First of all, we all have commonly understood that the greatest problem of the Indonesian formal education resides with its being controlled or greatly influenced by the government. Thus politics, powers, and business are the influencing factors to where the educational policy and curriculum are going. This tie between the government and the formal education inevitably forms a malicious bond. The government is elected every five year. If the president believes that his cabinet does not work effectively enough, he has the prerogative to change his cabinet in the middle of his presidential term. And so, the Minister of Education too can be replaced even shorter than his/her official term. Now, the public opinion goes: “Ganti Mentri, Ganti Kurikulum” (trans. “When the Minister is changed, the Curriculum is changed too.”) This is malicious because then the Indonesian formal education can never find its stability. Education relies on stability and curriculum requires a stable continuing sequence in order to progress properly. We may change the details, but we ought not to change the framework every so often. The oft changes disrupt the educational process big time. Once a framework is chosen and executed, it must be done until it is completed. Only then we can see the full result and get the proper assessment. Otherwise, we will only reap educational whirlwind. Elements of education will get confused. For example, teachers will completely be thrown out of the kettle if they have to change their teaching pattern every few years. Once the philosophical framework is set out for the national curriculum, it is expected to run until its completion. It still needs to be evaluated every year in order to ensure that it is going toward the stated goal, but this doesn’t mean that the entire framework must then be replaced every time a new minister is appointed.
Therefore, the solution for this problem is as simple as severing the tie. Political agenda must not be carried into the national education framework. The national education framework must not be controlled by the government. The pace is not the same. The government officially changes every five years. But formal education can’t keep up with the five year change. Formal education needs much longer time to work properly. Just like we can’t rush a child into adulthood, we too can’t rush formal education to mature every five years. In Indonesia we have proven it for as long as I can remember, the failure of keeping the tie. National education fails again and again. Every time a new minister of education is appointed, he/she is busy to change the curriculum to suit his/her agenda. The first year or two of his/her office time are used up to uproot the old curriculum and then to sow the new curriculum. The last three years of his/her office will be spent weathering the storm that is the result of the curriculum change. Then he retires from his position. And a new minister is appointed. The new minister will repeat the cycle of uprooting, sowing, and weathering the storm. And so the Indonesian formal education will never come out of crisis. Every new government will introduce a new crisis. The crises are piling up in the department of education. And the formal education institutions and the elements of education such as teachers and students suffer terribly. No wonder we today inherit such a mumble jumble national education framework. This malicious bond must be stopped. National formal education must be liberated from the bondage. It must stand independently from the government political interference. This is the first order of business.
The second order of business is to give the national education its vision and mission. It is the government’s responsibility to provide the vision and the mission. It is also the government’s duty to make sure all the necessary tools are available for the formal education institutions to use to ensure that the vision and mission be realized. The government must not busy itself with the details of the educational process. Leave such details in the hands of the independent formal education institutions, be it the accreditation agencies, or the schools itself, or the universities, or the textbook makers, and so on. Even public schools or government funded formal education institutions must be independent from the five-yearly change of the government. Keep them from corruption through a sustainable system that promotes accountability and fair assessment. The government must delegate. Being able to delegate accordingly is the mark of true leadership. The government must provide good leadership. It can’t lead if it continues interfering with the details, in this case – what has been done for ages – is through the detailed curriculum and the textbooks provision. Someone once said that the mark of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again hoping for a different result. Indonesian education has been doing the same thing over and over again, and over that course of time we have been reaping disaster after disaster, why repeat the same thing again? We are not insane, are we? Leave the educational details to the hands of the able, and let the government focus on the tasks that they must do. Casting the vision and the mission of the Indonesian education is the portion of the Indonesian government. But chasing after the detail of the curriculum and textbooks is not.
When a leader can’t delegate, he/she is doomed to failure. This happens everywhere. Steve Jobs could not be the one doing everything Apple did. He had to have the designer of the products that was not him. He had to have the coder of the computer programs that was not him. He had to have a financial director that ran the financial operation of Apple Inc. that was not him. And so on and so forth. You got the idea. As the leader of Indonesian formal education, the government must realize its limit. A severe limitation is at full view, which is the length of official service it can give. One must be rational and accept this limitation. Not forcing the irrational into dreaming that within the five year of office one can do everything perfectly. It doesn’t work! Once you leave office, and the new minister is appointed, all your work is thrown into the garbage can. And goes also all the works that haven been invested to make the change. This pain only adds up. It frustrates people even more. We all need stability. Education in particular needs stability. There is discrepancy between the work that the government can do with its limitation and the demand of the work that must be done in the national formal education. So the rational solution is to delegate. Delegate the things that the government can’t do to those that can. Donald Seibert, who was CEO and chairman of J.C. Penney, once said: “The feeling that you can do the job better yourself makes delegation difficult. But I’ve been a more effective leader when others have actually done the work.”
