School curriculum change and common sense

Tony Crocker, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, July 27 2013, 12:17 PM

Negative political reaction to any government initiative, regrettably including education (The Jakarta Post, July 22), can only be expected in the run up to a general election. Given the poor communication skills apparently displayed by the education minister and the ministry spokespersons, the equally negative comment from academics and representatives of teacher associations are equally understandable.

So far, the most perceptive article on curriculum change in selected schools has been the editorial in the Post for July 19. This identified the motivation behind the rapid introduction of change as an essentially political reaction to inter-school brawling. Although it could have gone further and identified the subsequent diversion of ministry staff time from recurrent duties to making a reality of the sudden announcement of change as being the probable reason behind many of the problems with delivery of this year’s final exam (UN) for senior high school (SMA).

Interestingly, both the articles by academics and statements from teacher associations frequently appear to confuse the roles and responsibilities of the various players in this activity. Minister and ministry are often used interchangeably, although the ministry is only responsible and accountable for implementation of policy, not its formulation. In this respect, the ministry has actually performed well this year in that the senior individual civil servant held responsible for the problems with the UN promptly resigned.

Although the minister is responsible and accountable for both policy and the performance of the ministry under his or her management, there is another group of people who play a major role in policy formulation, but who are rarely identified and never held accountable.

These are the special advisers attached to many ministerial offices, including education, whose role is to assist the minister with professional and technical aspects of the minister’s work.

One possible reason why this group escapes the censure of academics, who are only too willing to blame “bureaucrats”, is that these advisers are themselves predominantly academics. In a field such as education, the use of academics alone in policy formulation runs two major risks.

First, the work cultures of university and school are very different. Higher education focuses on developing and communicating knowledge about a subject. Its stock-in-trade is ideas, innovation and personal reputation. Schools focus on the best way to help children and adolescents realize their potential to become fulfilled and productive adult members of society.

The teacher’s main role is to help children. The practicing academic, with no requirement for example, to spend sabbatical time back in the school room, may easily forget the day-to-day reality of helping children learn in a village primary school in a remote district.

Second, in higher education the students themselves are primarily responsible for their achievement. This is quite different from activities where achieving change requires demonstrable, practical results. It is unlikely that any trainer in for example, the aviation industry or the military, where training success and achievement of standards are essential, would be content to limit training to a five day course with a heavy information load.

That is, the “training” model predominantly employed in preparing for behavioral change in education is most frequently an academic model of talking about objectives rather than ensuring their achievement through extensive practice.

Most of the articles on curriculum change recently published in the Post amply illustrate this lack of practicality. As articulate as they may be on educational theories, they are invariably full of jargon, references to authors and publications unlikely to be familiar to a general reading public, and confine themselves almost exclusively to discussion of concepts, with hardly ever a mention of children.

They, thus, appear to be more a continuation of academic debate in the public sphere than a genuine contribution to ensuring equitable access to effective education for all children throughout Indonesia.

Few of these articles mention for example, the fact that virtually all the concepts and practices required by the curriculum change have actually been legislated requirements for teachers for over five years through ministerial regulations concerning teacher competencies and “standard processes” in school.

Nor do they point to the simple fact that the attitudinal development of children in school depends as much if not more on their daily experience than on any subject matter they may encounter.

That is, the dominant classroom activity, whether they are encouraged to cooperate or compete, if they are helped to question rather than just accept, and the role models they see around them both in school and in the wider community, are likely to play a greater role in developing attitude than any amount of instruction.

If the articles by academics are largely theoretical, it is difficult to say what the comments by representatives of teacher associations are, besides oppositional. They are certainly neither constructive nor practical.

Whereas it is only right for these associations to protect and promote the interests of their members, they never mention that for example, since the reorganization of the then National Ministry for Education in 2010/2011, the largest of these associations PGRI, provides the senior ministry official responsible for teacher development, that they thus have a permanent voice on how changes are introduced to teachers and have their own major activities sourced from ministry, that is public, funds.

Typical of these comments are those reported immediately after the start of the new school year (the Post, July 16), “[…] five-day training was not adequate for teachers to change their mind set from conservative to interactive and creative methods” (secretary-general of FSGI).

What these representatives – of some three million teachers – do not say is why they have not equipped their members with the necessary competencies and skills over the past five years.

If these professional associations have not apprised their members of the meaning of receiving a “professional allowance” which doubles income, they can hardly complain about the ministry’s efforts within the resources available to implement a demanding timetable within an unrealistic timescale. If they had carried out their role, then a five day familiarization with any new teaching material might possibly have been sufficient.

Significantly, none of this public debate includes comment from the group most directly affected by the curriculum change, the students themselves. However, one report does stand out, “[…] a teacher at elementary school [SD] said that after she attended the training, she began to understand that the new curriculum would encourage the students to use their reasoning in following lessons as it would increase their curiosity about the subjects” (the
Post, July 16).

Amongst all the political and academic posturing, this simple statement about beginning to learn and student motivation is a bright point which must reassure us that ultimately our children’s future is in the right hands — those of teachers who care whether the children in their charge really want to learn.

The writer is currently assisting the Ministry for Education and Culture develop a system for the appraisal and development of performance for teachers in basic education.

Curriculum for adding meaning

A. Chaedar Alwasilah, Bandung | Opinion | Sat, January 19 2013, 10:58 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 7

When anything goes wrong in society, people promptly point the finger to education. Recurring social problems such as student clashes, interethnic or interfaith conflicts, corruption and moral decadence are assumed to be indicative of failure in the education system.

Recently, some people, including government officials, enthusiastically proposed that anticorruption, character building, sustainable development, scouting, traditional martial arts, and even soccer should be included as school subjects. In brief, people want to put anything valuable into the curriculum.

Granted, those additional subjects would have made the curriculum inflated and unmanageable. Parents complain that their kids are burdened by the number of school subjects and extended learning time. This brings us to the issue of school subjects versus education aims. Confusion begins when people mix them up.

Education in general is aimed at making man more human, enabling him/her to understand human nature and the universe. Without a proper education, people become meaningless and they are bound to fail in life.

As meaning is abstract and infinite and learning time and space are limited, the curriculum should be structured cost-effectively. Therefore, education should be conducted on the basis of knowledge about human nature, its actuality, potential and possibility within a particular culture.

Philip H. Phenix in his book Realms of Meaning identifies six classes of meaning, indicating general kinds of understanding a person should have as a member of a civilized community. They are symbolic, empiric, esthetic, synnoetic, ethical and synoptic meaning. People should challenge the curriculum when it fails to inculcate the meaning. The meaning, not the subject, matters.

Students develop meaning through school subjects or disciplines. Meaning is more or less fixed while school subjects are not always clearly assignable to a single class of meaning. Literary works, for example, can be used to teach multiple meanings — be it symbolic, empiric or esthetic meaning.

Classification of meaning is important for facilitating student learning and for allocating school subjects. Practically speaking, meaning delivery is in the hand of teachers. The six categories of meaning are elaborated as follows.

Students are taught empiric meaning through language and mathematics to enable them to use symbols meaningfully in communication. Literacy and numeracy are basic for human life. Therefore, language and mathematics, along with science, constitute core subjects in schools across the globe.

Students are taught empiric meaning through the scientific enterprise, i.e. physical sciences, life sciences and social sciences to discover truth. While symbolics is based on form, empiric is based on observable facts. The teaching of sciences is to enable students to discover truth.

At lower elementary levels, where play-based teaching is appropriate, there is no necessity to separate natural science (IPA) from social studies (IPS), as both are assignable to teach empiric meaning. The Education and Culture Ministry, commencing this year, is now redefining both subjects. From a pedagogical point of view, the focus should be on inculcating the empirical meaning rather than school subjects.

Students are taught esthetics through music, visual arts, the arts of movement, literature, etc., to enable them to grasp esthetic meaning in life. Esthetics sharpens student feeling and sensitivity. The focus of teaching music is not to train students to be musicians but to develop musical sensitivity. The very end of teaching art is appreciation, not description of it.

Synnoetic meaning is simply tacit knowledge as opposed to explicit knowledge. Different from symbolic meaning, which is abstract, synnoetic meaning, is personal meaning based on experience. Through literature, psychology and religion, teachers develop in students an existential meaning of their own life.

Ethical meaning provides students with informed decisions to do things. It arises out of disinterested perception, while esthetic meaning arises from subjective perception. Students may have active personal commitment to a particular type of dancing at the cost of ethical meaning. In ethics, activities are done for purposes of public participation, as the public tends to share intersubjectivity on what is right or wrong.

Through religious education, citizenship (PPKN) and Pancasila, teachers instill moral teaching on students. The outcome is not explicit student knowledge on the subject but rather putting moral values into practice. Physical education can also be used for teaching moral values such as fairness, sportsmanship, team work and a respect for rules.

Synoptics, or synopsis of meaning, suggests an integrative function of all meanings elaborated above. History and religion are the major school subjects that promote synoptic meaning. Teaching history is not to memorize past events but to make sense of them in an integrated way. In the end, learning history is to improve the present and future.

We have elaborated on the aim of general education — to provide students with six realms of meaning to make sense of themselves and the universe — however, we cannot put everything praiseworthy and desirable into the curriculum.

The six meanings can be inculcated through multiple school subjects. Obviously elementary, secondary and tertiary students need different levels of understanding of the meaning. The curriculum should be
designed accordingly.

Which subjects propagate what meaning and at what level of education are vital curricular decisions to make. What matters most is the teacher who controls the class to inculcate the meanings.

