National exam and educational development

Nurrohman and Dindin Jamaluddin ,  Bandung   |  Sat, 03/27/2010 12:40 PM  |  Opinion

National exam issue is currently igniting a hot debate. While many people including education observers, educators, students as well as lawmakers, stick to the opinion that the national exam should be abolished, National Education Minister Muhammad Nuh, on behalf of the government, asks people to stop making the issue controversial. This means that the government will not amend the ministry regulation on national exam.

Opponents of the national exam argue there are many frauds in its application; leaking documents, answer and question sheets as well as shamanism. Students’ intelligence is measured by grades, which partially touch the key purpose of the teaching-learning process. Grades play a significant role in our education and it leads students to become certificate oriented.

The national exam is a formalization process, a setback and degrades the spirit of education. It is nothing more than a theater by the government in the name of state building and is extremely formalistic. But rejecting national exam merely based on the “government’s failure” was not enough and not the appropriate way to solve problems related to education.

We should not be ashamed to admit that national exam is weak in depicting our education sector today. This situation can be improved if we realize and return to the basis of the learning process that applies to Indonesia so far: Cognitive, affective and psychometric domains. While concern about the cognitive domain through many kinds of evaluation such as the mid test, final test and weekly test, remain relatively high, stressing the two points later is low and appears to be ignored.

Concerning the learning evaluation applied in our education in 1971 up until 2002, the methods of exam varied and changed from time to time depending on circumstance, needs and culture-social of Indonesian people. We even recognize the “state test” between 1971 and 1972 and “School test” between 1972 and 1992.

In both methods, students absolutely passed the test because there was still no passing standardization. Later, it was converted into the national and final exam of learning evaluation (EBTANAS) that combined state and school tests and worked between 1992 and 2002.

This last one, however, is prone to attract attention of critics for it did not determine the minimum grade and standard students must reach.

If compared to the previous test, we still believe the national exam currently performed by the government is more effective to develop Indonesia’s human development index, especially in the education sector. Without highlighting and stressing the standardization of marks, the students’ learning process remains covert and is hard to measure their progress during class activities.

Throughout the national exam process, teachers can improve their professionalism by creating teaching innovation that upholds intellectual basis leading to student independence and responsibility about themselves. Also, they are demanded to set strategies that take students to the visible purpose of learning (cognitive domain), or at least fulfill the minimum grade of national exam.

Instilling a culture of motivation and independence among educators and learners is imperative and should start immediately. Ethics, as a philosophy dealing with morality, should also be considered as the base of education. More attention should be paid to it.

Empirically, the national exam as a part of teaching-learning process evaluation plays a huge role in a country’s education development. Only an education providing good evaluation, whatever it is named, for its learners can reach the heights of knowledge, societal acceptance. Conversely, ignoring evaluation means backwardness in education.

Besides those supporting aspects, there are also other reasons why national exam to be maintained. One of them is to nurture and balance out the diversity of Indonesia’s human resources which are of course different from one region to another.

We are fully aware that the access to education is not distributed well; people living around capital cities possibly enjoy much better facilities than those who dwell in remote areas. “Papua is left behind 18 years in education” is a portrait of imbalance.

The next reason is because of misconduct and immoral acts. It comes as no surprise that a finding during the national exam 2007 so much dishonesty was committed by headmasters who collaborated with teachers on leaking the question-and-answer sheet of the test, whereas in fact the test was closed off, guarded, and monitored by an independent team. So, the regional school in which the national exam is held may ruin the image of our education, because at this time honesty and fairness is lacking.

To this end, the Indonesian people may have to support governmental policy concerning the national exam, where the country allocates 20 percent of its budget toward education.

Another thing, which is apparently a difficult but not impossible task, is generating national exam commitment that education is a priority on the national agenda and the clean national exam is a gateway.

Significant attention should also be paid to the change of the ongoing paradigm among Indonesia people that our education is merely directed to job no more no less, regardless of prominent values.

Ultimately, the national exam needs support and improvement.

The writers, Nurrohman and Dindin Jamaluddin, are both lecturers at State Islamic University (UIN) Sunan Gunung Djati, Bandung

