Monday, December 7, 2009

The Direction of Indonesian Education

Every time there is a change in the presidential cabinet people expect new ideas, policies, and strategies. Education especially has been on the menu in the news since the new minister was installed. People anticipate fresh air will be introduced to the atmosphere with the new minister in place. But so far the much anticipated deletion of UAN (Ujian Akhir Nasional) for next year has been disappointing due to the new statement from the government that UAN will march on. All hopes are dashed with a single statement. The hyped discussion to radically change the direction of government’s involvement in education sector is only a dream. With such phenomena in view, what should be the direction of our education?

Clearly South-East Asia has been responding aggressively and creatively to the global competition in all sectors, including education. Malaysia and Thailand are trying to pursue Singapore’s crown to be the best formal education provider in South-East Asia. Vietnam has been running as well to upgrade their standard of life through education. Indonesia has been “internationalizing” formal education through the rapid growth of international schools all over Indonesia. With much “internationalizing” going on in Indonesia, are we actually edging the competition of the global education market? Looking from the contour
of the education terrain in Indonesia, the answer can’t be yes.

How many of international students actually want to come to Indonesia and study here? Even for specific studies belonging exclusively to Indonesia, such as Indonesian culture and so on. Many of our international students in our schools are stuck here because their parents work here. If given a choice, they might want to go somewhere else other than Indonesia. Furthermore, how many of our teachers, lecturers, researchers, professors, actually go global with their academic journal articles, academic papers for presentation, research projects, and so on? Our global competitive edge in education is measured by how desirable studying in Indonesia is among foreigners.

Given this fact, perhaps the direction of our education is to be open more for the global market. We all know that by opening up to the global market more, we must conform to the international standard more and more. And one particular item that is undeniable for international standard education practice is achievement of excellence. Therefore, Indonesian education can’t tone down the international standard for the excuse to meet the level of Indonesian students. The second item to be considered is the usefulness of Indonesian subject courses in the global market. If our courses can only be used in Indonesia and are not usable for the skills and knowledge required in other countries, then we are not attractive enough for the international students to come and study at our education institutions.

Take for example studying in the US or Europe or Singapore, how much of the skills and knowledge offered through the school courses in those countries is useful anywhere else in the world? With the high acceptance of the graduates from those countries in the global market, it proves that their skills and knowledge are considered useful internationally. The IB or Cambridge programs for primary and secondary education have been accepted internationally because they are able to identify the necessary items useful in the world. The question is, is our Ujian Akhir Nasional (UAN) desirable for global education market? Pardon me to raise this question: “Is it even desirable for our own countryman?” The hurdle of UAN must be resolved carefully if we are seeking to establish our global competitive edge in the international market.

UAN is known to be killing school’s creativity and competitiveness in the so called creative era like we are living today. If UAN is still on the way, then it collides with the creative industry or economy that the economic sector has been promoting vigorously. If UAN is kept, then we should not be surprised to see our economy stays flat. But some people would also ask a fair question: “Should we then shut down UAN?” This is also a difficult question to answer because we also notice that UAN is indeed needed to help schools in the villages to be upgraded. Thus, if UAN is shut down completely, then village schools might never catch up with the high achieving schools in the cities. What do we do then?

Perhaps the answer is not as difficult as it seems. Perhaps what we need is two distinct systems that will accommodate two different educational markets. For those in the high achieving city schools, perhaps UAN is not needed; therefore UAN might not need to be required. For those in low achieving village schools, perhaps UAN is greatly needed. Then, the simple solution might be to require UAN only for those schools that fall below the national accreditation standard. What about those in the high achieving city schools? This is still not easy to answer, but many educators have hinted the answer, autonomy. Obviously, for schools to really develop in the global competitive market, they need to find their competitive edge. And in order to find their competitive edge, they need to be given autonomy. Indonesian schools that are the most developed are those that are not limited by the curriculum set by the government, in this case International schools. In the back of our mind, we know that all other national schools have the same curriculum set as directed by the Indonesian government. There is too little space for them to improve within the national curriculum, especially when the national KTSP curriculum is married to UAN. Therefore, the international schools don’t follow the national curriculum. They break away from the government requirement and thus are able to maintain their competitive edge.

Therefore, perhaps what Indonesian schools needed, particularly the high achieving city schools, is autonomy. Indonesian government will have to grant autonomy with the wish to give them freedom to develop their schools optimally. Does it mean to give them total freedom? Perhaps not total freedom per se, but the Indonesian government might still need to provide the direction, the vision, and mission for Indonesian schools in Indonesia in general. In this way, autonomous schools would not create a curriculum that is evil in nature. For example, there can’t be a school that is designed to produce evil people whose desire is to destroy Indonesia. All the virtues become the moral standard for any school to be founded. The curriculum, the teaching and learning method, the assessment procedure, and so on are free to be constructed in the hands of those autonomous schools. If those schools fail to create a program that gives them a competitive edge, then they will not survive in the global world.

A lot of Indonesian people are actually very smart. They can compete with many international smarts. If the education system can be designed in such a way in order to get the best of them to rise, then the future of Indonesia will shine in the world. With the current education system, I’m afraid we are doing a disservice to the sons and daughters of this nation. For us to achieve the lofty goal of education in Indonesia, our education system must be adapted. We all want to see Indonesia to be filled with smart Indonesians. Moreover, we all want to see Indonesia to be swarmed with wise Indonesians. Only wise people can build a great nation. A great nation will attract wise people of the world to come and invest.

Arise O ye Indonesian Education. Seize the opportunity while it’s visible. One day the day will be dark and nobody can see anything. Make the right decision O government officials, educators, while responsibility is on your shoulder. One day you will not regret your decision when you are no longer in power. Prepare the way O ye people of Indonesia, so your sons and daughters will thank you when their time comes to rule. Make the necessary sacrifice and bear the burden, but don’t sacrifice others and make others suffer for your own satisfaction, you take up the cross and be willing to sacrifice yourselves, so your names will be honored for eternity from generation to generation. Seize the Day! Carpe Diem!

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