Opinion | Sat, May 18 2013, 11:06 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 7

When an Australian friend of mine who had just come back from a trip around Asia in February told me and another friend that he was going to go to Hawaii this July, this other friend, also Australian, asked him: “Where do you work?”

To me, the question is peculiar. In Indonesia it would not be heard in a conversation between youths aged 18-20-years-old. If a student of this age group in Indonesia tells his peers about a leisure trip to Hawaii, the common question would be something like “Where do your parents work?”

Most Indonesians may perceive that on average, young people still depend on their parents’ financial support. This perception held true when my mother and I had lunch at a restaurant in a mall in Jakarta. When we left the restaurant a waiter politely thanked my mother, although it was me who paid for our lunch.

In most developed countries like Australia, a career can start in the teenage years. A 16 year-old, for instance, can start to work as a cashier or a cook at a fast-food restaurant. My Australian friend had worked at a well-renowned electronics retail store when he was 18 as well as working as a computer tutor. Another friend is currently working as a bookkeeper while the other is a mining machinery operator.

It is arguably very beneficial to start one’s career this early to improve skills and professionalism as well as introducing work ethics so that these youngsters are ready by the time they start working full time as adults.

This way, many Australian students will have a long list of work experiences in their curriculum vitae by the time they graduate from university.

This is all possible because many Australian employers offer part-time jobs in which the employees are paid according to the amount of hours worked. A standard national minimum wage is assigned to each age group and increases along with age.

For example, the Fair Work Commission, an Australian government body that regulates employment rights, stipulates that junior workers at the age of 16 are entitled to the hourly minimum wage of A$7.55 (US$7.35), while the minimum wage of adults aged above 20 is US$15.96.

Employers in the restaurant and retail industries therefore prefer to hire younger part-time workers, as their standard minimum wage is lower. It is in this type of industry that most Australian youngsters start their careers.

This method allows young people, most likely students, to work without interference in their academic obligations.

Some employers will ask in advance the times at which the prospective employee is available for work. If this suits the business’s needs, it is likely that he or she will be hired.

Paying wages by the hour can be said to be beneficial to employers since they are able to hire many part-timers at the cost of hiring one full-time worker who, as per regulation, works 38 hours per week.

Why is this deemed to be beneficial? One of the reasons is that the employer can get fresh-in-spirit employees every eight and a half hours as they work in shifts.

As a result, from my point of view, the younger generation of Australia has become an established, well prepared and ready-to-compete generation.

Another friend of mine has family issues that forced her to leave home and live on her own. She never asked for any significant help and did not freeload in anyone’s house. She pays her own rent with the money she earns from working. She manages to do all this without neglecting her studies at university.

I wonder if Indonesian young people could be this independent.

There are, of course, franchised restaurants and coffee shops that apply the hourly wage method. However, that is all, compared to the enormous amount of jobs, especially in Greater Jakarta to which this method could apply, for example movie theatre staff, janitors, stockists and many more. Giving these jobs to young people would help them improve their work skills in many aspects.

With the rapid growth of the number of middle-class families in Indonesia, the use of domestic servants has greatly increased. With the peace of mind and ease offered by such servants, are there as many Indonesian youths who are able to sweep and mop floors as there were in the past?

Some faculties in my university offer a co-op program for high-achieving students who are Australian citizens or permanent residents in which they are given a chance to be trained and placed in work in big companies, with which the university is in cooperation. They get $16,750 every year until they graduate, sponsored by the company they work for.

I think there should be programs like this in Indonesia. A company, for example, could fulfill its corporate social responsibility in form of part-time work opportunities and training. In this way, companies give more than just financial aid.

Work opportunities and training would teach the recipients valuable life skills, which of course, they can take advantage of in the long run. Financial aid alone in general may only be a short-term solution. On the other hand, if the company opts to employ one or more of these students after they graduate, they would cut costs in training.

All in all, there would be no harm if Indonesian employers gave young people a chance to start their careers. If trained and trusted, they are capable of doing what their adult counterparts have already been doing, equally well.

The writer, winner of the International Conference of Young Scientists in Poland in 2009, is a recipient of a Beasiswa Unggulan scholarship from the Education and Culture Ministry.

Education 2.0 in Indonesia: Bamboo innovators

Kee Koon Boon, Singapore | Opinion | Sat, May 11 2013, 12:31 PM

Paper Edition | Page: 7

“What use is an esoteric academic theory like Einstein’s theory of relativity?” scoff street-smart students and “practical” businesspeople. Answering this question using the Bamboo Innovator framework can help foster resilient value creators in varied disciplines and remake Education 2.0 in Indonesia as we walk through the seemingly unrelated stories below and be amazed by how the dots connect toward the end.

Without Einstein’s modern physics theory, it would be impossible to use your iPhone to find your location on a map. The transistors in the phone rely on effects predicted accurately to several decimal places by quantum mechanics.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) that the phone uses to determine locations incorporates in its software the deformation of space-time predicted by relativity theory to achieve navigation accuracy within about 15 meters of one’s actual position.

Without the proper application of relativity, GPS would fail in its navigational functions within about two minutes. Thus, this theory plays a critical role in the multi-billion growth industry centered on GPS.

GPS, in turn, has enabled the development of the Geographic Information System (GIS) to revolutionize the way we capture and analyze all types of geographical data for multiple applications from urban planning, disaster response, epidemic planning, mining and oil exploration to location-based services.

