To regain greatness, fix education

Yan Mulyana, Tokyo | Opinion | Wed, March 26 2014, 10:42 AM

When I first arrived in Sydney an Australian colleague asked me: “Will Indonesia invade Australia?”
I was unsure how much that friend knew about Indonesia or whether he liked nasi goreng, which was popularized on a TV advertisement.

Perhaps Australians are familiar with the word goreng as they often see it on the noodle shelf when shopping. Many young Aussies are now able to pronounce many Indonesian phrases, and even former prime minister Julia Gillard said Indonesian was one of the main languages that Australians were encouraged to learn, equally important to the more widely spoken Mandarin.

At least in Queensland’s suburb of Tanah Merah where some streets are named in Indonesian or Malay, the familiarity of the language could develop curiosity, interactions and even cultural penetration.

Among the early signs of the penetration of Indonesian culture to the outside world is the growing popularity of its television dramas in Malaysia. More Malaysians seem to be familiar with Indonesian bahasa gaul (slang) than there are Indonesians who can imitate Malaysian slang.

We might be more astonished by how the composers Claude Debussy and Erik Satie were amazed by the magical sound of gamelan, or how director Gareth Evans and actor Iko Uwais recently gained worldwide fame with The Raid, promoting traditional silat martial art to the world.

Nasi goreng, sinetron, gamelan and silat are well-known words, but what about Indonesians themselves? Or are we too skeptical?

First, we have to criticize the way we perceive history. Each sequence of events in history is always connected not only by time and space but also by the subject of history itself. Thus, history should be valued as who we were, who we are and who we will be.

It is a huge mistake to claim that Indonesia started in 1945. The ”who-we-were” of the Indonesians began thousands of years ago. When Stephen Oppenheimer, famed writer of Eden in the East, came up with the idea of “out of Sundaland”, supposed to replace the old “out of Taiwan” model, he was not joking.

The geological, genetic and socio-cultural evidence strongly suggests that this archipelago was once a huge land mass called Sundaland, inhabited by a highly cultured and civilized people who established the cradle of human civilization, before spreading to all parts of the world due to the inundation of the land and starting new civilizations including the Indus Valley, the Mesopotamian and ancient Egypt.

While this theory is still embryonic, what we know now is that Indonesia represents the major area of Sundaland and we are supposed to inherit much of its wealth. We have inherited the greatness of Borobudur and Prambanan Temple and traditional cultures but the rise and decline of civilizations produces one central value passed from one generation to another, namely “the expansive character”.

We find this value embedded in the people of all the four big islands of Indonesia. It was the people of South Kalimantan who made their thousand-mile voyage and settled in Madagascar; the Makassar people from South Sulawesi travelled to the top end of Australia and interacted with the Aborigines; the Javanese Majapahit and the Sumatran Sriwijaya once conquered Southeast Asia.

All humans acquire knowledge but only people capable of influencing others, such as a society with an expansive character, will eventually construct a civilization. This is really the “who-we-are” of this nation, passed to us from our ancestors. It may have been dormant but we cannot afford to say we have lost it.

If we have to judge the process of becoming modern since independence or perhaps since 1928, when youth activists from various areas declared the “Youth Pledge”, surely we should have found a good model for our government system. But reality speaks otherwise.

Where the expansive character in a society is not dormant, people will have strong character with courage and confidence; and the key to it is good education. Sadly, Indonesia’s quality of education has a very low international competitiveness. The most fundamental issue in reforming the education policy is the education of character.

When Indonesian students are tested in the English language, the first and main hassle is always the writing, then the speaking, although most perform better in the reading.

How much have we been educated to systematically write even in Indonesian? While writing and public speaking skills are the most fundamental requirement for successful communication, in a society where the capability is in deficit, people tend to have a weak character and consequently have little impact on others.

Whoever leads Indonesia after the coming election must work hard on the policy and implementation of character education at the primary and secondary level. The new education system will have to emphasize encouraging these students to express ideas through a critical and systematic way of thinking and writing, group discussion, public speaking and constructive debating, leading to high quality students entering university, which will eventually improve the quality of tertiary education.

There has to be a massive and communal effort to bring back the expansive character and to anticipate the country’s “who-we-will-be” question in the new generation.

It has to start from scratch but if confidence meets courage, it’s a bang. The famed Russell Crowe was once a little suburban boy of Sydney who dreamed big, as he conveyed when winning the Oscar for his role in Gladiator: “And for anybody who’s on the down side of advantage and relying purely on courage, it’s possible.”

