CON­TENTS Our kids are not guinea pigs

The Jakarta Post - JPlus - - Between The Lines - PRIMASTUTI HANDAYANI

Ire­mem­ber the tagline of a pop­u­lar oint­ment brand from the 1990s, “Buat anak kok coba-coba” (It’s for the kids, don’t ex­per­i­ment). The catch­phrase is some­how still rel­e­vant when it comes to the na­tional ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem to­day. Just re­cently Cul­ture and Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Muhad­jir Ef­fendy rec­om­mended the sus­pen­sion of the na­tional ex­am­i­na­tions (UN), which had come in for crit­i­cism for their fail­ure to im­prove the qual­ity of na­tional ed­u­ca­tion. This time around, how­ever, the idea has come as a shock to many par­ents whose chil­dren are in their fi­nal school years.

How­ever, after a meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Joko “Jokowi” Wi­dodo on Wed­nes­day, the min­is­ter put his plan back on the shelf. The UN will remain in­tact, but will un­dergo a thor­ough eval­u­a­tion.

Only six years ago the govern­ment ini­ti­ated the UN sys­tem. Dur­ing those years, how­ever, the rules of the game kept chang­ing.

In 2010, when the UN was in­tro­duced, stu­dents had to score at least (on av­er­age) 5.50 out of a pos­si­ble 10 in all subjects to pass the ex­ams.

After eval­u­a­tion two years later, the govern­ment de­cided to al­low stu­dents who did not pass to take a re­me­dial, just to in­crease the pass­ing grade.

As of 2015, the UN no longer de­ter­mined the pass­ing of stu­dents. Those who failed the fi­nal exam could con­tinue their stud­ies at univer­sity or an academy but had to take a re­me­dial test a year later.

In the same year, the min­istry in­tro­duced a com­puter-based UN, de­spite the govern­ment not be­ing ca­pa­ble of ad­min­is­ter­ing com­puter-based tests na­tion­wide. The min­is­ter, who was only ap­pointed in July, rushed for­ward with the mora­to­rium ini­tia­tive, which none of his pre­de­ces­sors had dared to take.

Con­stant eval­u­a­tion is in­deed nec­es­sary and very im­por­tant in a bid to de­velop the na­tional ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. How­ever, it would be best if the process in­volved other stake­hold­ers — par­tic­u­larly stu­dents, teach­ers and par­ents as well as aca­demics.

All these years, stu­dents, teach­ers and par­ents have been left out of the de­ci­sion­mak­ing process of chang­ing or main­tain­ing the na­tional ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, even though they are the par­ties who are most af­fected.

The UN has some­how forced teach­ers to fo­cus on ad­min­is­tra­tive tasks rather than their role as ed­u­ca­tors. They carry a re­spon­si­bil­ity for guid­ing their stu­dents to pass the ex­ams and their per­for­mance is mea­sured by how well their stu­dents fare in the UN.

The In­done­sian word guru (teacher) is ab­sorbed from San­skrit. Ja­vanese phi­los­o­phy, how­ever, has given a new mean­ing to the pro­fes­sion as some­one who is digugu (heeded) and di­tiru (a role model). A teacher should not be a ma­chine or means of pro­duc­tion, but a friend, men­tor and par­ent for his or her stu­dents at the same time. Sadly, this is not the case to­day. The cur­rent re­sults-ori­ented ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem — which re­quires teach­ers to keep im­prov­ing their com­pe­tence based on cer­ti­fi­ca­tion — has de­prived teach­ers of op­por­tu­ni­ties to de­velop cre­ativ­ity in the process of trans­fer­ring knowl­edge.

Most teach­ers must fo­cus their ob­jec­tives on grades in­stead of ed­u­cat­ing their stu­dents to ap­pre­ci­ate and re­spect oth­ers and care about their sur­round­ings.

In the con­text of global com­pe­ti­tion, teach­ers play a great role in pre­par­ing their stu­dents to face the fu­ture chal­lenges and more im­por­tantly in­still­ing the In­done­sian val­ues of unity in di­ver­sity. The na­tion’s vi­a­bil­ity in the cur­rent open era will de­pend on its peo­ple’s re­silience, which teach­ers can help build.

If the govern­ment wishes to main­tain the UN, it must bear in mind when it started six years ago. Many op­posed it be­cause of the ab­sence of a level play­ing field for stu­dents. Dis­par­ity of ed­u­ca­tion qual­ity be­tween Java and out­side Java, or be­tween ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas was very ob­vi­ous.

Muhad­jir said in Yo­gyakarta on Tues­day he would need more time to up­grade the na­tional ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. All this time, he added, the govern­ment had al­lo­cated Rp 500 bil­lion (US$37 mil­lion) an­nu­ally to sur­vey the stan­dard of schools na­tion­wide and the causes of low stan­dards in those schools.

This huge bud­get could be re­al­lo­cated for devel­op­ment of ed­u­ca­tion in­fras­truc­ture, which eludes many re­gions in the coun­try.

What­ever the de­ci­sion the govern­ment will make re­gard­ing the UN, the role of other stake­hold­ers is piv­otal. Ed­u­ca­tion is a long-term in­vest­ment that can­not be en­trusted to the govern­ment alone.

A com­pre­hen­sive eval­u­a­tion that in­volves all stake­hold­ers is the best choice, rather than trial and er­ror. Ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems should not cre­ate un­cer­tainty. A sys­tem that is prone to change will cost stu­dents pre­cious time they could spend de­vel­op­ing them­selves. They will even­tu­ally lag be­hind their coun­ter­parts in the re­gion.

Our chil­dren are not guinea pigs. They are valu­able as­sets that will prove In­done­sia’s met­tle in the fu­ture.

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