School, fraud and the sacrifice of Socrates

Khairil Azhar, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, May 04 2013, 11:42 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 6

Two days after the story of the embarrassing administration of the national exams broke, a parent looking for an elementary school for his son asked me if my school was ready to implement the new curriculum.

After several seconds, I said that my school would surely follow it. We have tried to learn whatever we could about it and have been following a subject-integrated curriculum for some time. The school has been waiting to receive a complete version of the new curriculum.

The new academic year is drawing near. No comprehensive documents detailing the new curriculum have been released.

As a private school, we have had difficulties in answering those kind of questions from parents. We realize that parents have often been bewildered by corruption in our national education system. Their emotional burden regarding the future of their children very frequently leads them to unnecessary hesitation. They easily forget that school is just a part of a child’s entire education. Many of the parents make choices based on incorrect referrals.

In implementing programs, whether a new curriculum or new government policy, private schools are always in second place behind state schools.

An instance of this unfair treatment can be seen in the requirement that private schools to follow the lead of state schools, although the state schools might be poorer in quality. Here, poor quality should not be misunderstood as a dearth in operational funds. State schools receive more than enough cash from the government and they also raise funds from parents.

Private schools, especially new ones, those with a small number of students or with those with limited financial capability, are in a difficult position.

While most policies are administrative or procedural in nature, schools must implement them at an expense of funds, energy or time. This happens for the national exams, changes to the curriculum, new school accreditation processes and also for policies made by subdistrict or district state educational agencies.

In the district where I manage a school, for example, we have to spare certain amount of money every month to anticipate such policies. Recently, for example, related to a program called National Standard School Exams (USBN) for sixth graders, we had to pay, without protest, Rp 260,000 (US$26.80) per student.

What we have received in return has been poor quality exam papers prepared by local educational agencies as well as infuriating service provided by the school used by our students to take exams.

Back to the parent’s initial question in the opening of this article, as a private school, we tend to develop our own way to survive and in many cases to perform better, not only than private schools, but fully state-supported schools, too.

So, in responding to the above question, we must be able to ensure parents that we have distinct values. We often have to make them realize that changes in the national curriculum never amount to much and that the changes are more in administrative.

We actually do not want to misunderstand any alternatives proposed by the Education and Culture Ministry. But it has been often that change has been introduced to whitewash a problem and not to cope with it.

The plan to omit English from the curriculum of primary schools is a clear instance of the whitewash policy. The inability to assure fun, creative and effective learning processes at schools has camouflaged with an injudicious move: removing difficult topics from the curriculum.

By the same token, the ministry is disorganized. Questionable policies have been introduced to show that the ministry exists and does something. In fact, besides its 2.6 trillion rupiah cost, the plan to unnecessarily change the curriculum just makes things worse in the eyes of the public.

However, as citizens, we might learn something from what Socrates did thousands of years ago. Because of his dissenting opinion, he was forced to commit suicide, despite the public belief that he was right and the state was wrong. We in the end have to respect the existence of the state while at the same time hoping that all of the fraud and incompetence springs from ignorance, not heartlessness.

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