Rampant student brawls and our character education

Zulfa Sakhiyya, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, September 29 2012, 10:45 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 6

The latest series of student brawls in Jakarta that has claimed two lives has harshly reminded us to revisit and reevaluate our system of character education.

Believed to have a long history of brawling, students from two senior high schools in South Jakarta fought each other after school hours on Monday, brandishing sharp weapons and hurling stones violently, ending in the death of a student.

Although some have argued that the incident was an assault rather than a student brawl, I would argue that some student brawl cases might have assaults in them, and at the heart of the brawl is violence.

Within 48 hours, another life was lost in South Jakarta following a brawl between students of two vocational schools. The student was killed after being stabbed in the stomach.

While violent teenage behavior occurs everywhere, school brawls are more common in Indonesia. A student brawl is a form of collective social behavior of adolescent aberration and aggressive behavior resulting from group conformity. Usually a conflict flares up between two schools, and on the battlefield, students are actually wearing their school uniforms.

Student brawls are nothing new in our country, but it is very devastating to learn that the number of cases is mounting rather than abating.

The National Commission for Child Protection (KPAI) recorded at least 128 school brawl cases in 2010, which rose to 339 last year. The brawls claimed 82 lives last year, up from 40 in 2010. More worryingly, acts of violence involving students became more prevalent when character education was integrated into the school curriculum.

Therefore, these statistics should prompt us to revisit and evaluate the current system of character education. Are we teaching them the right things?

I still remember when I had a Pancasila moral education lesson (PMP or now civics) back in secondary school during the New Order era, I was only asked to memorize the principles of and the attitudes that reflect Pancasila state ideology. That time I was questioning myself, why bother memorizing good attitudes but not practicing them?

Character education is not simply a formal lesson that occurs at a cognitive level (moral knowledge), but rather, it should go beyond understanding and arrive at reflecting upon what is right and doing the right thing.

For instance, an elementary school teacher in my region implemented an exemplary form of character education. She brought her students to a nursing home and assigned the students to assist and entertain the elderly.

Surprisingly, those eight-year-old children played games with the elderly, sang a song, read them a story and even did a small stitching project. In short, students have to feel and experience for themselves the concepts of love, respect, empathy and many other good traits and characteristics.

Simply expelling students from schools due to their role in a brawl does not resolve the problem, but may instead perpetuate the culture of violence. The expulsion will deprive the students of their bright future and may lead them to a larger gang of criminals.

Character education should not only be shouldered by teachers alone. There should be a harmonious synergy among schools, families, communities and the government as the stakeholders of national education. This is because character is not taught, rather, it is shaped.

Ki Hajar Dewantara, the founding father of national education, has bequeathed to us a prophetic motto: “Ing ngarso sung tuladha; ing madya mangun karsa; tut wuri handayani,” which means “Provide a model; create an intention; and give constructive support.”

His philosophy on education reflected in this motto is still relevant now. It echoes to the system of character education that has become one of our chief concerns nowadays.

Teachers, parents, communities and the government should be models, motivators and supporters for young generations — modeling good character, motivating youth to do good things and supporting them to do the right thing.

Character building is a long-term project that requires patience and perseverance.

Here are some questions that may help us contemplate our awareness of character education for our children. How can we ask our students/children to think if we do all the thinking?

How can we ask our students/children to talk, if we do all the talking? How can we ask our students/children to respect us, if we do not respect them?

The writer is a researcher at the Center for Multiculturalism, Democracy and Character Building in the Semarang State University.

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.