The writer is an Indonesianist living in Melbourne, Australia and a fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science at the Institute of Industrial Science, the University of Tokyo, Japan.

Making Indonesia a study destination

Said Irandoust and Yennah Mulia, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, February 08 2014, 11:17 AM

The world is increasingly becoming a global village. In addition to trade in goods and services, human resources, relationships, networking and ideas are flowing more freely around the globe. International education is a key catalyst that both contributes to and benefits from this trend.
Major drivers of the demand for overseas education is a shortage of high-quality study programs domestically, the comparative advantage and also the pressure to have an overseas qualification and status or “label” when competing for attractive jobs. Another key to this growth in internationalization is the competition amongst universities for the most talented students and research staff. Major research institutions are like top sport clubs, operating internationally, judged by international comparisons and competing to recruit the best individuals from around the globe.

International students contribute immensely to the quality of higher education of the host country. By studying with students from diverse backgrounds, domestic students can not only learn about other cultures and languages, but also about tolerance and multicultural teamwork as well as the networking. These lessons are just as important as any learned in class and invaluable in the global job market. International students also bring in annual value and direct economic benefits to the economy of the host country.

International students also bring diverse skills and an international dimension to the labor force of the host country which has proven to increase productivity. Another benefit of hosting international students is the cost-effective export of the culture of host country to the countries from where international students originate.

International education is also a strategic investment in global relationships and development of relations with future business leaders in expanding global economies from where international students can be recruited.

The culture of the international student market has changed with western universities no longer able to depend on their pivotal positions. Now this multibillion dollar business is more like international air travels, with the trade routes in every direction. Countries such as Malaysia and the Gulf States are becoming a serious destination for many international students from South Asia, Middle East, Africa and beyond.

The expanding Indonesian economy should also draw international students to Indonesia. Bringing more international students into the republic could be a part of Indonesia’s drive to internationalize its higher education sector and become a “knowledge power” in ASEAN and beyond. This dream can be realized with long-term strategies from the side of the government and the higher education sector.

Indonesia with one of world’s largest cultural- and biodiversity, and growing economy, is now focusing on its foreign direct investments (FDI). Internationalized higher education and research will further increase the attractiveness for various FDI.

For all these to become a reality, we have the following recommendations the government needs consistent and supportive policies and actions to support internationalization of the higher education sector.

Further, we need to create a globally-oriented education system by developing, both at government level and also at universities, a new international education strategy including strategies for attracting international students. The universities should articulate their international vision as part of their wider mission.

Let’s put quality at the heart of Indonesia’s academic offerings and invest in Indonesia’s higher education quality towards international standards.

Further, we need incentives for universities to accredit their study programs taking into account internationally recognized qualifications.

Another step is to open up and allow for new world-class branch campuses of reputed foreign institutions in Indonesia, to catalyze internationalization of higher education here. Increasing active participation in international education development initiatives and encouraging and facilitating universities to establish cooperation with reputable institutions overseas.

Provide the competitive compensation for university staff to enable universities in recruiting and retaining top qualified people to run and operate universities with high international standard.

Strengthen Indonesian networks of influence by a more strategic approach to develop and maintain relationships with the Indonesia-educated diaspora and the Indonesian diaspora abroad. Recognition of dual citizenship for foreign nationals of Indonesian descent is a positive step in this regard.

Develop programs for better integration of non-Indonesian students into all activities of the universities and include courses and activities in the curriculum of study programs to highlight the rich culture of Indonesia to all students

Target specific categories of international students who are likely to become the next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs and decision makers from emerging economies.

Put in place new visa, immigration and work policies for international students and international university staff. Make it easier for international students and international university staff to live and work in Indonesia.

Encourage outward mobility by Indonesian staff members and students which will enhance the intercultural skills and international expertise of both staff members and students of Indonesian educational institutions.

Said Irandoust is Professor and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Indonesia International Institute for Life Sciences (i3L), Jakarta. Yennah Mulia is the CEO of i3L and IPMI International Business school, Jakarta

How can ‘pesantren’ contribute to national education

Salahuddin Wahid, Jombang, East Java | Opinion | Fri, January 24 2014, 9:06 AM

History shows that pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) have made a great contribution to the independence of this country; most have also played a significant role in making Indonesian Muslims moderate and tolerant. However, the condition of pesantren, especially in rural areas, is deplorable. Most have been left behind in comparison to other educational institutions in urban areas. One reason is the lack of attention from the government on the development of pesantren.

