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