Curriculum 2013: The next oasis or mirage?

Kunto Nurcahyoko, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, July 20 2013, 12:07 PM

Like a dreadful desert, our education system is now grappling with the extreme heat of distrust and a massive famine of hope. The results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009, shows that Indonesian education is ranked 66th out of 74 participating countries in reading, mathematics and science.

Despite the perpetual endeavors administered by our government, education seems to be progressing very slowly.

However, one revolutionary step has been taken by the Education and Culture Ministry this year, namely the 2013 curriculum.

This curriculum was officially launched on July 15 starting with first, fourth, seventh and 10th graders. The very reason to justify such implementation of the new curriculum is because the ministry wants to restore character education and improve students’ creative thinking.

Under this curriculum, Education Minister M. Nuh claimed at least three benefits. First, this curriculum determines the passing competences standard (SKL) in the beginning then the subjects’ requirement.

That said — students will know what to expect in their learning before going to class. Second, this curriculum also offers the continuously-related competences on all level of grades.

Lastly, this curriculum uses a more holistic approach for the learning process based on students’ creativity.

It is worth noting that from the 10 different curriculum implemented since 1947, the 2013 curriculum innovates the approach by implementing a fully integrated thematic approach.

Hence, one single textbook will be discussed among different subjects especially in grade one up to three of elementary school.

The idea is basically to enable early young students to frame their knowledge as a holistic system rather than separate entities.

This new curriculum will also cut off some subjects. Previously, elementary school students for example, used to have 10 subjects and now they have only six subjects for grade one to three and eight subjects from grade four to six.

This regulation is expected to reduce the overwhelming burden borne by students. Yet, this is quite paradoxical considering the additional hours will add more to the workload.

In order to reach the target in such a limited time, the ministry will create syndicate-like training for the teachers. They will assign national instructors who will be in charge to train the core teachers from each province. These core teachers will eventually train target teachers from each school.

While the supporting arguments for the 2013 curriculum seem to be appealing, lots of people still do not believe in this new curriculum due to the rush. Some educational experts are even afraid of its long-term sustainability as this curriculum was relatively short in its development.

Although the ministry said this curriculum is included in national middle-term development plan of 2010-2014, the whole process of curriculum development took less than two years.

The dissemination of this curriculum through the ministry’s website simply showed its draft without involving extensive input or feedback from the public.

The Jakarta Post article by Zulfa Sakhiyya on Feb. 23, 2013, discussed a one-size-fits-all syllabus to ensure the uniformity of instruction for teachers.

Unfortunately, this step will potentially jeopardize teachers’ creativity. The book and curriculum have been fully set up by central government. Having said that, this curriculum will value the individuality and local context of learning less.

People are skeptical of the significance of the new curriculum because the previous curriculums insignificantly boost up the quality of our education.

Yet, we need to understand that education is a complex system, which involves a lot of elements. Putting the blame solely on the curriculum regarding the bad quality of education is like putting the blame on vehicle manufacturers for traffic jams. The question now is: “What is curriculum?”

A curriculum is an extensive plan of teaching and learning that guides students to interact with instructional content, materials, resources and processes for the attainment of educational objectives.

Again, although curriculum is an essential element in determining the education quality, there are other factors that we should consider like teachers’ professionalism, supporting society and environment, as well as media.

It is impossible to achieve high quality education by solely depending on a good curriculum without the support of those other factors.

According to Nation and Macalister, a curriculum should involve theoretical and practical consideration such as learners’ prior knowledge and lacks, the resources available including time, skill of the teachers, the principle of teaching and learning, and the existing environment such as society and media.

These factors are needed to construct effective and efficient course design.

Considering the importance of a supporting system from so many factors, society has a duty to be actively involved in the process of education. One of the ways is to participate in the monitoring and evaluation of the curriculum.

It sounds overwhelming but this is feasible. The ministry should provide an education drop box that will allow people to have their comments and findings heard. This channel is particularly important especially for parents and teachers.

This two-way communication between the ministry and society will be a good starting point to heal the crisis of trust among society of the importance of education in Indonesia. Hopefully, such a mechanism will also boost people awareness of their participation in the national education.

We cannot deny that the implementation of 2013 curriculum has some drawbacks. But we must not be indifferent toward the global change that requires adjustment on our education system.

A quality education is not only determined by the curriculum, but it is also inextricably related to public awareness and involvement toward education process.

The quality of teachers and well-integrated supports from media and society are also essential anchors for our education.

Eventually, education is like an infinite path. If we imagine a desert, the new curriculum can be an oasis or mirage depending on where we stand.

But again, with tremendous efforts from all parties, we can turn that elusive mirage into a flourishing oasis.

The writer is an Ohio State University graduate majoring in Second and Foreign Language Education.

