What actually matters, new curriculum or what?

Khairil Azhar, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, December 08 2012, 12:03 PM

Paper Edition | Page: 7

“I won’t be at school on Saturday,” said a 12th grader, “since my mom told me to prepare for a final exams try-out.”

“Aren’t we having such a great program ‘the Slovakia Day’ that the Slovak ambassador himself is visiting our school?”

“Yes, I know. But what can I do?”

The good female student wished to join her friends running the program, especially because she is an active and creative member of the students council. Besides, being a 12th grader, she realizes that involvement in the organizing of a big school event is a learning activity itself.

She was trapped in a dilemma. Her mother, trapped in the myth of national exams and a cognitive oriented paradigm in education, forced her to go to a Bimbel (non-school learning center). Her “real” school, where more actual and creative learning was facilitated, offered her something more fitting to her own choice.

Yet, what could she do? She is in an educational system where not many choices are available.

The Education and Culture Ministry has just disseminated a new curriculum which will be effective in the next academic year, 2013/2014. The subjects are fewer and the learning periods are longer.

There is, for instance, no English or science at primary level and the emphasis is now on moral or character-building education and basic academic skills.

We surely do hope that it is not just “the exchange of a macaque with a monkey”, as a Malay proverb says. There is a big hullabaloo but we have nothing new other than the noise itself.

Our educational history has frequently shown our preference for a panacea to cope with the problems. We are accustomed to referring to metaphysical reasons to understand problems instead of taking the reality itself as the ground.

What reliable and valid research does the ministry have, for instance, to support its argument for the new curriculum?

Meanwhile, in practice, the endorsement of new curriculum never means much. It just makes the school administrators and teacher busy for a while to adjust the costly administrative or procedural documents and then arrive at the same amnesia: Running a school and teaching are the same routines since the olden days.

Back to our story above, what matters in schooling is actually how the students can be better served with fruitful activities. “I hear I forget, I see I remember, I do I understand,” taught Confucius more than two millennia ago.

“Education” should be the processes of learning, through which students actively and creatively actualize themselves. Understanding is the problem of being able to do or make something instead of merely taking an exam.

Education succeeds best when the students are not objects, listeners or memorizers, but conversely when they are the subjects, actively finding knowledge through concrete experiences.

Sudents’ knowledge is built on the bricks of fun and creative activities. Learning is facilitated to enable students to construct what their senses perceive from the reality and at the same time use their imagination as the active medium to glue up the perceived concepts which in turn materialize into greater and fruitful knowledge constructs.

The academic knowledge of the students — different from what they acquire in the conventional learning based on textbooks or chalk-and-board — will be mainly obtained through self-endeavor. It is not only because of their being excited psychologically but also because of the atmosphere intentionally or unintentionally created.

As such, the less-motivated students — who are often improperly handled in the conventional educational system — will be encouraged to participate more actively.

With this conditioning, the students obtain both the width and the depth of academic skills compared to conventional learning. Quantity and quality of the explorations will multiply. Well-motivated students will search for sources and resources which previously were unthinkable and unusable.

In the psychomotor domain, a program like “Slovakia Day” helps students to materialize concepts, imagination and their abstract knowledge into a product. In building a castle miniature, for instance, they not only have to work out with their psychomotor organs but at the same time must apply what they learn from history, math or science in order to ensure the miniature represents its original being.

Affectively, the program enables the students to wisely function in organizing it. They learn to come up with initiatives as well as be responsible and solve problems in teamwork at various levels. This fact is different from what they learn conventionally, where abstract concepts of ethics are deductively introduced in a teacher-centered pattern if not through rote learning.

Such program encourages students into cross-cultural understanding, acceptance of the diversity of cultures, religions, or races. They must be able to present themselves as an entity with dignity, being proud and fully respected as a part of world society. Here, tolerance disseminates and civilized attitudes are fertilized.

So, what matters in our education is actually applicable initiatives and commitment to run them, not to repeated changes to the curriculum. Willing teachers and administrators are the main actors, whose mentality should be enlightened.

The writer is a teacher in Jakarta and researcher at Paramadina Foundation.

Curriculum revamps: More smoke, mirrors

Setiono Sugiharto, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, November 24 2012, 9:26 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 7

For most laymen and pundits alike, the Education and Culture Ministry’s policy to scrap both English and science from the national curriculum is quite mind-boggling. Under the initial pretext of a curricular load burdening students’ cognitive capacity, the ministry, albeit without clear logic, deleted these two subjects while maintaining Indonesian language, Pancasila state ideology, religion, math and civic education as compulsory subjects to be taught to students throughout their school years.

Despite the public’s outcry lambasting the obliteration of English and science, the education ministry has turned a deaf ear to this disapproval and has instead deliberated a new curriculum with the title, Kurikulum Perekat Kesatuan Bangsa (National Unity Curriculum), in a move to replace the currently implemented Kurikulum Tingkat Satuan Pendidikan (School-based Curriculum).

The shift to this new curriculum, as its name suggests, has been motivated primarily by our social milieu, which is often marred with such social ailments as street brawls, corruption, racial and religious clashes and moral denigration among youngsters.

The purpose of shifting the current curriculum to the new one is oriented toward social reconstruction. This orientation assumes that the behavior of those in society can be shaped, controlled and dictated through formal schooling. This helps explain why such core subjects as Pancasila, religion, and civic education remain intact in the
curriculum.

These subjects have long been believed to be able to instill a positive character among students.

Curriculum reform is indeed necessary, if not crucial, in order to serve as a binding force to help resolve problems in society.

While no one would deny the fact that any curriculum needs to be flexible in line with the dynamics of societal life, the exclusive reliance on one particular orientation at the expense of another will bring out what Eisner and Vallance (in their classic book Conflicting Conceptions of Curriculum, published in 1974) call “curriculum fallacies”.

Certainly, social reconstruction is a useful orientation to consider in any attempt to overhaul a curriculum, as the contents of the curriculum ought to be beneficial to its stakeholders, including society at large. That is, they are expected to reconstruct society for a common good.

To illustrate, through the exposure to religion, for example, students might be expected to refrain from cheating in exams and brawling, as these acts are considered not only forbidden and against religious norms, but sinful as well.

Yet, social reconstruction is purely a necessary, but not a sufficient condition of curriculum reform. A pedagogical orientation also needs to be spelled out, so that suitable methods of teaching, teaching-learning interactions, assessments and teaching materials can be projected beforehand.

For instance, how can civic education be effectively taught to students? How can we ensure that its teaching will yield a positive impact on the lives of students?

What kind of teaching materials will be used so teachers can optimally inculcate a positive character into their students? And finally, how will the cultivation of positive values through civic education be assessed?

Needless to say, under the new curriculum these reflective queries should be addressed from a completely different vantage point; simply replicating (I dare say it will happen) what has been addressed in the previous curriculum will only add more smoke and mirrors.

In addition, an orientation to educational politics needs to be considered. At the outset, we have to acknowledge that educational activities are always political and full of vested interests. They are not neutral and value-free. Likewise, decisions made to maintain certain school subjects and scrap others as part of curriculum reform are politically-loaded.

Looked at in this way, an orientation to educational politics is important because it could provide room for related stakeholders to question and challenge the maintained subjects in the new curriculum by virtue of their historical, political and social conditions.

As there seems to be a growing tendency among our educational practitioners to regard every new curriculum as an axiom and truism, consider that an orientation toward educational politics can avoid “curriculum fallacies”, resulting, according to Eisner and Vallance, from the ambition to one-sidedly judge a curriculum as right and universally applicable to all historical, political and social circumstances to which it relates.

The writer is an associate professor at the Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta.

Cutting a foreign tongue?

Setiono Sugiharto, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, October 20 2012, 11:37 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 6

The reasoning for the scrapping of English initially articulated by Deputy Education and Culture Minister for Education Musliar Kasim has brought out more cons than pros. As part of the curriculum revamp, the hasty decision to exclude English lessons — currently a mandatory subject in primary schools — has been vermently opposed by many, as evidenced in the readers’ forum of this newspaper (see Oct. 16 and 17 issues).

This strong reaction against the abolition of English in primary schools is quite understandable. English language teaching (ELT) has enjoyed a long history in this country, dating back to the Dutch colonial period, and the values of the language have seeped into almost every domain of people’s life. Education is no exception.

Omission of English from the curriculum is as harmful for our relationships with developed countries which value English over other foreign languages — Australia, the United States, India to name but three. Opposing English is tantamount to opposing globalization and modernity.

It is not surprising to see that most, if not all, the comments in The Jakarta Post’s readers’ forum are very pro-English and full of well-worn labels such as “lingua franca”, “the window of the world”, “world language” and “the language of wider communication”.

These positive attitudes to English demonstrate people’s awareness of the importance of the language of global access. They also show that people don’t want to be excluded and isolated from the advancement of science and technology dominated by the English language.

Conversely, and somewhat paradoxically, these attitudes show people’s (perhaps unconscious) willingness to allow the hegemony of English to dominate their thinking.

Musliar Kasim’s contention that the omission of English provides an opportunity to master the Indonesian language (The Jakarta Post, Oct. 12) seems, at first sight, to hit the nail on the head, if linguistic hegemony is to be resisted.

The deputy minister’s argument implies the promotion of monolingualism through increased exposure to the Indonesian language at school.

There seems to be resistance to linguistic hegemony behind the call to scratch English from the school curriculum and declare it haram.

If enacted, the policy could backfire, promulgating a new form of hegemony in multilingual, multiracial Indonesian society.

Indonesia is replete with vernacular varieties. History shows that the plummet in use of local languages was down to the zealous imposition of the Indonesian language, primarily through schooling. Clearly, proscribing the use of English in schools and even declaring it haram is an extreme form of resistance, and what lesson does it give to school children?

The case of the English language resistance in Malaysia through the promotion of the “Malay-Only” policy should serve as a lesson for us. Despite calls for using Malay as the national language — a symbol of national unity — and for banning the use of English particularly in education, most Malaysian scholars found the policy counter-productive, not only because it impairs Malaysians intellectually, but also because it has the potential to marginalize other locally spoken languages such as Tamil and Chinese.

In essence, the Malay monolingualist policy is incompatible with the spirit of modernity and tolerance of language groups in the country.

It is clear then that scrapping English from the school curriculum raises more problems than it solves. English lessons are still needed for young students, but with a new goal. This goal is only feasible if we admit that language teaching is political, not neutral or value-free, and that classroom is a manifestation of “cultural politics”.

Rather than simply glorifying the values of English and telling students that learning English offers massive benefits to their future lives, it is far more urgent to help them challenge language by exploiting and appropriating it by virtue of their identities, cultural norms and values, and tradition.

This may sound like a lofty ideal, but with a high commitment to boosting the quality of language education in the country our efforts are more likely to yield fruitful results.

The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta.