What do our students need to learn?

Anita Lie, Surabaya | Opinion | Sat, September 22 2012, 11:30 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 6

As the Education and Culture Ministry is about to evaluate the school curriculum, schools need to be prepared for the reallocation of resources, a reduced number of subjects and longer school hours.

The results of the curriculum evaluation should input into the revision and development of the next curriculum and be used in elementary to senior high school levels. To assess what to retain and what to let go in the upcoming curriculum, it is important that we remember the three imperatives of schooling: personal, economic and social.

At the personal level, schools facilitate students to discover themselves, grow and enhance their interests and talents. Throughout their years of schooling, children learn to shape themselves to become better human beings, appreciate life, and glorify their Creator.

At the curricular level, certain subjects help students achieve this particular purpose of schooling. Religion, literature and the arts provide knowledge and values to lead young people to be whatever they are capable of becoming. Physical education helps them form healthy habits. In addition to these subjects, the hidden curriculum, including any human interaction happening in schools, also helps students enhance their personal growth.

Schools have also prepared students to contribute productively to the economy by providing vocation-related and skills-based subjects. A 21st century curriculum requires that students be equipped with information technology skills and media literacy. In this era of global competitiveness, the economic purpose of schooling has overridden the personal and social purposes of schooling.

It is easy to get rid of the seemingly less practical subjects such as literature, arts, history and philosophy to make room for the math, science, technology and vocation-related subjects. Focusing heavily on the economic imperative and neglecting the personal and social purposes of schooling will lead to the formation of individuals with capabilities to use their minds and skills but who lack an understanding of the purpose of their work.

The social purpose of schooling is to establish each student’s connection to humanity. A global economy, too, requires more knowledge of world cultures and world history. The study of humanities will enhance students’ lives and enable them to contribute productively to the economy while maintaining their sense of purpose as part of the human race.

A terrorist’s action is an extreme demonstration of a human capacity to utilize knowledge and skills to destroy life, when the learning process is disconnected from personal and social purposes. Terrorists who aim to destroy individuals and groups whom they label as infidels fail to understand the history of their nation-state building and to feel connections to the people they hate.

Less dramatic than these terrorists, but just as abominable, are individuals and corporations that accumulate wealth at the cost of ecological destruction and the impoverishment of local communities. They too are the product of a system and culture that celebrates economic success and competitiveness per se.

So, what do our students need to learn? Concerns that there are currently too many school subjects have been raised by educators as well as by stakeholders. The number of subjects does not automatically correlate with how much students learn in school.

By the same token, reducing the number of subjects in our next curriculum should not be equated with reducing essential knowledge content and values our students should be acquiring in schools.

To prepare our young people so they engage in personal growth and become contributing citizens of their country and the world, our national curriculum should cover general education that provides liberal arts and humanities, math and science, as well as 21st century skills such as information technology skills and media literacy.

Reducing the number of school subjects should mean simplifying the organization of units of studies into fewer subjects and making the scope and sequences of knowledge content more efficient, not watering down what our students ought to learn.

Furthermore, an effective curriculum takes into account the delivery or implementation levels, that is classroom instructions. A well-written curricular document will not result in its intended outcomes if teachers are not properly developed to deliver them at the classroom level. A competent teacher should be able to deliver the appropriate breadth and depth of a curriculum and translate it into engaging classroom activities.

The writer is a professor at Widya Mandala Catholic University, Surabaya, and a member of the Indonesian Community for Democracy.

Schools that change their communities

Jaha Nababan, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, September 08 2012, 1:43 PM

Paper Edition | Page: 6

I was born intelligent but education ruined me.” This quotation by Mark Twain highlights the failure of schools to truly become centers of excellence. Parents send kids to schools hoping that they will return smarter.

To their disappointment, they find Albert Einstein was right in saying “the only thing that interferes with my learning is education.” Schools ruin good values taught at home instead of enhancing them.

We need to change this situation.

One may argue that education starts at home. But like schools, home has failed. Many parents in modern families have no choice but to accept this situation as work keeps them away from home all day and all week long.

I teach my daughter to validate information before making decisions. Her teachers, however, keep undermining this principle. They act like they are holders of the highest truth.

I know this because my daughter now answers back “but teacher said…” I probably said the same when I was her age. My peers who are now leaders behave like they also hold the highest truth.

Since children today spend more time in school than I did during my childhood, I fear this next generation will grow up to be worse leaders as they are exposed to more bad influence from school.

Our future doesn’t have to look this bleak.

Schools actually have the power to change their surroundings, for good or for bad.

Last year, a woman reported to the authorities about massive cheating during the final national examinations in her son’s school. Neighbors resented her actions and they quickly drove the lady, Siami, and her family out of their village in East Java.

The school is responsible for creating a cheating-permissive environment in the village.

We have to change our future by changing our schools. We need schools that can change their local communities for the better.

We need to overhaul the parameters of educational success. The nationally-held final examinations for schools (UN) lump together all students with good grades, irrespective if they got them through hard work, cheating or pure luck.

The UN has led schools to tolerate or even promote cheating among children to get a higher percentage of passing grades. The local education authorities in some areas endorse this by publishing the materials covered in the final examinations twice a year. The second set of materials is almost identical to that which will appear in the final

The paper on Indonesian, for example, asks students to provide a summary of a text made up of three to four paragraphs, and then a set of multiple questions from the text.

Typically, the first question will be “What is the main topic of the second paragraph?” If getting a good grade is this easy, why are people paying lots of money for the leaks?

We should use the portfolio of students’ work such as research and surveys as one parameter of success instead of final examinations. Portfolios can be graded based on their impact on society or the student’s
local community.

Research and project work instill honorable characteristics in children such as honesty, perseverance and creativity.

The children also spend more time outside the classroom, in the lab, the library and even mingle with their own community as they carry out field work. The kind of future leaders we need.

Many schools have tried project-based curricula, but only a few implement the portfolio system.

The Education and Culture Ministry favors Bloom’s Taxonomy of high order-low order thinking. Every lesson taught in school must allow students to practice highest-order thinking, defined as “To Create”.

Nothing wrong with Bloom’s, but if schools are to change their community, the highest order of thinking taught must be “To Donate”. To donate means to implement the creations (portfolios). Student’s portfolios with the most impact on their surroundings should receive the highest grades.

Schools can also help communities build competitive advantages or solve problems.

Schools must embed proportionally greater local content in all subjects. Teachers can localize their subjects and make them more relevant to students’ daily life.

A recent study by my students found that because of the high population density of Jakarta, almost everyone builds their septic tanks right under their house. The satellite image makes Jakarta look like one giant septic tank.

Students learn natural and social science but in a more meaningful way and the community benefits. Imagine a high school with nine classes, each producing four research papers each semester. Every year the local government receives 72 recommendations from one school only.

Local governments need to create channels to nurture this atmosphere not only school-wide but nationwide, or even globally. Palangkaraya, capital of Central Kalimantan, this week (Sept. 2-7) hosted the Asia Pacific Conference for Young Scientists — an international competition for high school researchers.

Such a curriculum provides students with more options upon graduation. Universities will be interested in students with a strong research background.

Or they can choose to work on developing their portfolio into a business because the portfolio is proven to work.

So many things can be achieved by applying the right parameters in reforming schools. The right parameters derive from a clear objective.

Schools can change their communities if they set out clearly their goals from the outset. But first, local governments must help schools to help local governments so that Mark Twain and Albert Einstein can rest in peace.

The writer is national program director for eminent school development at the Surya Institute.