CONTENTS Our kids are not guinea pigs
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.