The third order of business is to create a sustainable system for the Indonesian formal education. The creation of the sustainable system is best illustrated with the creation of infrastructure of the Indonesian society. The building of roads, highways, transportation system, water, and so on is key for the proper running of the society. We can’t just build nice buildings, nice malls, bringing in good commodities, but yet there is no proper roads or highways. The nice buildings or malls will soon be forgotten because nobody could go there with ease. The good commodities will be spoiled in the storehouse because it can’t be transported and distributed properly to the cities and villages that need due to the lack of proper roads. The infrastructure is necessary for the functioning of the society. In the same way, the infrastructure of the Indonesian formal education must be prepared for the proper running of the formal education in Indonesia. And such huge task is the duty of the government which has been endowed with great power to carry and complete it.
One of the most important tools for ensuring the success of education is assessment. Assessment is needed to find out where we are at. Not only where the learners are at, but also where the teachers are at, where the educational institutions are at, where the educational programs are at, and so on. Assessment is needed to monitor our progress. Through it we can see whether we are too slow, or whether we are on track, etc. If to build the infrastructure of the formal educational system, an assessment agency must be created independently. No government ties whatsoever may exist. This is to keep the agency pure from any political agenda or power struggle (or corruption). Just like when building roads, we need also to ensure that the road signs are clear. We must not build road signs that are hidden or unclear that is prone to be exploited by corrupt people. No power abuse is to be given opportunity to take charge. Now, the assessment agency that is to be built ought to be built more than one nationally. This is to tackle monopoly which leads to power abuse again. Therefore it is imperative to build several assessment agencies or accreditation agencies that are independent of the government and independent of one another. The purpose is to have peer accountability among agencies. Each agency will be audited by the others to ensure the proper work of accreditation is done well. The government may initiate the building of the agencies, but may not insert their people in it. Election of the leaders must be done by an independent board of trustees for each agency. The board of trustees must come from diverse people representing many different segments of the society and formal education institutions. Appointment of leaders and then staff of the agencies must be done fairly based on professionalism.
Each agency is tasked with creating a well-balanced system of assessment for all formal education institutions. Their philosophy must be set out clearly and properly. Vision and mission must be written accordingly in order to achieve the national education goals as stipulated by the government and to enhance formal education enterprise as necessary. They are in existence with one of the purposes to help formal education institutions to run their educational programs properly in order to achieve the national goals.
Another thing to initiate is the creation of teachers colleges across the nation. Each teachers college must be again independent from the government. Its program is to be designed independently for the purpose of fulfilling the national educational vision and mission. More specifically, the teachers college must aim at graduating highly skilled teachers that will work professional in educational institutions nationwide. With this initiative, the government must also work on making sure that the compensation of teachers be on the right standard. This is key for the success of the achievement of the national goals.
It has been widely known that teaching profession holds a low salary. The impact of this ordeal is that people of talents, highly intelligent, very capable, are not willing to dedicate their life to teaching because of the low salary, which means their life would be miserable, and that they would be disrespected because of being poor. So the able people choose different paths, even though they might just have the passion for teaching. But the low salary discourages them from joining the noble force. This is a huge failure strategically. Countries that desire to progress accordingly cannot abandon formal education. And one important infrastructure to prepare is to entice the highly intelligent people to want to take the teaching profession. We can’t allow incapable people to teach. In order to bring in capable people, we need to give them proper compensation. We can’t deceive them by saying all the right thing in order to instill guilty feeling or feeling of indebtedness or dream of a vision that they would not enjoy in order to get them to dedicate their entire lives in education. The government must write a policy that will govern the teacher professional qualifications and their proper compensation (commensurate with skills, experience, and degrees according to the global best practice). In average, teachers in the western countries receive about $50,000 USD annually plus benefits (health insurance, housing allowance, book allowance, etc.).
About more than 15 years ago, the country in Southeast Asia that just came out of their terrible impact caused by war, Vietnam, decided to put a heavy emphasis on the national formal education. They allocated a huge chunk of their national budget to improve their national formal education. Within that initiative, they increased their teachers’ salary two or three times the then average. And so many talented people rushed into joining the teaching workforce. Vietnam has progressed so rapidly in their formal education sector surpassing Indonesia. Another important example for Indonesia to learn from is by looking at Finland. Finland is now said to have the best formal education there is in the world. Their secret is simple. They do not rely heavily on the detailed curriculum textbooks or national exams (the things the government of Indonesia has been busy pushing and emphasizing for so many years but have resulted in a massive education failure every time). Finland invests heavily on the teachers. Their schools employ the best minds to become teachers. Their primary and secondary schools are filled with PhDs as the teachers. No wonder their students enjoy school. They learn so much more from the primary sources who themselves profess the disciplines. Finland does not employ textbook operators who only know how to repeat what the teachers’ manual says. One of the greatest strategic failures in the Indonesian formal education is the employing of textbook operators in schools. No wonder Indonesian students don’t enjoy school. They also do not get into the level of understanding that is required for each discipline. All this keep our national education standard very very low. If you go to a doctor to consult about your illness, do you want someone analyzing your illness who is only a textbook operator and not a real doctor? It is your life on the table, I bet you would not want someone who is only a textbook operator performs a surgery on you, would you? In the same way, for the formal education to function well, you need a real teacher. A teacher that is highly intelligent. A teacher that professes the discipline like his life depends on it. This is the most important educational infrastructure investment Indonesian government must heed if Indonesia is to progress significantly as a nation.
Do not merely praise teachers as the “hero without medal” but despise them by keeping their salary low. If you continue to do so, you will not have heroes, but you will have people who are the worst kind of teachers – the impassionate ones who take the teaching profession only because there is no other work available for them. Indonesia needs to get the best “hero without medal.” Teachers do not need a medal. They do not need the empty praise. They need their family taken care of. They need enough salary to live well, which is also necessary for their continuous improvement in their keeping up with the knowledge development. Teachers need to keep up with technology too. They need to maintain their honor and dignity as well. Poverty kills people’s soul. It degrades people’s self-esteem. So it is imperative to keep the teachers well salaried. With it then the quality of teachers can be demanded accordingly. Team this up with well-designed teachers colleges, then Indonesia will have highly qualified teachers to fill the educational institutions.
Next is the bureaucracy. It is nationally known that Indonesian bureaucracy is crazy. There are too many things unnecessary for accreditation, for permit, for anything, that hampers development. The government must realize this and attempt to simplify the bureaucracy in order to support the enhancement and growth of the formal education in Indonesia. This does not mean that any educational institution may exist. But what we need to understand is that we must attend to the important things and not be bothered with the unnecessary things. Simple bureaucracy will discourage corruption. Complicated bureaucracy will open too many opportunities for corruption. The focus here is to simplify what is complicated. Let me give you a first-hand experience. When our family came back from Canada to Indonesia, we registered our kids to the local school in our hometown. But then the school said that we couldn’t enroll the kids in school unless all the paperwork from the government was in place. Now that’s kind of surprising. Anyway, we went through the website in order to register our kids to the government in order to get the “transfer” status for them from Canadian school to the Indonesian school. We went through all the required things in the website. We submitted every single document asked. Then we got a message from the government saying that the “transfer” status has been approved and ready to be picked up. Now the second surprise. The document could not be picked up in our hometown, but it had to be picked up in the Nation capital. This means plane ticket and all. When it was about to be picked up, the officer said that the document could not be picked up. Why? Because there is another sequence that needed to be completed, which was the diploma equivalency. Meaning we had to yet submit another application in order to get our kids’ Canadian school diploma or report cards be considered equivalent to the Indonesian schooling standard. So much about coming to the Nation capital. All for nothing. So everything back to square one. Another application to go. Documents to submit. Then waiting for the response. After a few weeks the government responded. The diploma equivalency had been approved. Like it was before, we could not pick the documents in our hometown. But it had to be picked up in the Nation capital. Physically the document must be picked up. In this day and age where mail, email, and fax dominate, we still had to pick up the physical document in a certain place. This is kind of surprising, isn’t it? This is what I mean by complicated bureaucracy.
Let me tell you the comparison. We had a chance to enroll our kids in the US and in Canada. The two schools in the two countries run similar policies. Their basic policy is that it is the school’s duty to make sure students are educated properly regardless of their level. Their teachers have the basic tenet of accepting students without discrimination. They would help their students in whatever condition they are in order to keep up with their respective grade(s). And they are always trusting. They did not test our kids for placement or anything. They simply asked hat grades were they. So we told them so and so. They took our word without the need of proving it. They were so happy to be of service to educate the next generation. So contrast with the education model in Indonesia, where candidate students are tested vigorously to determine whether they pass a certain grade or not, whether they fit a certain grade or not, and so on and so forth. But not in the US and Canada. They took our kids into their arms like they were their own students already. We just arrived and it was the first time we visited the school. A teacher brought us for a tour of the school facilities. She also introduced us with several teachers and staff. We went to the classroom for the respective grades, then the library (what a feat), then we went to the computer lab, then to the playground, to the restrooms, to the admin office, and so on. Amazing hospitality. My children were hooked, immediately. The oldest, she was in grade 3 at that time, did not wish to go home. She wished to stay in the school eager to start school immediately. She forgot about her jetlag and all. She right away felt at home in the new school. She felt welcomed. So she stayed. We did not talk about her tuition or anything of that sort. They focused on catering the new students. It is so different than Indonesia. In Indonesia, the first talk was about the tuition. Then the test. Then on how difficult the school is. How elite it is because of its being difficult and all. So many hoops to cross for a child to get into a school in Indonesia. The test is so daunting. My kids cried after being tested in a school in Indonesia. She felt unwelcomed. She did not feel at home at all. She immediately wanted to go home. The comparison is between heaven and earth. In Indonesia the norm is that formal education is the complete duty of the students and the parents, and private tutors. Whereas schools and teachers they merely provide a space and the operator of the textbooks and then the credentials. This gets me to the next critique.
In the developed countries like the US and Canada, their focus is on educating the students wholeheartedly so they would become the good citizens they ought to be, citizens of the country, and the citizens of the world, who would uphold virtues and not vices. They focus on the highest order of thinking that promotes creativity and leadership. But here in Indonesia or even Singapore the focus is on producing more operators that would just follow the manual of the machine. These graduates would never be leaders. They can’t be creative. They will forever be followers who can’t think for themselves. They always will need to be told what to do. In such arrangement their soul is dwarfed while their want grows. So in their desire for a “better” life they resort to something they should not tread. They begin abandoning their virtues one by one because pragmatically their virtues have done them nothing good. So they soon become blinded, their orientation has gone awry, so their flirting with vices start producing fruits. Corruption, apathy, hopelessness, depression, purposeless life, careless lifestyle, drugs, and everything that serves like the opium of the soul piles up until they live like a robot, like a zombie, like the walking dead.
What good is it to run schools if the result is the production of the walking dead. Meaningless life awaits these people. Why persist on this kind of arrangement? Isn’t it time to change all that. Isn’t it time to focus on graduating true citizens, of the country and of the world who hold virtues and not vices? If so, we can’t persist on using the current formal education model. Something’s got to change.
The infamous national exams must be repelled. It has been done for so many decades and it did not do any good. It creates stress. It derails the process of education, It produces chaos. In the mind of the students. In the heart of the parents. In the operation of the schools. In the work of the teachers. And in the business of the government. It is time for the government to let go of such control. It was done without clear thinking. It was rushed in based on a faulty idea. To imitate Singapore is a big mistake. Singaporean model of formal education is changing now. It is on the track of abandoning the factory model of education. All the rote memorization and all the working hard kind of discipline is now being replaced with understanding and with working smart. Why in the world Indonesia persist in adopting the rote memorization and the working hard path? And the new model can’t be achieved or supported by national exams. Especially the kind of national exams being done over and over in Indonesia. The current curriculum too is very immature. It is unfinished. Even on paper it is not good. How can it be good in practicality?! The so called K13 is an incomplete work. Conceptually it consists of good things, but it is implemented very poorly. The infrastructure is not ready. We can’t build malls without first readying the roads. No one would enjoy the benefit of the malls we are building because there are no roads toward the malls. Such arrangement is foolish. It only spells disaster. The current president is working so hard to remedy the structure of society in this country. So President Joko Widodo puts his focus on the massive creation of the country’s infrastructure. He ordered the building of roads, highways, good transportation system, and so on. He is right on the target. Without proper infrastructure Indonesia will never be a developed country. When I was in China in 1997, China was busy making all the highways and roads all across China. When their economy boomed ten years later, they rode on the wave gloriously because everything was ready for them. The transportation of goods were so convenient that the entire world set up their precious companies in China.
Next, find a minister of education that really has a degree, a passion, training, a keen mind, and the gift in education for goodness sake! Do not put an engineer in that position. Do not put a businessman in that position. Do not put a politician in that position. Would you want a mechanic to perform a surgery on your heart?? Then why are you willing to have a minister of education who knows nothing about education?? For so many years Indonesia has not seen a minister of education who really understands education. And we marvel at how mess up Indonesian formal education is?
Here I submit my critique of the Indonesian formal education, not only for Indonesians to see, but for the whole world, with the purpose to ameliorate this enterprise. Because I care so much about it. A change is needed. I wish only for something good to happen to it. Our current arrangement is not gonna cut it. It is not gonna get Indonesia to the 21st century education. It will only get Indonesia left behind for good. Even the US is changing its formal education upon knowing that Finland has done better, much better than them, in the formal education sector. If Indonesia is to aim at the world class education, we can’t look back and persist in the old way of the industrial revolution. This is the 21st century. Industrial revolution era has passed. More than 300 years ago it started, it has run its course, it is running out of gas. We can’t stay on the lower order of thinking anymore. To produce ‘applier” is a thing in the past. We need to produce “creator” instead. We need to aim at that higher order of thinking. We need to focus on graduating citizens of the world who hold virtues so dearly that they hate vices so much. Then and only then we will have a developed Indonesia.
 Harold Lawrence Myra, ed., Leaders: Learning Leadership from Some of Christianity’s Best, vol. 12, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Books, 1987), 153.