New but old trend in education

Asnan Furinto, Jakarta | Opinion | Mon, August 03 2015, 6:16 AM

Nowadays, our lives are practically dependent on the ubiquity of Information Communications Technology (ICT). The dependence on ICT is so huge so that some people become more frantic if they leave their smartphones at home than if they forget to bring their wallets.

Data from the Communications and Information Ministry shows that Internet users in Indonesia increased from 74 million people in 2013 to 111 million in 2014. In 2015, the ministry is aiming for 50 percent of the total population, i.e. about 125 million people, having access to the Internet.

In Indonesia, Internet penetration has been mainly used for accessing social media. Market research firm eMarketer recently released a report about Facebook (FB) users around the world. Indonesia ranked third among countries with the highest number of Facebook users, below the US and India.

However, Indonesia has the highest numbers of FB users who access the site via cell phones, reaching 88.1 percent in 2014 and set to rise to 92.4 percent this year.

User access to other social media such as Twitter, Instagram and Path are predicted to show similar patterns.

The proliferations of the Internet and social media unfortunately has not extended to the education sector. ICT has not become a backbone of improving the country’s competitiveness through education.

The World Economic Forum ranks Indonesia 77th out of 144 countries in terms of technological readiness, behind Malaysia and Thailand.

The Culture and Elementary and Secondary Ministry recorded that only about 50 percent of the 234,919 primary and secondary schools in Indonesia had access to the Internet in mid 2014.

Schools in eastern parts of Indonesia were those with the biggest lack of ICT infrastructure. Whether the 50 percent of more fortunate schools with Internet access already utilize ICT effectively in the classroom is the main question here.

Advancement of ICT should ideally be able to revolutionalize education. Technology brings new sources of learning beyond teachers. In addition to the existence of teachers, the divide between students and subjects is further narrowed by the availability of educational content through ICT.

A revolution in education is also possible through ICT, as students can learn at the appropriate speed according to their capacity. Interactive digital content allows students to pick particular topics that they want to explore more. In a nutshell, there is a democratization of the learning process.

It is still a long road to revolutionize education in Indonesia through ICT. In addition to building technology infrastructure across the country’s islands, ICT literacy for teachers, parents and students is also of importance. ICT hardware and software installation in schools is relatively straightforward, but if the prevailing educational philosophy still resembles that of the old paradigm, we are constrained from reaping the full benefits of ICT inclusion in education.

An example is the respective methods of teaching math and English (the mastery of these two subjects is often used as a proxy in determining the level of future competitiveness).

Today, many elementary and secondary schools in Indonesia still teach math with the old paradigm. Students are still requested to memorize complex mathematical formulas and to perform lengthy, time-consuming manual calculations.

These schools still use the same philosophy to teach math that was used when computers and the Internet had yet to be invented.

With the ubiquity of computers and ICT, students can actually be exposed to answering more practical life questions, such as “how many people live in my town today and what will the number be 20 years from now?” or “what are the ideal lengths of roads in my town so that the average speed of vehicles does not fall below 20 kilometers per hour?”

Students are then encouraged to develop their own mathematical models and assumptions based on the parameters required to solve the model (mortality, fertility, migration, number of vehicles sold, etc.) and they are free to choose the available ICT applications to compute the answer, just like they would outside the classroom to tackle their everyday problems. They can work individually, in groups, persuade one another with logical arguments and send group findings to the teacher as the judge.

As for English, ICT should not only be used to download traditional materials, text-based approaches, and to memorize tenses and grammar. It should also be used to download listening-based materials and approaches, to engage students with dynamic activities that adjust to individual performance and preferences.

ICT should enable a variety of learning strategies, including voice recording and playback, speech recognition and sentence construction exercises.

The focus on oral skills develops the fast processing and pattern recognition skills necessary for fluency and more efficient reading and writing.

Language learning, like learning to play a musical instrument, requires practice. ICT facilitates the necessary practice to achieve fluency. The competence of teachers is therefore critical to the mission. Of the total of about 3 million teachers in Indonesia, there are only about 10,000 who have received ICT training. The importance of capacity building to upgrade ICT literacy of teachers cannot be overemphasized.

The way forward is to integrate ICT seamlessly into the curriculum, instead of viewing it as an add-on, or worse, as an ad hoc event. As Jennifer Fleming put it, teaching in the Internet age means that we must teach tomorrow’s skills today.

The writer is head of strategy and growth studies for the Doctoral Program in Management at Bina Nusantara University, Jakarta. He obtained his doctoral degree in management from the University of Indonesia.

The way forward is to integrate ICT seamlessly into the curriculum, instead of viewing it as an add-on, or worse, as an ad hoc event. As Jennifer Fleming put it, teaching in the Internet age means that we must teach tomorrow’s skills today.

The writer is head of strategy and growth studies for the Doctoral Program in Management at Bina Nusantara University, Jakarta. He obtained his doctoral degree in management from the University of Indonesia.

Character building through free reading the right step to take

Setiono Sugiharto, Jakarta | Opinion | Sun, August 02 2015, 6:01 AM

Starting this 2015 academic year, schools nationwide will oblige their students to spend at least 15 minutes prior to the start of class participating in a free-reading activity, as stipulated in Ministerial Regulation No. 23/2015 issued by the Culture and Elementary and Secondary Education Ministry. Though long overdue, the move needs to be applauded.

Culture and Elementary and Secondary Minister Anis Baswedan has initiated the in-class free reading program on the grounds that such an activity can help instill positive traits in school children. In other words, free reading is believed to be beneficial for students’ character development.

