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Editorial: Bottom of the class

Mon, December 3 2012 | 03:42 pm

You have to scroll a long, long way down the latest education survey to finally locate Indonesia at the very end of the world index. Last Tuesday, Pearson, an educational publishing firm, released “The Learning Curve” — a report on global education. The report includes something called the Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment.

The study covered 40 countries and used widely available data such as international assessments of math, science and reading. The result is Finland and South Korea top the list, while Indonesia share the lowest rank with Mexico and Brazil.

Though Finland and South Korea look starkly different in terms of the general approach to education, with the famed pressure on young South Koreans, the two countries focus on developing “high quality teachers”.

Our families increasingly want good education for both sons and daughters, but credible and affordable schools and universities are few and far between. We also hear reports of fake diplomas, and of political hotshots attending graduate courses with their assistants “helping” the writing of their thesis, and even sitting in for them in class. And with so many officials and politicians investigated for corruption, one wonders what kind of education has contributed to such upstanding characters?

So, what is the solution for our abysmal national education system? Focus on history, civics and religion, our lords and masters have decreed. The draft of the new curriculum has drawn much criticism, and very little praise.

The curriculum overhaul, initiated by the Education and Culture Ministry, was apparently in reaction to all the recent bad news of students involved in brawls and even murder.

Longer classes in religion will save these young souls, one politician said, echoing Religious Affairs Minister Surya-dharma Ali, to the outcry of educators.

“Living examples at home as well as school” are what children need, an educator said, regarding values such as compassion and respect.

Arguably Finland and South Korea are much richer than Indonesia, but as the report says, factors like income do not wholly explain education achievements across the 40 countries.

Successful schools “find culturally effective ways to attract the best people to the profession”, the report said; they provide relevant training and “give teachers a status similar to that of other respected professions”. The system, it said, “sets clear goals and expectations but also lets teachers get on with meeting these”.

Here teachers often insist that they have to keep up with demands of the national curricula and cover a long list of material that students must master. That Indonesians remain less competitive at the global level has yet to lead to a change of policy which will allow teachers to give students sufficient grounding in the basic skills of reading and math, for instance. The result is decades of having students learning a dozen subjects or more, from the lowest level to senior high school. Combined with uninspiring teachers, it is not all that surprising to see students turning to peers who offer the more exciting world, perhaps, of brawls, to gain self worth.

The country has quite a few gems among its students and teachers; and private movements such as Indonesia Mengajar (Indonesia Teaching) show widespread enthusiasm for volunteering in education. But this is no substitute for a national policy, which must shift to more realistic objectives, to ensure our graduates can compete on a global scale.

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