Thus, the government needs to create an affirmative program to help the schools develop, and to support their surrounding communities to face the influence of globalization. Only about 7 percent of students from rural areas continue their studies to a university level; most cannot study in major cities due to the high living costs.

The affirmative program should include affordable non-religious studies for people in rural areas. Such programs would have a multiplier effect, which would improve their competitiveness. Importantly, these programs would reduce urbanization as well as reducing the gap between urban and rural areas; and they are plausibly a good method of de-radicalization.

Not many understand that the oldest and earliest education in the Indonesian archipelago was Islamic education, particularly in pesantren. Islamic education started in the ninth century in Barus, on the western coast of Sumatra, when many foreigners including Islamic scholars arrived there. Foreigners were particularly attracted to the camphor trees in the area, as their sap can be used to produce kapur barus (camphor).

Historical records suggest that the zenith of Islam in the archipelago occurred from 1400 to 1680. Modern Malay civilization developed the use of Arabic script for writing instead of the Latin alphabet; this became known as the Jawi script. Well-known scholars during this time included Hamzah Fansuri, Syamsuddin Sumatrani, Nuruddin al-Raniri and Abdurrauf al-Singkili.

Anthony Johns considered the Malay people’s conversion into Muslims as a remarkable historical development. Firstly, it happened during the setback of the Islamic imperium in the Middle East. Secondly, the process was relatively rapid, in the absence of political support from any military power. Thirdly, the number of people converting from Hinduism to Islam was more than 89 percent of the population. Indisputably, the key to this phenomenon was the existence of pesantren.

The Walisongo (nine Javanese Islamic saints) were the early figures who spread Islam in the future Indonesia. One of the Walisongo, Maulana Malik Ibrahim, who died in 1419, is known as the grand master of the pesantren tradition. Meanwhile, Java’s oldest pesantren is Tegalsari in Ponorogo, East Java, which was established 300 years ago by Hasan Besari. Ronggowarsito, a great Javanese poet, was one of his students.

Several old pesantren that are still in operation today include: the Sidogiri in Pasuruan, East Java, which was first established in 1745; the Jamsaren in Surakarta, Central Java, established 1750; Miftahul Huda in Malang, East Java, established 1768; the Buntet in Cirebon, established 1785; Darul Ulum in Pamekasan, Madura, East Java, established 1787; and Langitan in Tuban, East Java, established 1830.

Several pesantren which are now well-known were actually established at later times, such as the Tebuireng in Jombang, East Java (established in 1899), Lirboyo in Kediri (established in 1910) and Gontor in Ponorogo, East Java (established in 1926).

In the Minangkabau highlands in West Sumatra, a similar institution to the pesantren exists, called the surau, as does the dayah in Aceh.

Secular educational institutions were established by the Dutch East Indies in the early 1840s at the suggestion of Snouck Hurgronje. The main purpose was to attain more educated employees for the Dutch administration and private companies. However, the development of the secular educational institutions was also believed to challenge the influence of pesantren which had begun to irritate the colonial government.

According to Hurgronje, the culture of the East Indies had to be combined with European culture. The Dutch education system was thus expanded, making many more Indonesians eligible to attend. This education policy, later part of the “ethical policy” toward colonial subjects, was deemed the best political decision to reduce and eventually defeat the influence of Islam in the Dutch East Indies.

In 1919, the Bandung School of Technology was set up, followed by the School of Law in 1924 and the School of Medicine in 1926, the latter two both in Jakarta. Interestingly, even though many students received a western education, they did not lose their identities.

A number of them gathered in Jakarta in October 1928 to hold the second youth congress, which then resulted in Sumpah Pemuda (The Youth Pledge). That moment surely formed the embryo of Indonesian independence. To achieve this vision, the future years saw cooperation and understanding between our founding fathers, who graduated from pesantren and western style education.

In 1950, the religious affairs minister of the time, Wahid Hasyim, and the education minister, Bahder Johan, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to combine Islamic and secular education. Furthermore, the pesantren also contributed to the establishment of the Islamic Indonesian University (UII) as the first private university in Indonesia. The proponents of Islamic higher education further enabled many pesantren alumni to continue their studies in any discipline they chose.

Nowadays, there are some 28,000 pesantren across Indonesia, mostly in East Java. In 1971 there were 4,200 such schools while, in 1998, the figure rose to 8,000, and rose again to 22,000 by 2008. The increasing number of schools shows the public’s appreciation as many citizens choose to send their children to pesantren — which have continued their tradition, over hundreds of years, of educating our society.

The writer is the director of Tebuireng Pesantren, Jombang, East Java