Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Major Problem of Formal Education in Indonesia: The Biggest Tragedy

Undoubtedly, formal education worldwide has been struggling to achieve its true goal. Indonesia is no exception. People’s confusion over the association the word education carries only complicates the problem. Most people would immediately associate formal education, which is schooling, with education as a whole. This is where the biggest problem can be found. The noble purpose of education, not formal education, has never recovered from failures ever since the world considered formal education to be the entire education. High hopes are flying in the air never to return satisfying. Money, a lot of it, is spent in formal education for the hope of
a better life. Unfortunately, not a better life people reap, but more debts and doubts. When formal education replaces the true meaning of education the world jumps into a vicious cycle. The heavy burden of formal education with the transfer of skills and knowledge is made even heavier by adding more unachievable goals, such as character, ethics, etc. Formal education becomes the center of total education to make good citizens of the world and to achieve the betterment of life. On the table of the board of directors, or education foundations, or the school leaderships, or the department of education of many universities, such idea seems glorious. For it has become an important motivation for many “educators” all over the world to jump into the enterprise of formal education. They sacrifice many things hoping to achieve the lofty goals. Little do they know that their endeavor is of no avail.

Surprisingly, people still believe that formal education is the answer to the latent problem of life. Many believe that in order to achieve a better life, we need higher and higher formal education. Fifty years ago, a high school diploma will suffice for someone to get a decent job. Nowadays, even
a bachelor degree is not enough. Soon, even a master degree will not do. There are many colleges and universities founded every year in the world. The problem is not whether there is a college or not, but instead the problem has shifted to how prestigious the formal education institution is. The more prestigious the institution the better the graduates’ chances for landing decent jobs. Formal education sector serves merely as a preparation for people to get “better” jobs. If it is so, then why in the world formal education is being charged with the duty to make good citizens of the world and to achieve the betterment of life? Then when it fails to make good citizens or fail to achieve the betterment of life, because it is merely functioning in preparing people to get better jobs, why is it considered a failure? I hope by now we have understood the confusion.

However, no matter how much we may understand the confusion, the vicious cycle is too strong to be undone. The burden formal education carries is too much compared to what it can do naturally. 
Total education can never be done by formal education. Informal education, on the other hand, plays more important role in shaping character, transforming ethics, or growing goodness. Regrettably, this important area has been neglected ever since our society started to be formed by school. People started to shift the burden of responsibility from their own families, communities, to the formal education. Thus culture now is dictated by formal education, by how much formal knowledge and skills one has. The more a person knows formal knowledge and skills, the more he/she is considered cultured. Or, now, the more degrees one can accumulate, the more cultured he/she is thought to be. Worse, since the era of colonization in the world, the western education has been considered as the best kind of education. And ever since, the name education has been closely associated with the kind of education the west brought to their colonized countries. So, any country that follows the same model has actually been westernized. Ignorantly, people call it “modernized” instead of westernized. Of course, the conqueror always gets the upper hand to determine the life of the conquered. In order for the colonization to work, the conqueror had to “educate” the conquered in the way of life of the conqueror. Such is the practice of the conquest game in the world, since the history of civilization. Therefore, since the west was successful in conquering many countries in the world, particularly in Asia and Africa, and formal education was then formed in the conquered countries, then Asia and Africa have been westernized ever since. Consequently, their culture too has been altered greatly. Traditional values have been beaten severely and never truly recovered. Formal education, therefore, has been used to exercise power and other purposes not in accordance with the true meaning the word education actually carries.

In this 21st century, we only begin to realize that since the industrialization of the world education has been used as a powerful tool to enhance economic power of a certain country. The idea is similar to colonization, but without the physical presence of the conqueror in the conquered country using military might. Industrialization sets the tone for economic superiority. Mass production changes the business model worldwide. The only presence needed is the products of the industry to be marketed in the conquered country. The west has known that selling their products merely in the west meets great competitions and thus less profit. So, the west has to enhance their “territory” or their market.
They looked at Asia, where half the world population lives. But enhancing their market territory is not without its challenges. The need is different. The culture is different. So how are they going to be able to sell their products to those who don’t need and don’t feel like they need their products? Again, the easy tool to use is education, formal education. With their supremacy already established in Asia since the colonization era, all they need to do is to enhance their superiority over the world in knowledge and skills, particularly in the industry. All they need to do is sell the idea of being modernized through the Imperialism-Capitalism system to whoever is in charge in the targeted country. The bait is set, and the authorities and the rich buy in the idea, for imperialism-capitalism model provides more power and riches. They too want to be richer and more powerful. Thus formal education that was formerly set by the west as part of their conquest is now enhanced by the country’s authorities. The goal is simple, which is to “educate” the market in order to alter their need. Once they feel they need the products of the west, then the west begins to reign through their industry.

Why is the idea appealing to the Asian countries?--Because there are many apparent advantages of adopting the Imperialism-Capitalism model. First, such model might give Asia a chance to compete in the global world, in which we all know that the alpha male is the west. Second, when the industry is set up then more jobs with higher pay become available. Third, the illusion that higher pay through industry will make life better. Fourth, the illusion that if industry is strong then the country becomes strong, and thus the country has a chance to steal the spot as the alpha male. And fifth, even if the above reasons are not achieved, the authorities and the rich still become richer and more powerful. So, why not? 
Formal education is the primary weapon for this economic conquest. Knowledge is imported from the west and made available even to the poorest; never is the indigenous education researched and improved and be seriously included in the curriculum. Authorities, then, market the idea of formal-education-will-make-you-achieve-your-dream kind of thing. So people from all levels internalize the idea and begin to strive for getting as much formal education as possible, if not for themselves then for their descendents. Such is the “Big Dream” of many poor people. Little do they know that once they jump into the formal education, they have entered into a powerful and intricate twister of the world economic conquest. In order to give the energy in the formal education set up, moral appeal must be inserted or otherwise no one would ever want to sacrifice their lives for it. Formal education is never the thing, power and riches are the thing. Formal education is just the means to get there.

Indonesia, for sure, is running in the same race. The “Big Dream” is set for the people. Formal education is pushed to the people of all levels. Not many are responding as eagerly. Perhaps because life is very laid back in Indonesia. Most of the people are in the relax mode almost all the time. Slowly but sure, many begin to dream big in the western part of Indonesia. The rich in Indonesia begins to realize the usefulness of formal education to be marketed to the people. The goal is to smooth the sale of their stores or products, such as houses, cars, motorcycles, cell phones, food products, clothes, etc. So many tycoons have started their brand of formal education, not only to complement their business, but more importantly also to rake more profit through “telling” them what they need. The “market” is educated through formal education in order to get them to buy what they sell. But with more rich people do the same strategy, the market share becomes smaller. They need to find a new territory to enhance their sale.

In the past 3-4 years, the “trading route” for the eastern part of Indonesia has been opened big time. The question is: “Why? Why now? Why not 20 or 30 years ago?” The answer lies in whether 20 or 30 years ago the eastern part of Indonesia would bring in profit? If setting up a business in the eastern Indonesia would cost them more than if setting it up in the western part, then why would the business people risk it at all? For not only they would risk less profit, they also could not have known whether their business would be profitable or not. So a pioneer work must be done. The pioneer work that has been done since the conquest game in the world began. Formal education again is chosen as the tool to “educate” the market that they need modern products, that they must dream to own such products for honor, glory, comfort, esteem.
The dream can only be achieved by formal education. This is the heart of the vicious cycle. The more people are educated through formal education, the more they would feel they need the modern products. They then would leave their “old” way of life in order to be “modernized.” The new way of life is actually the western twister of economic conquest. People may call it as the consumerism culture. Indonesia has begun its journey to become one of the largest consumer countries in the world. We should not wonder now why Nokia and Sony would launch their first cell phone product line in Indonesia. Because Indonesia can’t produce. Indonesia can only consume. The formal education in Indonesia is not set up for production, but for consumption.

Indeed the pioneer work of formal education being set up in the eastern part of Indonesia has been going on in a decade before the Indonesian government finally directed the focus of Indonesian economy to grow the east of Indonesia. Without the seminal work of formal education a decade earlier, the business endeavor would be too risky in the east of Indonesia. Through formal education business goals are achieved and thus economic conquest materializes. In other words, Indonesia is conquered…by the west, through the help of the authorities and the rich. The sad part is, formal education is being used for the conquest purpose. 
More sad still, is the fact that the goals of the formal education is loaded with all the “noble” causes. So, the marketing of the formal education is made in such a way that it can certainly take up the responsibility of the informal education, namely to form character, to transform ethics, to make good people. This is sad because it is not only misleading, but also manipulative. People buy in to the “good goals” but in fact they don’t get them. Instead, they become modernized, or more precisely, they become consumerized. The Imperialism-Capitalism culture is then enhanced through formal education, getting people to be greedy for power and riches. The worst is, they think the only way to achieve them is by way of “owning” the modern products, be it big houses, prestigious cars, degree diploma from prestigious schools, the latest gadgets, brand name clothes and accessories, etc.

Formal education has failed the name of education. The more people own the products, the more they want more. This is the trap of consumerism. If they can’t get the products, they either feel their life is a big failure or take up the evil route in order to get power and riches. “How to fix this?” we might ask. The answer is simple. Autonomy. Government must not control formal education. Education enterprise must be sovereign in its own sphere, free from the intervention by any other enterprises, particularly government. Money and power should never be the goals of any kind of education. Once the government let go of control of formal education, the west can never conquer Indonesia through it. Over many centuries, formal education has been used effectively for conquest. It is about time we learn from history and not repeat the same mistake. 
All the commotions in the formal education sector as hotly discussed and debated by many educators in Indonesia and that has created tensions among the ministry of education are all meaningless and amount to nothing except the worsening of formal education in Indonesia. The current debate over UAN and its execution is a ridiculous debate. This will be a never ending debate, no matter how and what route the government is taking. The problems of formal education in Indonesia must first be understood and addressed correctly before it can be fixed. It is broken and we all know it. It will never solve the societal problem in Indonesia, for it is never its task in the first place, nor it has the capability to do so. Informal education must be revived if societal problems are the aim. But formal education must also be re-centered by decentralizing it through and through. Even each provincial government does not have inherent authority over it. Education must be sovereign in its own sphere, including formal education. It must not be driven by profit or any other exploitative purposes. Knowledge and skills transformation is at the core of its structure. If the education of character, ethics and morality, and all the intangible and spiritual learning are to be included, then the structure of formal education now must be totally redone.



Vinson Sidharta said...

Mister ferry, if government give formal education autonomy, how can they still give good education ? I'm afraid if there is no any concrete standard, than the education fall to be educators' tool to make their students fool themselves or the worst, their goldmine. How can characters or ethics be more concrete or attractive so people tend to choose these types of education than the awesome, powerful, concrete effect of money? Thanks mr ferry.

motyang said...

Hi Vinson. Very good question. The formal education sector, when they are given autonomy, they would need to form a committee that will supervise the assessment/accreditation of the formal education. This kind of committee can be formed regionally, in order to manage accordingly. If the size is too big, many more problems usually arise. With size, usually comes power. And as Lord Acton says: "Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.". This is what happens to the centralized and government controlled education. Standard can be made concrete without government's involvement. Academic standard is well known internationally by those who are involved in academic education. The standard, if autonomy is given, will no longer be controlled by the government to serve their purpose. But with autonomy, the standard will be built upon knowledge and understanding of the nature and purpose of formal education. Of anyone might be able to manipulate formal education with enough power, however, with autonomy the scope can be limited severely. In the hands of government, the scope is big, it is national. It covers, in Indonesia, more than 200 millions people. Such power is scary.

Character-based formal education is difficult to build and maintain. Assessment usually is the main stumbling block. However, character-based education is what religious leaders, philosophers, family, society, do naturally through informal education. For example, Plato, following Socrates, his basic assumption is "good.". So, good is the standard for education. Aristotle picks it up and continues on with his summum bonum. In the east, Confucius also bases his philosophy and thus his teaching on good. Money will always be attractive. But in the end, money does not make the world better. It is in fact the source of problems and evil. Jesus says it accurately. A person may become rich through formal education, but once his/her character is judged to be evil, he/she has lost a huge portion of his life, with or without being aware of it. There are many things we can discuss about this matter. But I will stop here for the moment. Thank you Vinson.