The writer is a professor at the Indonesian Educational University (UPI) Bandung.

Teacher, not curriculum, matters

A. Chaedar Alwasilah, Bandung | Opinion | Sat, January 05 2013, 8:04 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 6

The imminent introduction of a new curriculum in 2013 will not provide any guarantees for resolving the current problems in education in the nation. A new curriculum is always a good notion. However, drawbacks invariably stem from implementation. Thus, what is urgent is not to change the curriculum, but to implement it.

Curriculum implementation means simply putting into effect the curriculum as intended, including a system to appraise its effectiveness. An appraisal process provides feedback for the development process, where the data is utilized for curriculum improvement. The educational curriculum needs continuous improvement, not continuous change.

Curriculum improvement is not necessarily sequential; oftentimes it occurs in parallel as well as in tandem. It is usually begun in a certain area of the curriculum on a trial-and-error basis as an alternative to present practices. Evaluative data is useful for seeing the curriculum in action and is valuable for improving it.

The 2013 curriculum, as Education and Culture Minister Mohammad Nuh has said, is an improvement over the 2004 and 2006 curriculums, which have been said to be competence-based and school-based respectively. Meanwhile, teachers are still learning how to put into action the 2006 curriculum.

Regrettably, most teachers and the public in general are not informed about what essentially went wrong with the 2006 curriculum. The government should have publicized the evaluative data to identify which aspects of the curriculum were problematic. Such data would have made the curriculum change more sensible.

Organizations such as teacher professional development networks (MGMP) should produce best practices that enrich not only the immediate community, but the profession as a whole. MGMP-based programs seem to be more context-specific, teacher-generated, and immediate-needs-driven.

It is a disservice to the MGMP community when we fail to probe the effectiveness of MGMP-established programs and overlook their results. Such a mechanism utilizes the continuous professional development (CPD) of teachers.

Curriculum improvement, rather than curriculum change, is focused on certain problematic aspects. Thus, curriculum improvement is more economic and problem-based. To repeat, what is essential for teachers is CPD, namely a career-long process in which teachers fine-tune their teaching to meet student needs. The major benefactor of CPD is the student. CPD directly tackles teachers’ teaching styles — the patterns of decisions to optimize student learning.

Considering the huge number of teachers, the obstacle of CPD is the inaccessibility of professional development opportunities. Professional development opportunities seldom reach teachers in need. Only around 1 million out of 2.9 million teachers have currently been certified.

However, a recent study by the World Bank on the impact of teacher certifications revealed that certification has improved teacher living standards but failed to upgrade teaching performance. They have failed to motivate students to learn. Obviously it is the teacher that matters most, not the curriculum.

Any of the following could explain why the current government-initiated PLPGs (mandatory teacher professional development programs) have failed to upgrade teacher professionalism.

First, not all teachers are talented and devoted individuals who have a commitment to teaching. The recruitment undertaken by teacher training institutions fails to differentiate teaching-talented prospective teachers from non-talented ones.

Second, teachers differ from one another in terms of their theoretical and professional knowledge and the stages they are at in their careers. At present there are 10 state teacher training universities and dozens of public and private FKIPs (teacher training colleges). All these teacher training institutions vary in terms of resources, and this could explain the disparity in quality of their graduates.

Third, the professional program is not necessarily tailored to teacher needs and motivations, so they do not develop ownership of it. Some teachers do not have good mastery of content knowledge, general pedagogical knowledge or contextual knowledge. Thus the content should be tailored accordingly.

Fourth, some teachers regard professional development simply as an administrative duty, rather than as a career-long endeavor. Once the program is completed, teachers go back to their old way of teaching. True CPD is aimed at determining the factors that contribute to the success of all students and teachers.

Fifth, the professional development program is detached from the entire school culture and climate. The CPD program will have an effect on student learning if it involves knowledge about teaching and learning in the school involved. The success of a CPD program is not measured by the completion of individual factors in the programs.

The effect of CPD program is pervasive through an examination of how factors and stakeholders interact with one another. Professional development should be embedded in their daily schedule. In short, CPD should be schools-based.

To be effective, the professional development should be developed by fulfilling the criteria suggested by Díaz-Maggioli in his book Teacher-centered Professional Development (2004) as follows: (1)collaborative decision-making, (2) a growth-driven approach, (3) collective construction of programs, (4) inquiry-based ideas, (5) tailor-made techniques, (6) varied and timely delivery methods, (7) adequate support systems, (8) context-specific programs, (9) proactive assessment, and (10) adult-centered instruction.

The enactment of a new curriculum has always been greeted with doubt and cynicism. It is the teachers who will be held liable when it fails to function as expected. It is time to change the paradigm from government-initiated and top-down curriculum change to the teacher-centered and school-based continuous professional development as a part of curriculum improvement, rather than curriculum change.

The writer is a professor at the Indonesian Educational University (UPI) in Bandung.