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.

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.