Improving teacher training colleges

A. Chaedar Alwasilah, Bandung | Opinion | Sat, September 21 2013, 12:11 PM

It is estimated that 1.3 million students are officially enrolled in 415 public and private teacher training colleges (LPTK) or universities. It is a tragedy that only 100 of these institutions are accredited. By implication, the current teaching workforce is dominated by unqualified teachers.

Since the enactment of Law No. 14/2005 on teachers and lecturers, salaries have improved significantly and education has become a relatively lucrative department, which has attracted fresh high school graduates.

Many universities have been tempted to offer education degrees. A great deal of work should be done to prepare for the likely oversupply of (non-qualified) teachers. If not addressed, this will affect Indonesia’s competitiveness internationally.

Several international studies have indicated that the quality of education in Indonesia is poor. Jalal et al. (2009) affirm that the poor quality of the Indonesian teaching body is associated with an oversupply of teachers, low salaries and a weak national recruitment system that encourages districts and provinces to claim fictitious shortages of teachers.

Meanwhile Suryadarma and Jones (2013) list qualitative defects in primary schools that include: poorly trained teachers, high rates of teacher absenteeism, an emphasis on rote learning, insufficient textbooks and poor quality buildings.

LPTKs should be held responsible for producing graduates who are poorly trained, show high absenteeism and promote rote learning but not for a lack of textbooks, the quality of buildings and facilities. These are the responsibilities of the school management and district or provincial offices than LPTKs.

Poor teacher training seems to be the root of all the other problems. Meanwhile, absenteeism indicates a lack of discipline and a bad attitude. An emphasis on rote learning indicates that teachers do not have a strong enough teaching repertoire.

As matters currently stand, however, there is shared condition among LPTKs that that merit the following reflections.

The curricular across all LPTKs are relatively the same in terms of number of credit hours (less than 150), units of courses offered, mandatory teaching practice at school, and skripsi (small scale research-based) writing.

The curricular include: (1) subject matter courses to provide students with enough knowledge to teach, say, English and mathematics, (2) psychology courses to provide them with soft skills, (3) subject matter pedagogy courses to provide them with sufficient strategies to deliver the subject matter, and (4) education courses to provide them with sufficient knowledge on curriculum and education in general.

Obviously, the existing curricular of LPTKs are a strong foundation to develop the four competences enshrined by Law No. 14/2005, that is four groups of competencies: pedagogical (teaching ability), personal (character and example), professional (training and education) and social (community participation).

In addition, LPTK students have to take general courses mandatory for undergraduate students all over Indonesia. These include courses like religion, citizenship, Indonesian language, social studies, sport or physical education and community service. The new Law on higher education, however, explicitly stipulates four mandatory courses for undergraduate students, namely religion, Pancasila, citizenship and Indonesian.

Granted the curricular described above, LPTK graduates should be ready to embark on teaching professionally: Something must have gone wrong.

In her inspiring book, Powerful Teacher Education, Darling-Hammond lists common components of powerful teacher education. They include explicit strategies to help prospective teachers (1) confront their own deep-seated beliefs and assumptions about learning and students; and (2) learn about the experiences of people different from themselves.

Teachers’ main task is to facilitate student learning and the key to its success is sustainable reflection on their own belief about student learning. What constitutes learning? How do students learn? How do they learn differently?

A theory says that (novice) teachers tend to emulate the way their (LPTK) lecturers teach. The way the lecturers teach reflects beliefs and assumptions of the subject matter, its pedagogy and teaching as a whole. This underscores the role model of LPTK lecturers as prima causa of excellence of (prospective) school teachers.

As Darling-Hammond notes, lecturers are obligated to tell prospective students “explicit” strategies to enable students to learn about different subjects. It would be difficult to be explicit if they do not have first-hand experience themselves. They will be implicit all the way through. At best they will just restate theories of others.

It is a widespread phenomenon across LPTKs that most lecturers do not have any elementary or
secondary teaching experience. Such an experience is not required by the existing recruitment system. The minimum requirement is a Master’s degree.

By way of comparison, their counterparts in the US and the UK must have had years of elementary or secondary teaching experience prior to joining the faculty. From a professional point of view it does not make sense for someone without previous school teaching experience to be a professor or dean of a school of education.

There are always many roads to Rome. I propose three courses of action to raise the image of LPTKs as follows. During the probation period, the newly recruited lecturers teach elementary or secondary school for at least one year, working with different types of learners and classes. This will enable them to immerse themselves in school culture.

LPTKs should have their own school as a laboratory where a new curriculum, syllabus, teaching media, teaching strategies, teaching models and innovation is piloted. Within the current mechanism of teaching practice, LPTKs do not have jurisdiction and freedom at sekolah mitra (partner school) to execute those things.

Dormitories seem to be an ideal home for prospective teachers to internalize values and positive attitudes toward learning, learners and teaching as a profession in general. The prospective teachers should be catered for in the right way, so that they cater for the kids in the right way too.

It is not easy for most LPTKs to put these three ground-breaking actions into operation. But they are strategic measures that will boost their capacity substantially.

The writer is a professor at the Indonesia University of Education (UPI), Bandung

Handwritten manuscripts to curb plagiarism: Panacea or pandemic?

Setiono Sugiharto, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, September 14 2013, 11:55 AM

In order to prevent a resurgence of plagiarism or academic cheating at Sam Ratulangi University (USR) in Manado, North Sulawesi, the university’s Rector, Donald Rumokoy, recently proposed a rather appalling strategy: all academic assignments must be handwritten (Kompas, Aug. 31).

Pointing out the fact that some 50 percent of students’ academic work was plagiarized, he seemed to be laying blame on high-tech devices as the main impetus for students to commit plagiarism.

The case of academic dishonesty at USR is only the tip of the iceberg of numerous cases of undetected cheating that plague academia in the country. Quite surprisingly, although assorted efforts have been taken to avoid plagiarism, intellectual dishonesty remains rampant and continues to persist among students, teachers and even some scholars.

While previous efforts have failed to deter academics from academic cheating, it is reasonable to cast doubt over whether the proposed strategy of handwritten manuscripts will help avoid plagiarism and whether this strategy will be effective in minimizing unethical behavior among academics.

One can argue, for example, that ideas and textual patterns of writing belonging to a certain author can be taken verbatim and “pasted” through handwriting without acknowledgment by students and scholars. Thus, intellectual infringements can be committed without necessarily involving access to typewriters or computers.

It is clear then that the requirement for handwritten academic manuscripts offers no panacea for avoiding plagiarism, but instead shows a pandemic symptom in the process of aiding students’ literacy development.

In the context of the technological revolution such as computer-assisted language learning (CALL), which has proven to be a tremendous aid for facilitating students’ literacy development, clinging to a traditional mode of writing (i.e. handwriting) reflects a gross setback and curtails students’ literacy creativity as far as writing pedagogy is concerned.

First, we should not lose sight of the fact that literacy in the cyber era means more than just simply putting a string of words and ideas (using pens or pencils) on paper to create text. That is, text realization doesn’t always take shape from linguistic elements only. Other semiotic resources, such as symbols, emoticons and images, shape and reshape themselves to become meaningful texts, leading to the concept of “multimodality” and “multi-literacy” in the field of literacy.

Second, the advancement of technological devices does not always carry negative consequences for writing pedagogy. Through their engagement with cyberspace, students can learn how both linguistic and other semiotic resources mingle with and jostle one another to create meaningful texts. They can create, recreate and even recycle their own texts in the light of the available texts they have read on the web. Thus, cyberspace can function as a useful tool for learning to write.

Finally, since the advent of communication technology like the Internet, the notion of authorship has become rather fuzzy. People can easily reproduce and access texts by assembling available excerpts from a great variety of sources.

This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to trace who the original creator of a given text is. It is this last point that makes the concept of plagiarism equally fuzzy and, therefore, not easy to discern upon a superficial inspection.

However, if by a certain academic standard, a student is found committing plagiarism, the issue is not the proscription of writing academic work with technological devices. It is not the devices that are at fault but those who use them.

Thus, what should be the main cause of concern has nothing to do with the medium of technology per se, but with how we can inculcate our students with the ideas of academic honesty and integrity. Scott A Wowra’s (2007) “moral identity hypothesis” helps illuminate the maintenance of moral integrity among students.

The hypothesis proposes that a student with a central, or core, moral identity is highly unlikely to engage in antisocial or unethical behavior such as academic cheating, fraud, stealing, lying or infidelity. In contrast, those students with a peripheral moral identity are more likely to do so.

It may be the case that this hypothesis fails to predict what it hypothesizes. The prevalent plagiarism committed by students, teachers, and scholars alike in the country seems to belie the above hypothesis.

This is because the social pressure on students and teachers’ academic performance supersedes moral integrity, thus making them succumb to academic wrongdoing so as to gain a good impression (in the eyes of society), leading others to believe that they excel academically, that they do their jobs well and that they are competent in their fields of expertise.

As this pressure often makes them socially anxious, given a fear of failing exams and not being promoted to higher positions, they tend to sacrifice their moral integrity. This is called by Wowra the “social anxiety hypothesis” – a contested hypothesis to his other one as laid out above.

From this account, one can conclude that the rampant academic dishonesty in the country’s halls of academe seems to mirror the approximation of the social anxiety hypothesis more than the moral identity hypothesis.

The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University. He is also chief editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching

Shifting writing from knowledge to commitment

A. Chaedar Alwasilah, Bandung | Opinion | Sat, September 07 2013, 11:20 AM

The notorious fact that Indonesian intellectuals lack writing skills has long been known. In retrospect, try to remember how many of your college lecturers used textbooks written by themselves.

What is not yet known is the reason for this and how to fix it. In American academic culture, the adage holds, “All professors are the same until one of them writes a textbook”.

Almost all undergraduate and graduate programs across the country require students to write a skripsi, thesis, or dissertation for graduation.

However, meeting such a requirement does not necessearily make one a researcher-writer. For the majority such a requirement is like a “hit and run” duty, done once in a lifetime.

In my article on language policy published in this newspaper (The Jakarta Post June 15) I emphasized the importance of encouraging Indonesian intellectuals to write textbooks and research papers in Indonesian first and English second.

Some readers of the article downplayed the role of Indonesian. They argued that any work written in Indonesian would not be read by international scholars.

A reader argued as follows: “Saying that the Indonesian language has the potential to become a language of science is hazardous. Science is an international endeavor that needs permanent exchange between scientists.

For this, a common language is necessary, and currently that language is not Indonesian, or Mandarin, or Hindi, but English. The research of scientists who write their articles in Indonesian will not be accessed by people from other countries. It is no secret that Indonesia performs very poorly in sciences and that the very few good Indonesian scientists publish their work in English.”

The quote above represents the public voice: a struggle that puts pressure on the English as a foreign language (EFL) profession in the country. Mindful of this, we jump to the deceptive conclusion that all scientists have to write in English

EFL pedagogues and writing instructors in particular have done a lot of research into academic writing and their teaching experiences have accumulated. Some findings and generalizations are highlighted here to contextualize them in the Indonesian scene.

First, scienctific endeavor is fundamentally a personal curiosity facilitated primarily by first language. You think and formulate abstract concepts critically through it. Teaching the Indonesian language means, among other things, teaching students how to use it critically for academic purposes.

Due to its unversal truth and its social benefits, science deserves

permanent exchange and critical debate among scientists internationally. The bulk of publication depends on the magnitude of potential benefit which in turn depends on the funds invested.

Second, language mastery does not necessarily mean scientific publication. Despite the relative mastery of the Indonesian language most intellectuals do not publish. The same phenomenon applies to foreign languages: Despite mastery of English, many English instructors and lecturers do not publish.

To the surprise of many, obtaining a graduate degree from overseas does not guarantee publication either. Many bright intellectuals return well trained from overseas to drop out of research and publication and turn to more financially rewarding careers. This often happens when the campus is not conducive socially or culturally.

This suggests that proficiency in English alone is not the magic solution. Personal commitment to research, genuine curiosity about problems and conducive immediate environment concurrently play a vital role in engineering publication.

A positive attitude toward research and publication are to be nurtured through quality schooling from elementary up to graduate education.

As EFL writing instructors, we find it difficult to enable students to write in English. It is even more difficult to turn them into researchers as well as writers. Committed to sharing knowledge, true researcher-writers write from the heart of their own free will.

It is much easier to teach undergraduate students grammar and theories of composition. Even when you succeed, they will not necessarily become writers. This is the most difficult challenge faced by EFL writing instructors. Therefore, we need to shift the perspective from writing as knowing compostion rules to writing as a commitment.

It is tragic that most faculty members in English departments have a zero tolerance for using Indonesian as the foundation for English proficiency. They erroneosly assume that high school graduates already have solid foundations to develop EFL writing skills.

Commitment or dedication to writing takes place when students are empowered to develop their innate linguistic potential. To begin with, students should be encouraged to develop writing in Indonesian, with which they will feel comfortable to freely express themselves. Knowing the language and its culture, students write creatively with confidence.

In a later stage of learning, writing is a matter of transferring from Indonesian to English.

I would rather allocate the first half of the semester to creative writing in Indonesian. Once confidence is gained, students will write in English. The current practice is to forcibly develop proficieny with the focus on grammar and composition theories. This has created generations of intellectuals with minimal, if not zero, commitment to publication.

The incessant campaign by the Directorate General of Higher Education on international publications in English falls short of fundamental competence, namely adequate proficiency in Indonesian. I would urge novice writers to publish in Indonesian first and then gradually in English.

This has a double function: to promote Indonesian as a language of science and technology and at the same time to develop maximum competence and confidence prior to writing in English.

Viewed from critical perspectives, academic writing is ideological (Canagarajah: 2002), being more than grammar and composition theories, which are treated as abstract, value-free features of textual form. Academic writing is aimed at a specific audience, and it is a representation of reality, an embodiment of values shared by the academic community.

I am not saying that grammar is less important than content. I simply believe that grammar alone is not sufficient.

The writer is a professor of education at the Indonesia University of Education (UPI), Bandung