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.

Instilling positive values in children should start at early age

Evaries Rosita ,  Contributor ,  Jakarta   |  Sun, 11/09/2008 11:06 AM  |  Supplement

Most childhood education experts agree that building a child’s character must begin at preschool age. During this period, children can be easily shaped and guided to learn about what is right and what is wrong, and to learn to live a value-filled life. They can easily absorb and emulate what they see and hear from the adults in their surroundings.

Thus, teaching positive values such as honesty, courage, responsibility, compassion, integrity, self-discipline, self-reliance, kindness, friendliness, tolerance, respect, love, justice and mercy will likely be more effective when the youngsters are at preschool age than when they are at adolescent age.

In today’s society where academic achievement and performance is at prominence, the importance of character building seems to have been forgotten. We acknowledge kids’ achievements more than we acknowledge their characters. We are more engrossed in finding out our kids’ academic performance than imbuing them with positive values, which will build their character and which can enable them to make the right choices in their future lives.

To counterbalance against something harmful and destructive from the environment the child may experience, instilling good human virtues and moral values is of paramount importance. And, early age is an ideal time to do so.

Unlike academic achievement that can be unstable over time, virtues and moral values are consistent throughout the ages. They are the basic foundation of building a child with noble character, a child who is able to discern what is morally correct and incorrect, and a child who can make the right choices.

Home is surely an ideal place for parents to raise children with character. To successfully help build kids’ character, parents don’t have to be either a child psychologist or a child consultant. What they must do is to be optimistic and have faith in their parental skills, no matter what their educational backgrounds are.

In fact, parents must be aware that they are the best teacher their children have ever had.

Parents certainly have their own typical ways of teaching their kids value systems at home, but they need to understand that simply telling kids the regular dos and don’ts won’t yield any optimal results.

Children don’t learn the values that make up good character simply by being told about them. They learn instead through observing and then emulating what other people are doing and acting out around them.

Among the many ways parents can use as examples to teach how to live a value-filled life, parental modeling is the best way. That is, parents set an example through their own behavior and actions.

Every day offers countless opportunities for children to emulate what their parents say and do in upholding the values they are teaching their children.

How parents do and accomplish daily routines can show children every value in this life. They can set examples of courteous acts to children like respecting people with different cultures, religions and races, valuing honesty and showing compassion and care when others are grieving.

A note of caution, however, needs a mention here. Consistency in upholding values as demonstrated in what parents say and do every day is important and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Parents may teach the importance of valuing honesty, yet never keep their word when they promised children something, like having a picnic on a weekend. They may tell children the value of fairness, yet treat other family members unequally.

If parents do this, their children are likely to emulate and eventually develop these attitudes as well.

Reinforcing positive values can also be done through something that captures a child’s interest. Fiction and nonfiction books, folk tales, poems, plays and television shows are some resources that may draw a child’s attention.

These resources can exert a considerable influence in building kids’ character both negatively and positively. However, with parental guidance and a careful selection of children’s literature and TV programs, parents can direct their children to be critical in discerning what is good and what is bad for them.

The writer used to teach English for young learners. She can be reached at evariestj@yahoo.com.