The sanctity of multicultural education in teaching and learning

Kunto Nurcahyoko, Columbus, Ohio | Opinion | Sat, January 05 2013, 12:55 PM

Paper Edition | Page: 7

The Joko “Jokowi” Widodo-Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama victory in the Jakarta gubernatorial election last year demonstrates that Indonesia’s democracy has progressed to a higher level.

The rigid notion about how a particular group should lead the government has started fading. The tough “ethnicity” wall also appears to be crumbling.

But is it true that intolerance has disappeared altogether? Or is the Jokowi-Ahok phenomenon just a superficially attractive delusion for what we call multicultural tolerance?

Probably we should contemplate more on what has been happening. Some examples, like the inter-village clash in Maluku that claimed five lives just before New Year’s Eve and the warning by a particular group against Muslims wishing Christians a merry Christmas, do not follow the same path as our previous euphoria. Indeed, our multicultural tolerance still has a long way to go.

Some aspects might cause intolerance. They might be personal experiences, parental issues, environmental or educational. The latter, especially formal education, plays a significant role in shaping the understanding of multiculturalism. Therefore, we should pay attention to the school element, particularly the teachers. Teachers must be able to prepare students as part of a multicultural society.

Teachers hold a responsibility to create teaching and learning environments that promote a democratic exchange of ideas. By doing this, there will be strong multicultural education in our education system. According to Bannet et al, multicultural education is a democratic approach to teaching and learning that seeks to foster cultural pluralism within culturally diverse societies and an interdependent world. In the US, more than 63 percent of American universities require multicultural diversity in their core course for teachers’ education.

Multicultural education focuses on students’ performance, both academically and socially. Nowadays, often as educators, teachers perceive teaching and learning as processes that solely concern the academic achievement of their students. In Indonesia, for example, most schools employ the results of academic tests as the primary measurement of being a “successful student”. This must change since it focuses more on cognition than preparing students to be responsible citizens of a multicultural world.

Helping students to develop positive attitudes and become responsible individuals is extremely essential in a classroom. Teachers should encourage students to be active learners.

To do this, teachers must lead students to know each other as individuals, regard each other as equals and be able to work together on common interests and goals in a safe and supportive classroom environment. Creating such a classroom climate that promotes the internalization of these shared values through multicultural education will help students actively develop as learners, as people and as citizens.

Multicultural education will prepare students to be responsible members of society. Students must be aware that they are a part of society.

As Pacino eloquently says, teaching and learning in the context of community is truly a moral, spiritual and ethical journey. The concept of ethical and moral values and actions in society should be integrated in their classroom.

Hence, educators should acknowledge and address students’ need to carry on the real experience of being part of a community, not only of individual academic achievement at school.

In addition, in multicultural and democratic countries, teachers should educate students how to actively participate and contribute to their society. By acquiring moral and ethical values from school, students will understand the dos and don’ts within a participatory democratic society. In order to achieve this, teachers should place themselves as the facilitators of information, not as dictators of information. This kind of active classroom setting enables students to experience the feelings of respect and self-autonomy.

There are specific methods that teachers can implement to achieve multicultural education. One example is implementing activities and discussions that focus on the positive aspects of cultural identity, heritage and differences, such as involving students in developing personally relevant multicultural stories, books or even autobiographies. Teachers can ask students to actively present and discuss their own story.

One of the purposes of inviting students to share their stories is to better understand how the students can use their background knowledge to gain access to curricular content. This will also include an understanding of cross-cultural differences and social challenges.

Teachers can reinforce the importance of multicultural education by involving students in community service/learning activities. This gives students the opportunity to be more responsible, knowledgeable and sensitive to their own
surroundings.

This sensitivity is essential for the students’ personal moral development, their sense of community and increased tolerance, acceptance and respect for others.

To realize multicultural education, a Herculean effort from all education stakeholders is mandatory. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding. Hence, let’s keep up the spirit of multicultural tolerance in Indonesia once and for all.

The writer is pursuing a PhD degree at the Ohio State University, in the US.

It’s time to revitalize Indonesian teaching

A. Chaedar Alwasilah, Bandung | Opinion | Sat, November 17 2012, 8:16 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 7

Public responses to the government’s plan to remove English from primary schools vary. Basically, there are two opposing views: the nationalist view and the global view. The former supports the government’s move on the following grounds.

First, primary school ages are golden ages for developing pupils’ love and appreciation toward the Indonesian language. All over the world, the early years of schooling are understood to be very critical for teaching the first language.

Second, primary schooling is aimed at developing students’ character. Respect, deference, discipline, tolerance, love, sensitivity and a sense of beauty are culture-laden, and to be specific they should be first-culture laden.

Third, for the majority of pupils in this multicultural nation, Indonesian is the second language, their mother tongue being an ethnic or local language.

Ostensibly for the majority of pupils here, English is in fact a third language.

Nationalists criticize the globalists for speaking for the minority and ignoring the majority. When three languages are spontaneously learned, the pupils are confused by a barrage of linguistic input. This linguistic confusion does not lead to effective learning.

There is evidence that the current teaching of English in primary schools is far from satisfactory. My survey, as reported in this paper (The Jakarta Post, May 19) with English teacher respondents in West Java, Banten and Jakarta, revealed that most elementary teacher respondents (58 percent) had neither English language backgrounds nor any training in English for young learners.

According to the current policy, English is a mandatory local content subject for grades 4-6. However, many schools introduce English to grades 1-3. Despite the lack of resources, the show goes on to please parents.

In other words, the exclusion of English from primary schools should not have generated such public objections. In general, the pupils do not get enough learning from English classes.

The nationalists believe it is better for primary schoolchildren to concentrate on learning the Indonesian language rather than a foreign language. First-language mastery is a head start for second- or third-language mastery.

The globalists, on the other hand, hold that English is the world’s most important language for science and technology. They argue that it should be introduced to primary school pupils. If the argument is for the mastery of science and technology, teaching primary English is not the answer.

Teaching and learning in primary schools is play-based. Learning Indonesian meaningfully is the surest way to decode the linguistic symbols for understanding textbooks on various imminent school subjects, such as geography, science, math, etc. in secondary school.

All secondary textbooks are written in Indonesian, and this is the way it should be. Indonesian should be promoted as a language of science technology, especially for high school children.

Practically speaking, students do not read English textbooks and other printed media for science and technology until they go to college. In other words, what is essential for primary pupils is to develop a strong love of reading.

National education should promote Indonesian as the national language. It also means using the language for intellectualization. Both the developmental and intellectual effects of language are transparent but nowhere are they more powerful than in school settings.

At this juncture, it would be wise to compare how the British National Curriculum for English guides teachers to carry out their tasks. The following guides are also relevant for teaching Indonesian language as a core subject here.

First, a personal growth view. Through language, pupils are encouraged to be creative and imaginative individuals. Reading fiction, travel writing and writing creative works are the right pathway to personal development.

Second, a cross-curricular approach is adopted. All school subjects are facilitated by the medium of the Indonesian language — a fact that tends to be easily accepted by many.

It positively means that all teachers become language models for their pupils to emulate.

In primary schools, where teachers teach almost all subjects by using a topic-based approach, they can teach almost anything related to social studies, science, mathematics, civics, the arts and so on.

Third, an adult needs emphasis. This is relevant particularly for high school students. Beyond school, graduates will have to work for a living, where they will communicate with different people from different backgrounds.

Pedagogically, language teachers should teach pupils how to communicate effectively, including the mastery of vocation-based language forms.

Fourth, a cultural heritage model is adopted. Every nation takes pride in its own great works of literature. By engaging primary pupils with Indonesian children’s literature, children will potentially read great literary works later on in life. Creativity does not come from nowhere. Reading fiction will open an otherwise locked door to creativity.

Fifth, a cultural analysis view. At an appropriate age, pupils should be encouraged to be critical of the social and cultural context of the Indonesian language, particularly the value systems that are necessarily embedded in our culture.

The writer, a professor at the Indonesia University of Education (UPI), Bandung, is currently a visiting researcher at Canterbury Christ Church University, England.

Bettering how teachers teach

Teuku Zulfikar Akarim ,  Melbourne   |  Sat, 01/10/2009 10:19 AM  |  Opinion

Adequate facilities including textbooks, laboratories, libraries and other learning equipment are important in efforts to produce intelligent students, but the most important factor here is the presence of qualified teachers.

To be able to teach effectively, teachers are expected to be both knowledgeable in content and skillful in their teaching methodology or pedagogical knowledge.

Skillful teachers are indeed important, as a failure to apply appropriate teaching methods renders the instructional process ineffective.

Having understood the importance of pedagogy, teachers should be empowered through effective teaching techniques.

Scholars in the field of teacher education, including Thomas L. Good of Arizona University and Jere E. Brophy of Michigan State University, have developed a number of techniques that can be used to empower teachers.

Two teaching methods that are considered effective in improving teachers’ knowledge of pedagogy are appreciation and power sharing.

Appreciation refers to teachers’ ability to appreciate student work, while power sharing means teachers’ willingness to reduce their domination of the classroom.

Appreciation has various manifestations depending on the education level, with different levels of education requiring different approaches. For example, elementary school teachers may prefer to use simple rewards such as issuing certificates or prizes for students who excel.

University professors may express their appreciation in different ways, for example by providing personal supervision in particular subject areas.

While appreciation may seem like a small reward for students’ success, it can boost their self-confidence and self-esteem which can in turn improve their academic performance.

Teachers are also expected to be able to create a healthy and supportive environment necessary for student learning. Power sharing means teachers do not dominate the classroom.

Teachers must not infuse their students with ideas before recognizing and acknowledging their students’ own perceptions. Teachers will never be able to fathom their students’ understanding if they do not provide them with time and space to express themselves.

In power sharing, the idea of “the truth” is not centered in teachers, but is shared among students. Power sharing enables students to have “their say” — to be heard and understood — which in turn helps teachers understand students better. The ability to understand students’ personal feelings and capacities helps teachers develop more effective teaching approaches.

The third technique worth considering is the process of self-development. This technique can be practiced through reflective teaching.

The notion of self-development has gained popularity in teacher education for its effectiveness in boosting teachers’ abilities. Several methods of reflection are available including self-video recording, peer conferences or journal keeping. Teachers using video, for example, can record themselves teaching, allowing for later observation and critique.

The cheapest method of observation, however, is through inviting other teachers to observe a colleague while teaching a class. Colleagues can provide feedback for the betterment of teaching approaches.

Teachers may also choose to reflect by keeping what is known as a reflective journal. This type of journal can help teachers to focus and determine their teaching goals. The other benefit of the reflective journal is that it permits teachers to review and evaluate their teaching experiences and revise and improve on them for the future.

The question is how can we familiarize Indonesian teachers with self criticism. At least for the time being, most teachers are probably reluctant to criticize themselves, but need to be encouraged to undertake this difficult task.

The writer is Ph.D. candidate at Monash University’s Faculty of Education.