Concentrate: : A student of Junior High School SMP 216 works her way through the national exam in this April 23, 2012 photo. (JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)
Prior to 2004, students spent around 37 hours at school a week. Schools were not eager to hold extra hours while parents did not encourage extra courses since students would pass their senior years regardless of grades.
Nur Janatul, 27, a tax official, recalled her days when she was in a state high school in Surakarta, Central Java.
“I remember that schools were finished at 1:30 p.m. and I waited for a bus to go home with my friends,” she said.
In her school, extra hours were only for the seniors because they were trying to pass UMPTN, the national tests to enter state universities.
She only took extra courses a month before the UMPTN and made it to the prestigious Law Faculty of the University of Indonesia.
Rita Hastuti, the deputy principal overseeing the curriculum affairs of SMA 24, disagreed that students spent more time studying.
She said studying hours at her school were 38 to 42 hours a week, which were relatively normal for her.
“Unlike in other cities, in Jakarta, students study five days a week and use Saturday for extracurricular activities. That is why they spend more time during weekdays at school,” she told The Jakarta Post.
However, some schools give additional learning time to students who still lack of understanding on certain subjects. Rita said the school day usually ends at 3 p.m., but some students can sit a couple of more hours depending on their achievement indicator and on students’ requests. The classes after school hours are referred to as “clinics”.
“The clinic can be one to two hours after school,” she said, adding that students can also actively ask to join the clinic.
Tabitha Sri Hartini, the principal of state junior high school SMP 159 in West Jakarta, said the study length of a subject actually decreased from 45 minutes to 40 minutes under the current curriculum. Additional learning hours for studying are given to students who face national exams (UN).
“Our school committee agrees that ninth-graders will have additional hours from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday, at the end of semester five,” she said.
Former deputy minister of the National Education Ministry Fasli Djalal said school children may spend more time at school, but that did not necessarily mean they were spending quality time at school.
“If the length of study does not sharpen the students’ interest and curiosity, then they will just learn to memorize knowledge. The memory can go once they finish the examination,” he said.
Fasli said according to research in 2007, that during a 40-minute study in the classroom, students wasted 12 minutes on things that were unrelated or had little relationship with the subject.
The research, called Video Study, was conducted by the Education and Culture Ministry and the World Bank in the eighth grade of a number of junior high schools in Indonesia.
The Jakarta Teachers Discussion Forum (FSGI) chairwoman, Retno Listyarti, said UN placed both mental and financial pressure on students, teachers and parents. She said the additional learning hours at school, additional courses outside school and the number of practice examinations drained their energy and finances.
“UN has become a tool to show achievement, which creates sys-temic pressure on teachers, principals and officials,” she said.
The civic education teacher of SMA 13 in North Jakarta said she could not do anything to reduce the students’ stress because at her school, many teachers who taught subjects outside UN materials were not available to assist those senior students focusing on the UN, particularly in the final semester, around January.
“We can just watch them feeling fed up with numerous exercises. Everybody focuses on UN, which does not influence the quality of education and is unfair on regions with poor facilities,” she said.
She pointed out that UN did not guarantee students’ independence in learning but was just to show their ability to answer question sheets.
Education expert Mohammad Abduhzen said UN was not an effective tool in improving the quality of education because the system created fear among students who worried about graduating.
“Many students consider UN as a threat that has to somehow be got around, so that they can avoid failure.
“In response to nerves, they may cheat or do irrational things, such as holding a mass prayer or washing their parents’ feet,” he said.
He urged the government to review the evaluation system and obey the Supreme Court’s 2007 order to cancel the UN until the quality of teachers, school facilities and information access was improved in all parts of the country.
This year, FSGI recorded various cheating reports during UN for both junior high school and senior high school students in a dozen cities, including Jakarta, Bandung, Depok and Palembang. The reports varied from distribution of key answers to manipulating the marks in submitted reports.
This year’s national exams will account for 60 percent of students’ overall grading, while the remaining 40 percent will be judged by submitted reports.
On second thoughts
How the government has changed the exam system over the years
The government officially scrapped the national final examinations (Ebtanas) for elementary schools, Islamic schools and elementary schools for handicapped children and authorized schools to organize their own final examinations and employ customized evaluation systems for their pupils.
The government issued Decree No. 017/U/2003 on the national final examinations for junior high and high school students, ordering materials for the national exams to be set by both the government and the schools. The minimum passing grade was an average score of 6 on a 10 scale. The minimum score for each subject should be more than 3.
The national education minister sanctioned failing students who performed lower than the minimum grades and set remedial tests for them. Those who failed were required to take an equivalence test or wait for the exams the following year.
Despite criticism, the government decided to run national exams and raised the passing grade to 4.25, which led to a record high percentage of students failing the exams.
An alliance of teachers and student alliances filed a civil lawsuit against the government with the Central Jakarta District Court after about 600,000, or about 10 percent, of junior high and high school students failed the year’s exam. In the regions, many reports emerged suggesting that school administrators and teachers helped students cheat in order to help prevent them from failing the tests.
The National Education Ministry raised the minimum passing grade to an average of 5.00 and decided that no student could advance with a score below 4.25 on any individual test, the only exception being that students would be allowed to score 4 in one subject if they scored at least 6 in two other subjects.
The National Education Ministry raised the bar for the final examination’s passing grade to 5.25 from the previous year’s 5.00. The government reinstalled the exams for elementary school students, but without a failure system.
• The National Education Ministry raised the bar on the final examination’s passing grade to 5.5 from the previous year’s 5.25.
• The Supreme Court ruled that the government had to suspend the implementation until it provided equal quality infrastructure across the provinces.
• The government insisted on keeping the national exams, arguing that it required additional legal arrangements to overturn the failure system. For the first time, a mix of school grades and exam grades would determine graduation. It also stipulated the application of a greater number of random working sheet models to prevent cheating.
• The profile of education across the regions did not improve as high failing rates continued throughout the bottom performing regions.
Source: The Jakarta Post, Kompas