While 15 minutes is considered insufficient for exhorting students to choose books they are fond of and then to read them, Anis’ stupendous move to instill positive traits in students through free reading has scientific justification.

Free reading, or what American educator Stephen Krashen calls “Free voluntary reading or recreational reading,” indeed offer huge benefits not only to children’s cognitive development but also to their character development.

Research findings have hitherto accumulated (well documented in Krashen’s book, Free Voluntary Reading), espousing the merits of free reading over instructed reading such as obligatory school textbook reading. Children develop language skills faster when they are encouraged to initially do “light reading” such as folk tales, magazines, comics, simplified novels and story books.

Good reading material should not always be associated with “quality” reading like school textbooks or academic-oriented books.

Free reading in the form of illustrated light reading material has been proven to stimulate children’s imagination and creativity, making them inquisitive and critical, thereby encouraging them to read advanced reading material. Unlike in-school instructed reading, which most students are averse to, free reading allows children to explore and shape their own world. This may include reading accountability like book reports.

More important, free reading contributes to the shaping of positive characters. For example, folktales or biographies can influence children to behave in a positive way.

Likewise, free reading provides the opportunity for students to align what is printed in books with what they witness and experience in their vicinity, thus making them not only cognitively and linguistically mature but also socially sensitive. In this respect, reading becomes an important ecological resource that can connect their cognition with the outside world.

Anis’ newly issued policy, however, is not without its problems. For schools in big cities, imposing the 15-minute free reading activity is without question viable, but for schools in remote, poverty stricken regions that will not always be feasible.

The major stumbling block facing the latter schools is that books are scarce, as the numbers of libraries in those schools are very limited. This certainly results in a lack of access to books, which in turn discourages students from becoming voracious readers.

Meanwhile, for children growing up in poverty, the 15-minute free-reading program is a sheer delusion.

To encourage students to read more, they need to be given access to books. It is evident that easy access to books help stimulate students to develop a reading habit. On the contrary, a lack of book displays in schools seriously hampers students’ effort to read, either voluntarily or for their own pleasure.

It is therefore clear that the free-reading policy needs to be simultaneously supplemented with a program that requires all schools (state-owned and private) to have a school library, so as to ensure that the policy can be equally implemented in all schools nationwide.
The writer is an associate professor of English at the School of Education and Language, Atma Jaya Catholic
University, Jakarta.

Give teachers space under uniform education policy

Setiono Sugiharto, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, May 02 2015, 9:46 AM

Many education practitioners are familiar with Ki Hadjar Dewantara’s educational vision, Ing ngarso sung tuladha, ing madya mangun karsa, tut wuri handayani (provide a model, create a goal and provide constructive support), but not many are aware of his five basic tenets of education known as the Pancadharma (five merits): nature, freedom, culture, nationhood and humanity.

These five merits were introduced by Dewantara, known as a pioneer in education in colonial times, whose birthday of May 2 is commemorated as National Education Day.

It is the merits of freedom and humanity that teachers are still painstakingly struggling to achieve. The strict imposition of an overarching educational policy in a top-down fashion compels teachers to implement the political mandates prescribed in a formal educational directive like curricula.

The top-down policy, made by well-intentioned, but often ill-prepared persons, forces reality to conform to it, rather than the other way round.

This clearly closes off the opportunity for teachers to negotiate what they believe to be congruent with the everyday realities they engage in.

On the face of it, teachers are treated as a sheer implementer of the policy and a passive recipient of it. Their critical voices are often silenced; their teaching intuition and experiences are demoted as scientific gibberish.

They instead must one-sidedly bow to what has been verified as something that has been scientifically proven.

The long-standing pursuit for an educational macro policy like the national curricula for schools nation-wide has reduced the significance of the Pancadharma as envisioned by Dewantara.

The notion of national education has been reduced to an activity that ambitiously seeks a fixed and immutable Procrustean standard, as if this standard is viable to all educational contexts.

We need to realize that what has been formally pre-determined and planned via pronouncements such as legislation, policy statements and educational directives may be at loggerheads with the realities teachers are facing. So to speak, what’s then in a curriculum?

The merit of freedom in the Pancadharma presupposes policy as engagements. That is, written documents like curricula and textbooks are no longer seen as sacrosanct and infallible. They are subject to interpretation and reinterpretation by virtue of teachers’ experiences and their engagements with realities.

As such, teachers have the right to exercise their agency as the ones who have the authority over the knowledge constructed in a very situated and local site (i.e. schools or classrooms).

To realize this, they need to be made conscious that educational directives manifested via curricula aren’t value-free, but are political products.

Educational policies have been used for the perpetuation of certain ideologies and cultural and religious values.

In this respect, they may represent what Pierre Bourdieu calls “symbolic violence”. For example, it is not uncommon to see many kinds of propaganda, coercion and political manifestos being infused (often surreptitiously) into the curricular products and school textbooks.

To be critical about the overt educational agendas (infused into curricula) that often favor certain classes, cultures, languages and religions at the expense of others, pedagogic activism is necessary.

This means teachers must be proactive in exercising their political rights to critically question and even to resist educational policies, should they not accord with the realities and should they do a great disservice to all related parties involved in educational activities.

As this effort happens in a specific site like a classroom, this is a form of a micro-strategy.

Thus policies as engagements encourage teachers to be pedagogically active in constructing and producing knowledge in their specific locality.

We can then offer teachers a space where they can critically reflect the merits and demerits of not only the policies imposed on them, but also those that are the products of their own creation.

The writer is an associate professor of English at the Faculty of Education and Language, Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta.