Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Contextualization in Indonesian Education

Many companies or institutions complain to Indonesian universities that university graduates are not ready for work. It is weird, isn’t it? It is commonly believed that universities are designed to prepare and equip people to be ready for work. But the fact is those university graduates are considered not ready by the society. The big question is: “What’s wrong with the education at the universities?”

This kind of complain has been around for a long time, yet it is still left unresolved. Prof. Tilaar said that universities have been the source of unemployment in Indonesia. A lot of university graduates cannot find a job. About more than 700,000 university graduates are currently unemployed, and this number is increasing every year. Imagine, if those university graduates can’t find descent jobs for themselves, what about those that don’t even have university diploma? Again the big question is: “What’s wrong with the education at the universities?

Of course there are complexities within this apparent problem of unemployment in Indonesia. However, this article is not going to scrutinize every single factor that might contribute to it. What I want to point out through this article is one important matter that people usually ignore. It is what Max L. Stackhouse calls as “Contextualization.”

In the midst of the dream to become as great as the west or Japan, admitted or not, Indonesia has tried as much as possible to conform to the west through westernization. This westernization wave has been infiltrating every corner of Indonesian culture, including Indonesian education. Therefore, all educational policies, curriculum, system, etc. are made to conform to the west. This is what I think as the greatest mistake Indonesian education has ever done. What we need is not westernization, but instead we need contextualization.

No wonder the university graduates are judged to be not ready for the workforce, because the workforce we are talking about usually is that employing a western system or ideology. Those university graduates were born in Indonesia, many of them were born in the villages, and they grew up within their particular Indonesian contexts. Now, when they are educated in a university, they are taught everything they need to know in order to conform to the western kind of companies or institutions. Let’s do the math. For 18 years they live in Indonesian contexts and now in 4 years universities hope to transform them into fitting with the western kind of life? Who are we kidding? Humans are not robots! We cannot just program them they way we want them to be. Robots can be programmed, but humans need education, the best education there is. No doubt many of those university graduates can never fit into those westernized companies. Their souls yearn for contextualization, but yet universities give them conformity. Their souls long for creativity, yet universities force them to uniformity. Do we now know what’s wrong with university education?

How then we should remedy this problem we face? Again, by contextualization. University education should focus on contextualizing whatever knowledge they are working on, researching, constructing, transferring, etc. In particular, Indonesian university education MUST contextualize their knowledge. If not, we will repeat the tradition of failed educational system all over again. This is sad but I have to say it, that not only the university education that needs to be contextualized, but also the elementary and secondary education as well. Without contextualization, our knowledge is useless. Without contextualization, whatever we are learning will point out the hollowness of our hearts. Knowledge learned to be put into practice not to be stored in our memory. And to put the knowledge into practice we need a context. The context is not only based on the knowledge but also on the knower. This is where we must honor our students, respect where they come from, and embrace their vision; contrary to the traditional understanding of the outdated western system that is to force anyone not from the west to be “civilized.” Nicholas Wolterstorff in his “Until Justice and Peace Embrace” brilliantly observed that many non-western cultures have higher cultural practices and values compared to that of the west. Thus he questioned the naïve strategy of civilizing the “primitive” people.

Is Indonesia primitive? Or are we cultured? We are not the west for sure. Shouldn’t we remember our context and embrace it with honor? Will we, then, contextualize our Indonesian educational system?

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