School curriculum change and common sense

Tony Crocker, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, July 27 2013, 12:17 PM

Negative political reaction to any government initiative, regrettably including education (The Jakarta Post, July 22), can only be expected in the run up to a general election. Given the poor communication skills apparently displayed by the education minister and the ministry spokespersons, the equally negative comment from academics and representatives of teacher associations are equally understandable.

So far, the most perceptive article on curriculum change in selected schools has been the editorial in the Post for July 19. This identified the motivation behind the rapid introduction of change as an essentially political reaction to inter-school brawling. Although it could have gone further and identified the subsequent diversion of ministry staff time from recurrent duties to making a reality of the sudden announcement of change as being the probable reason behind many of the problems with delivery of this year’s final exam (UN) for senior high school (SMA).

Interestingly, both the articles by academics and statements from teacher associations frequently appear to confuse the roles and responsibilities of the various players in this activity. Minister and ministry are often used interchangeably, although the ministry is only responsible and accountable for implementation of policy, not its formulation. In this respect, the ministry has actually performed well this year in that the senior individual civil servant held responsible for the problems with the UN promptly resigned.

Although the minister is responsible and accountable for both policy and the performance of the ministry under his or her management, there is another group of people who play a major role in policy formulation, but who are rarely identified and never held accountable.

These are the special advisers attached to many ministerial offices, including education, whose role is to assist the minister with professional and technical aspects of the minister’s work.

One possible reason why this group escapes the censure of academics, who are only too willing to blame “bureaucrats”, is that these advisers are themselves predominantly academics. In a field such as education, the use of academics alone in policy formulation runs two major risks.

First, the work cultures of university and school are very different. Higher education focuses on developing and communicating knowledge about a subject. Its stock-in-trade is ideas, innovation and personal reputation. Schools focus on the best way to help children and adolescents realize their potential to become fulfilled and productive adult members of society.

The teacher’s main role is to help children. The practicing academic, with no requirement for example, to spend sabbatical time back in the school room, may easily forget the day-to-day reality of helping children learn in a village primary school in a remote district.

Second, in higher education the students themselves are primarily responsible for their achievement. This is quite different from activities where achieving change requires demonstrable, practical results. It is unlikely that any trainer in for example, the aviation industry or the military, where training success and achievement of standards are essential, would be content to limit training to a five day course with a heavy information load.

That is, the “training” model predominantly employed in preparing for behavioral change in education is most frequently an academic model of talking about objectives rather than ensuring their achievement through extensive practice.

Most of the articles on curriculum change recently published in the Post amply illustrate this lack of practicality. As articulate as they may be on educational theories, they are invariably full of jargon, references to authors and publications unlikely to be familiar to a general reading public, and confine themselves almost exclusively to discussion of concepts, with hardly ever a mention of children.

They, thus, appear to be more a continuation of academic debate in the public sphere than a genuine contribution to ensuring equitable access to effective education for all children throughout Indonesia.

Few of these articles mention for example, the fact that virtually all the concepts and practices required by the curriculum change have actually been legislated requirements for teachers for over five years through ministerial regulations concerning teacher competencies and “standard processes” in school.

Nor do they point to the simple fact that the attitudinal development of children in school depends as much if not more on their daily experience than on any subject matter they may encounter.

That is, the dominant classroom activity, whether they are encouraged to cooperate or compete, if they are helped to question rather than just accept, and the role models they see around them both in school and in the wider community, are likely to play a greater role in developing attitude than any amount of instruction.

If the articles by academics are largely theoretical, it is difficult to say what the comments by representatives of teacher associations are, besides oppositional. They are certainly neither constructive nor practical.

Whereas it is only right for these associations to protect and promote the interests of their members, they never mention that for example, since the reorganization of the then National Ministry for Education in 2010/2011, the largest of these associations PGRI, provides the senior ministry official responsible for teacher development, that they thus have a permanent voice on how changes are introduced to teachers and have their own major activities sourced from ministry, that is public, funds.

Typical of these comments are those reported immediately after the start of the new school year (the Post, July 16), “[…] five-day training was not adequate for teachers to change their mind set from conservative to interactive and creative methods” (secretary-general of FSGI).

What these representatives – of some three million teachers – do not say is why they have not equipped their members with the necessary competencies and skills over the past five years.

If these professional associations have not apprised their members of the meaning of receiving a “professional allowance” which doubles income, they can hardly complain about the ministry’s efforts within the resources available to implement a demanding timetable within an unrealistic timescale. If they had carried out their role, then a five day familiarization with any new teaching material might possibly have been sufficient.

Significantly, none of this public debate includes comment from the group most directly affected by the curriculum change, the students themselves. However, one report does stand out, “[…] a teacher at elementary school [SD] said that after she attended the training, she began to understand that the new curriculum would encourage the students to use their reasoning in following lessons as it would increase their curiosity about the subjects” (the
Post, July 16).

Amongst all the political and academic posturing, this simple statement about beginning to learn and student motivation is a bright point which must reassure us that ultimately our children’s future is in the right hands — those of teachers who care whether the children in their charge really want to learn.

The writer is currently assisting the Ministry for Education and Culture develop a system for the appraisal and development of performance for teachers in basic education.

Educating future Indonesians: An absence of dedication

Ratih Hardjono, Jakarta | Opinion | Tue, July 16 2013, 11:41 AM

A nation’s future of sustained economic growth depends very much on the quality of its human resources, and this is determined by the quality of education.

Studies have also shown that education is a crucial factor in reducing income inequality, as can be seen in many Latin American countries. Investment in a nation’s education takes 10 to 15 years for a country to reap the benefits.

Since 2008, thanks to a constitutional amendment, spending on education has been set at 20 percent of the total budget.

The budget for education in 2013 is nearly U$6 billion, which makes education one of the top seven recipients of state budget funds. Currently, there are approximately 59 million students, 3 million teachers and 330,000 schools.

So what does the Education and Culture Ministry do with a whopping $6 billion? Education and Culture Minister Mohammad Nuh, said in February this year that in 2007, 80 percent of the children who entered primary school graduated, but out of this number only 61 percent continued on to junior high.

The minister went on to say that, of those who did enter junior high school, only 48 percent completed this stage of schooling and of this number only 21 percent continued to senior high.

Of this 21 percent, only 10 percent graduated. Of the 10 percent who graduated, only 1.4 percent undertook tertiary education.

It was safe for the minister to talk about numbers in 2007, it was six years ago and a long time before he became education and culture minister.

During the last decade, primary education enrolment rates have been impressive.

There is, however, more to education than just enrolment! Has the proportion of drop-outs also decreased dramatically since 2007?

Given that we are entering a demographic bonus, where there will be a large number of youths, which should be able to fuel our economic growth, have the enrolments produced a workforce that is now developing our economy?

A report released by the World Bank in March this year entitled Spending More or Spending Better: Improving Education Financing in Indonesia finds that, despite the large increase in education spending, the quality has not improved.

According to the report, Indonesia’s performance in international tests has been disappointing; in fact, the country’s general scores were at the bottom of international assessments of learning achievements.

Apparently, when eighth grade Indonesian students were tested through Trends in International Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS), which is an international benchmark for mathematics and science, they performed significantly worse than students from Thailand and Malaysia.

The TIMSS test showed that not only are average scores low but that the share of students achieving the highest levels of performance is also very small, with only the top 20 percent of performers in Indonesia achieving at least an intermediate score.

Only 3 percent achieved scores at the highest level and no students scored at the advanced level. In contrast, almost 50 percent of students in Thailand and Malaysia achieved at least the intermediate level, while 10 percent achieved high benchmarks and 1 percent achieved advanced levels.

The results show that average scores in 2003 and 2009 are not statistically very different in mathematics and science. Only reading scores improved. Even more worrying is the fact that, when researchers broke down results by socio-economic deciles, the inequality in access to quality education was glaringly obvious.

There was a significant difference in performance between the richest and poorest students in mathematics. Poor students performed significantly worse than rich students, and this difference has not improved since 2003.

So, where did all the money go? The same report found that a large share of the massive increase went to pay teachers’ salaries and teachers’ certification allowances.

The increase in spending on salaries was driven by a fast increase in the total number of teachers, which continues to increase despite Indonesia already having one of the lowest student-teacher ratios in the world.

The teacher certification program almost doubled the pay of certified teachers through an allowance equivalent to a teacher’s basic pay. This allowance absorbed more than 2 percent of the state budget in 2009, even though only 30 percent of teachers were certified.

It is convenient to blame decentralization. One intrinsic problem is the attitude of our bureaucracy to the notion of public service. There is even rejection among much of the bureaucracy of the basic principle that the main task of civil servants is to serve the community that pays their wages.

Bureaucrats have been smart in serving whoever their masters are, so that their privileges as civil servants remain intact. With this framework of thinking, it is easy to see how budgets are used mainly for operational costs rather than servicing the community.

Political elites must agree to stop playing politics with education and to take education out of the political horse trading that takes place when new cabinets are formed.

The minister in charge needs to be competent and not politically well connected just because a political party was promised the job for agreeing to be in the government’s coalition. This approach has cost us dearly!

We have a Master Plan for Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesian Economic Development (MP3EI), so why not have a Master Plan for Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesian Educational Development?

Indonesia needs bridges and roads, but if we are to develop our economy, we desperately need skilled human resources. If we can plan infrastructure building for the next 15 years, why can we not do it for education when so much depends on it?

If not, we will be importing doctors and engineers and continuing to export migrant workers (TKI).

The writer, a former journalist, is secretary-general of the Indonesian Community for Democracy (KID). She was a recipient of the Nieman Fellowship for Journalism at Harvard University, in the class of 1994.