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“It doesn’t meet [or actually exceed] the standard decided by the foundation,” said a high-ranking official of a school. “There should be only one whiteboard in a classroom. The rest of the wall is for displays. Besides, if another homeroom teacher asked for more whiteboards, what will we do?”
In fact, the two extra whiteboards in the classroom were taken from the storeroom by the homeroom teacher. They had been broken and unused for a long time. But he had taken it upon himself to repair them so he could make use of them in his classroom. And the other teachers were amazed with what he had done. As a result of his actions, some of them then went searching through the abandoned but still useful resources in the storeroom and made use of them as well.
The event happened at a school at the start of the new academic year early this week, while welcoming students back after almost a month of holidays. “Instead of starting something the new year ‘as per usual’ with the things available and in hand, why shouldn’t we try some innovativeness without having to spend any money?” thought the teacher.
In Indonesian schools, the phenomenon of being shocked with innovation, or challenging the way things are or have been, is very common.
The minds of most school administrators and teachers are accustomed to gripping to tradition, although they may be out of date, and are only willing to change something if the request come from the top. In other words, they are very afraid to propose a dissenting opinion and are used to waiting for the official authority to impose a change. As Everett M. Rogers (2003) put it, most of them tend to be a skeptical majority and even laggards in dealing with innovation and are very rarely showing themselves to be early adopters of innovation, or becoming the innovators themselves.
There are at least some explanations. First, it might be related to their lack of an analytical mind, the ability to quickly understand something and to put forward a corresponding conclusion, or their insufficient possession of knowledge and ability in pedagogy.
It is partly because school administrators and teachers are nowadays recruited based more on the principle of “who is available” rather than “who is capable”.
Second, there is some terrifying permissiveness among school administrators and teachers regarding what they should do in schools. Work is merely regarded as a routine, and if possible, should be made to be less burdensome from time to time. They might even say “Why should we do or work extra when the reward is the same and nobody cares if there is a change or not?”
Third, regardless of any anthropological debates, this mindset relates to the leaning on a culture of harmony rather than organized conflict. In this culture, a change sparks unreasonable anxiety. Something new or different means the destruction of a well-guarded tradition, a change to something diverse and a shift of a structure, which may give one party less and another party more. Besides that, there is also a sentimentality and unwillingness to leave something possessed for a length of time.
The other critical phenomenon at our schools during each new academic year is the shopping addiction. The schools, for example, require the students to buy new textbooks. The parents also feel obliged to equip their children with everything new, from stationery to uniforms and accessories.
The schools themselves try to somehow buy new supplies without careful consideration of the availability and unavailability of resources. For example, people involved in decision-making, the buying of new things often means the opportunity for personal gain. Consequently, many usable items might be moved to the storeroom, put up for sale, or even lost.
The most common answer to the questions of completeness of school facilities is, “Our school doesn’t get enough financial support.” Or, it might be regarded as a reason or excuse to increase tuition fees or other introduce levies.
Cooperating with book publishers or distributors, the schools also manage the business of selling books to the students. Different from well-developed countries, for example, with the availability of textbooks or other learning resources in the library, Indonesian schools tend to force the parents each year (sometimes even every semester) to waste their money on new books and other supplies.
Despite the regulation issued by the Education and Culture Ministry that every school should provide textbooks in their libraries, the implementation of this regulation is something different. It occurs regularly that the books freely distributed by the Ministry are abandoned in the abandoned libraries.
More disappointing, these text books are easily found and readily available, both at the school and at flea markets, after being paid for, and with their owners’ names written on them, half-used, or even new due to rarely or never being used or read.
The reluctance to accept innovation (or even seek to innovate) as well as the propensity to waste things already in hand may to some extent explain why Indonesian education lags behind certain Southeast Asian neighbors.
The writer is a teacher in Jakarta and researcher at Paramadina Foundation and Ciputat School for Democratic Islam.