Quality of education and the national exams

Paul Suparno , Yogyakarta | Sat, 12/19/2009 1:04 PM | Opinion

After the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the go-vernment on the organization of the national exams, controversy over whether it is necessary to maintain the national exams (UN) has continued to make headlines. People, who support the UN, such as the government, explain that the quality of the Indonesia education system will drop without the UN, so they try to defend the current UN system. But those against this system say the nation doesn’t need the national exams because the quality of education does not just depend on the UN. Does the quality of Indonesia education depend on the national exams? Will the quality of the Indonesian education system worsen without them? In my opinion, the UN only measures a small portion of students’ competence in specific subjects, and does not measure students’ competences throughout the semester. It only measures students’ competences in about five or six subjects such as Indonesian language, mathematics, English and science. It also doesn’t evaluate the broader spectrum of subjects taught at schools comprising at least 14 subjects. In addition, the UN does not measure the process of students’ learning. So, if we want to measure students’ competences more thoroughly, we need at least to assess other elements including portfolios, homework, oral and listening examinations. According to the National Education Standards Agency (BSNP), the quality of the education system depends on eight criteria, including standards of content, learning and teaching processes, passing grade competences, teachers, means and infrastructure, management, costs and financing, and educational evaluation. If these eight criteria are met, our education system will improve. The UN seems only to have covered some but not all of these criteria. It does not, for example, evaluate the quality of teachers, learning-teaching processes, infrastructure or financing, which are all very important in improving the quality of education. According to the national education law, the purpose of the national education system is to help students become more holistic. Students should not only be clever in cognitive aspects, but should also become good people and citizens. It, therefore, should aim improve the moral, spiritual, social and emotional aspects of humanity. At present, the UN only measures cognitive aspects, but not others. So the UN cannot evaluate the quality of education as a whole process and values. Apart from the above criteria, the quality of the education system can also be measured by how many students are accepted into good universities and by the employment sector. If more students from one school are accepted at several good universities, and if many of its students are recruited by companies and really able to do their jobs professionally, we know the quality of the education offered at that school is very good. So the quality of education does not just depend on the UN, but on other aspects too. So, can we still use the UN to improve the quality of the Indonesian education system? Or should the UN be erased from the Indonesian education system? In fact, the UN can still be useful as an instrument to evaluate or detect the level of students’ cognitive competence in several subjects, on a national scale. This means that via the UN, the government will ascertain which schools are in the high-standard criteria and which schools are below or in the low-standard criteria. And if schools are still in the low-standard criteria, it is the government’s responsibility to improve such schools. And because the UN is regarded as a means to understanding students’ cognitive levels, it must not be the only factor in students’ graduation. The government also could establish a high-level national test according to the curriculum and standard of content, so that the quality of tests would be high. However, this test should not be held as part of a national examinations. It should be held as a school examination. By doing so, the score of this test could still be considered as an indication of the quality of students. In addition, students would be able to do the test in a free, peaceful, comfortable, but more relaxed situation. Students would thus be expected to do such a test better. Meanwhile, the organization of the test should be carried out by accredited schools. An accredited school is allowed to provide its own tests and give students passing grades. If the government wants to improve the quality of the education system, it has to improve the accreditation of schools. Schools need to be evaluated in terms of the eight national education criteria. The writer is a lecturer at Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta.

Nat’l exam lacks educational sociology perspective

Setiono Sugiharto , Jakarta | Sat, 12/12/2009 1:00 PM | Opinion Amid the public outcry over the termination of the controversial national exams, the Supreme Court finally reached a decision by issuing a verdict obliging the government to revoke the annually held exam. The seemingly unabated spat over this government-sanctioned national exams is indicative that the public has long harbored a deep mistrust about them, with the government, regrettably, turning a deaf ear to the public opposition. When we examine it more closely, the reasons for mistrusting the exams are legitimate and justified for at least two reasons. First, the national exams fall under the category of a high-stake test. It has a great impact on and determines the students’ future academic life. This is particularly true in our educational context, where the results of such nationally conducted exams are used as the sole criterion for successful acceptance at an institute of higher learning. Second, as one of the related stakeholders, the public has the right to voice its opposition to the exams, should it feel that the implementation does not conform to the principles of societal equality. Because the national exams never take place in a social vacuum, society, upon which the exams may impact positively or negatively, has the civil right to demand accountability from the government. It is reasonable to suspect that the impetus for opposing the implementation of the exams nationwide emanates from the fact that it has never been situated in either macro- or micro-sociological contexts. It thus lacks sociological analysis, which is, in fact, of meaningful value to the implementation of the exams, because it can shed light onto the understanding of the social framework within which to assess the benefits and detriments of the exams. It should be admitted that the serious problem the centralized exams pose at the macro-sociological level is that they perpetuate social divisions and social injustice. As such, they further widen the gap among the social strata. This runs against the goal of national education, which is to break down class barriers, to promote equality of opportunity for the people to get access to education as well as to boost social mobility. At the micro-sociological level (i.e. schools and classrooms), the learners are the most conspicuous victimized stakeholders directly impacted by the centralized examination system. The notion “national” in the phrase “national examinations” presupposes a notion of uniformity, standardization and a set of rigid conventions to adhere to. It thus nullifies the uniqueness of the contexts (school facilities, textbooks used, learning and teaching experiences, the quality of the teachers and students, and other relevant resources) in which the system is imposed. These contexts, in fact, constitute major forces that determine the students’ success and failure in the exams. We should be cognizant that examinations are only a small component of the education system. They are only a means, not an end by themselves. If the measure of students’ intellectual capacity is based solely on the results of these exams, we are doing a great disservice to our stakeholders. We are disparaging the potentials of our students as creative and evolving beings. At the same time, we are also showing our distrust of classroom teachers as the people in the right place to exercise judgment of their students. Without understanding the complexities of sociological contexts in which the national exams are always situated, those in authority are not in a position to play their role constructively. Education is not an object to be experimented with sans a clear basis. It is a professional field of enquiry, which needs to be treated professionally. Examinations, a most vital component of education, should be treated likewise. Thus any efforts to implement examinations (both at school and at the national level) should take into account the sociological perspective. As for the contentious national exams, we are in the end faced with two options: either terminate them from the educational landscape as they do more harm than good, or revamp the system so as to accommodate all related stakeholders’ needs. The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta, and chief editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching.