DOWN TO EARTH WITH INDONESIAN TEACHERS’ KNOWLEDGE

A. Chaedar Alwasilah, Bandung | Opinion | Sat, June 29 2013, 11:57 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 6

Parents send their kids to school to get an education. They entrust teachers with the task of providing quality education. Therefore, professional teachers are cherished by all. However, the notion of professional teachers is less understood by them. Problems in teacher training often occur due to a misconception of teachers’ knowledge.

All bureaucrats and policy makers within the Ministry of Education and Culture have learning experience from kindergarten to university, and they may feel more qualified than trained educationists, namely, those who have undergone formal training in education fields, such as curriculum development, educational management and early childhood education.

Due to their authority and power, high-ranking officials in the ministry are often very eloquent in elaborating pedagogical technicalities, despite their non-education background and zero classroom teaching experience. These people are educators by power and authority.

The endless polemic on the national examination (UAN) and its mismanagement this year are indicative that education in this country has been managed by a handful of educators by power and authority rather than by educators by training and experience.

While respecting the minister, deputy ministers and directors general as decision makers and high officials, many teachers and educational practitioners are cynical and made comments such as, “How on earth could a person without elementary or secondary classroom teaching experience talk about teaching and learning?”

The discussion above brings the notion of teachers’ knowledge and experience into focus. In general, there are two types of teachers’ knowledge, namely knowledge that has its roots in habit, ritual, custom, opinion or simply impressions, and abstract knowledge whose concrete implications should be worked out systematically.

As a matter of fact our definition and appreciation of the teaching profession depends on the breadth and scope of knowledge possessed by teachers. This knowledge is part of their competence. Carr and Kemmis (1986) identified seven types of teacher knowledge as follows.

First, common sense knowledge, namely, knowledge about practice that is simply assumption or opinion. For example, it is known that students need discipline and that learning in the morning is more productive than learning in the afternoon.

Second, folk wisdom, namely a set of sustainable praxis, such as the knowledge that students get restless on windy days, and high school students in Bandung do not easily learn on the day Persib (Bandung soccer squad) hosts Persija (Jakarta soccer squad).

Third, skill knowledge, namely knowledge of practical values such as how to get students to line up and how to prevent them speaking while instructions about a task are being given.

Fourth, contextual knowledge, namely knowledge about a specific class (first, second year, etc.) or group of students (boy scouts, cheer leaders, school athletes, etc.), local students, immigrant students, etc. To function maximally, a classroom mentor teacher or wali kelas should know his or her class very well.

Contextual knowledge provides the background against which the achievability of certain tasks or the relevance of certain treatment can be evaluated. At the national level achievability of the national test, for example, should be evaluated against cultural characteristics of provinces. How students learn is culture-specific.

Fifth, professional knowledge, namely, knowledge about teaching strategies and curricula: Their potential, forms, substance and effects. Professional teachers master not only the subject matter to teach, but also the strategies of school subject delivery. Any change of curriculum will definitely bring about changes in the potential, forms, substance and effects.

Sixth, educational theory, namely a body of knowledge about the role of education in society and about the development of individuals. Teachers, regardless of the school subject, should have a reasonable degree of familiarity with the sociology of education and developmental psychology.

Seventh, general philosophical outlook, namely about how people can and should interact, the development and reproduction of social classes, the uses of knowledge in society, or about truth and justice. In the Indonesian context, Pancasila as the state philosophy has set the philosophical outlook for teachers.

It is relevant here to mention Pancasila as a mandatory subject for undergraduate students as stipulated by law. Prospective teachers should be provided with the Pancasila outlook on education for developing the whole nation.

The aforementioned types of teacher knowledge, acquired through both experience and formal training, provide a starting point for critical reflection. Reflection is both personal and collective judgment of a problem.

With the seven types of knowledge as elaborated above, professional teachers are by implication more knowledgeable than bureaucrats about students’ day-to-day progress and achievement. In other words, teachers and the school management – not the central government – are the right stakeholders to pass or fail students.

When the 2013 curriculum was introduced, teachers’ reactions varied depending on their knowledge, as elaborated above. They used those types of knowledge to anticipate the potential, forms, substance and effects of the curriculum. Their reflection was experience-based.

On the contrary, most of the bureaucrats – lacking teaching experience and school management – overlooked the potential, forms, substance and effects as anticipated by teachers. Their reflection was authority and power-based.

What all this suggests is that if teaching is to become a more genuinely professional activity, there are at least two sorts of development that need to take place. First, teaching praxis should be research-based, that is grounded in educational theory and research.

Second, the professional autonomy of teachers must be extended to include the opportunity to participate in decisions beyond the classroom setting. Moreover, the profession should be both personal as well as collective.

Teachers, unlike other professionals, have little professional autonomy at the collective level. Collectively, teaching professionals should have the right to determine the sorts of policies, organizations and procedure that should govern their profession as a whole.

Education is not limited to instruction in the classroom, but involves activities beyond the classroom. As everyone would agree, the impact of education is for the entire life.

The writer is a professor of language education, the Indonesian University of Education, Bandung.

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