Revisiting Our Schools


Indonesia is at the brink of an economic upturn. Several outlooks and comments have predicted a bright year for Indonesia in 2011, in terms of investment and economic growth. The term CIVET, an abbreviation for Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey,South Africa, is said to be the new magical word, replacing BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) as the well-known term for emerging countries in the global economic map.
It is of course pleasing to know that Indonesia is stepping up the global ladder. But merely relying on economic results and performance to measure a country’s progress would show a one-sided way of thinking.We would become one dimensional men, as Herbert Marcuse suggested. Thus,even if economic growth would hit 6-6,3% in this year as officially targeted, what significance would it have to the society and its welfare? Can economic improvement assure social improvements?

One way of examining the other side of a countrie’s development is by studying its human development. The main concern is to measure whether any progress has occurred in education, health and living standards. Education is then one significant indicator in revealing the quality of human resources, particularly in terms of competitiveness. It would also show the government’s earnestness in providing basic rights and public service to the people, which is vital to the overall human resource development.
Unfortunately, reflecting on several assesments and rankings in which the performance of Indonesia’s education sector has been scrutinized, a positive trend of human quality is still far from sight. Indonesia still finds itself trapped in the middle-lower section of numerous assesment tables. For example, the annual HDI ranked Indonesia 108th from 169 countries (2010). Meanwhile, the Global Competitiveness Index placed us 44th from 139 countries (2010) whereas The PISA appraisalin 2009, has put Indonesia at 57 from 65 countries.
Based on these results, we may conclude that not only did we fail to elevate ourselves, we have also come close to being overtaken by countries who are close competitors such as Vietnam and Thailand.  This also suggests that over the past years, or even decades, our educational institutions seem to have only managed to run in second gear. Schools have become more of a source of dispute, than as a source of solutions.
Alas,we should ask ourselves of what and how our children are being taught in the public and private schools. Have we provided the future generation with the right tools that emancipates and sets their potential free? Have we succeeded in designing and implementing an educational system that ,in the words of H.A.R. Thilaar, humanizes a human being?
In order to grasp the on going situation, we need to imagine ourselves sitting on the bench in the average Indonesian classroom. Only then would we be able to comprehend Indonesia’s education trap.
The first matter is the question of access and equality of opportunity.Educational inequity is a major issue which can only be solved by a strong political commitment that is implemented in allocation for educational spending. Theoretically, if economic growth leads to an increase of government’s income, allocation to fund education should do as well. This is a principal matter of how much we are willing to invest in education.           Decentralisation leads to a bigger responsibility, but also privileges, of local authorities in managing local educational policies.                            
Then there is the process that molds the young Indonesian minds.Our schools have only perpetuated a culture that is result oriented, but not achievement oriented (Koentjaraningrat;1974). Its only concern is completing the learning process with a target score instantly, whereas the essence of a process is neglected.  Its roots are deeply planted in a banking system (Paulo Freire; 1972) that deprives students from critical thinking, and analytical-problem solving skills. It explains our permissiveness towards cheating,plagiarism and other corrupt behaviour, as well as corruption itself.Schools have therefore failed to produce a genuine meritocracy, where society is built upon the mechanism of reward and punishment.
Therefore, we need to start minimizing the use of multiple choices and question the effectiveness of national exams (Ujian Nasional) as a means of evaluation. It would be a very small step, but a focal one in generating a cultural shift.
Based on these points, there is lastly the question of education’s purpose itself. Education is never meant to be a system that only produces labours and workers. Its task should be to transform  objects into subjects. From jobseekers to young people who dare to face life’s and societie’s challenges on their own, instead of just waiting for foreign investment to trigger the labour market. Considering 1% economic growth could possibly create only up to 400.000 new employment, the real challenge would be to establish a strong domestic economy that swells upon a creative society.

Therefore, our education shall create Indonesians who do not see the economic recovery as Santa Claus’ coming, It shall generate individuals who see it as a momentum to seize new prospects in socio-economic terms. And general wisdom says that momentums are created, and not just waited for. 

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