ESRI is the GIS software pioneer, founded by Jack Dangermond in 1969. ESRI has an installed base of more than 1 million users in more than 350,000 organizations with over US$1 billion in annual revenue achieved by 3,000 employees. ESRI grew by focusing on its users and employees, eschewing incentives such as sales commissions.

ESRI, in turn, is linked to Singaporean entrepreneur Wong Fong Fui, who runs the conglomerate Boustead, which has an exclusive country license to ESRI GIS software in Southeast Asia and Australia.

Wong is known as a turnaround specialist, having helped the loss-making unfocused QAF with a market cap of US$15 million;
then in 1988, built the Gardenia bakery brand in Singapore into a $500 million food business by the time it was sold, and now Boustead, which he bought for $14 million in 1996 has a current market value of $580 million.

Interestingly, this $500 million market value has been exceeded by Wendy Yap who helped focus her family business, Nippon Indosari, to become a Gardenia 2.0 and the largest mass-market producer of bread in Indonesia under the “Sari Roti” brand, which has a market value of $750 million.

Around the same time FF Wong got into Boustead, Wendy started Indosari in 1995 with her father, Piet Yap, a Salim Group executive who cofounded the Bogasari flour mills. The typical businessman might shrug and point out that for Indosari to be larger than Gardenia is a given, since Indonesia is a far larger market than Singapore.

However, many companies and multinational corporations (MNC), such as SaraLee, had earlier tried to expand in Indonesia but all retreated with heavy losses. So, why was Wendy Yap able to scale up while others with abundant tangible resources failed?

Indosari has adopted an open innovation business model in collaboration with Japan’s Shikishima Baking, which helped Indosari in its technological processes in introducing Japanese-style soft breads that won over the Indonesian
palate.

Importantly, Indosari has built trust with retailers and customers to overcome the logistics nightmare that doomed its better-capitalized rivals through its strong distribution network for its highly perishable commodity of more than 2 million pieces of bread daily, resulting in a dominant 90 percent market share.

It sells its products through modern distribution channels and an innovative system of around 3,000 mobile tricycle carts to penetrate more than 17,000 small traditional shops in rural parts of Indonesia.

However, Indosari’s market value of $750 million pales in comparison to Mexico’s Grupo Bimbo’s $15 billion, even though both Indonesia and Mexico have gross domestic product (GDP) of $1 trillion.

Bimbo is also the world’s largest bread manufacturer, making more than $13 billion in sales. So, how was this “small white teddy bear”, Bimbo’s corporate image, which “began with great limitations” in 1945 in Mexico, a country where half the population lived below the poverty line, able to become the largest in the world and compound 24-fold in market value since 1994?

Given that over 80 percent of bread is sold in mom-and-pop stores in Mexico, scattered miles from one another over poor roads, cultivating trust and support among its community of customers, suppliers and employees is critical to overcome the geographical limitations in scaling up.

Small store owners tend to ask for credit, which is provided informally by Bimbo. Its partnership with community bank FinComún leveraged upon the bank’s pioneering expertise in providing micro-loans to extend credit yet reduce bad debt and improve the working capital position to free up more cash to carry out expansions.

In a country known for the exploitation of workers, Bimbo has built an unusually people-oriented culture with its well-known policy of avoiding layoffs even in times of crisis and sponsoring its employees’ education, which has helped foster loyalty and commitment.

As a result, Bimbo was able to resist the 1991 threat from the arrival on the Mexican market of giant PepsiCo. While Bimbo innovated in integrating production-delivery-finance, none of it would amount to much if Bimbo had not offered the country affordable, edible aspiration, spreading this dream to nearly every remote corner of Mexico.

There is a common thread running through these stories: the resilient Bamboo Innovator. The vitality of the bamboo revolves around its empty hollow center in the same way as the “emptiness” of the Bamboo Innovator with its “indestructible intangibles” derives its strength from “know-how” and “trust and support in the community”.

The “emptiness” is why bamboo bends but does not break, even in the wildest storms that snap the mighty but resisting oak tree.

The intangible know-how in relativity theory has led to the multi-billion dollar GPS industry, which in turn enabled the development of the GIS pioneered by ESRI under Jack Dangermond, whose leadership nurtured a culture of empowerment and innovation.

FF Wong was attracted by this intangible know-how of ESRI, having built the “intangible” Gardenia brand. While FF Wong was building Boustead, Wendy Yap developed a larger, more focused Gardenia 2.0 at Indosari by cultivating trust and support among the company’s customers, suppliers, partners and employees, in the same way that this “emptiness” worked wonders at Grupo Bimbo.

In the landscape of Education 2.0 in Indonesia, students can search for facts on Google, but Google and Facebook cannot tell them how to connect the dots in alignment with their talent and personality to pursue what they can excel in.

With the Bamboo Innovator in their hearts, they will experience the uncanny: The raw sensual data reaching their eyes before and after are the same, but with this pertinent framework of meaning, the chaotic features and anomalies in the marketplace are visible.

Instead of producing “grades”, “checklist-based holistic CVs” and “high graduation salaries”, the education system inspires students to be the Jack Dangermond inventor, the FF Wong and Wendy Yap entrepreneur, the quantum mechanics engineer and physics expert, the geography-based business and trade specialist, the teacher and the value investor, and so on.

Their fates all intertwined as Bamboo Innovators to forge their own larger-than-self path to create value for Indonesia and the world.

The writer is an investment professional and a former accounting lecturer at the Singapore Management University (SMU).