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Jakarta Post

Saving the future: Teachers can meet challenge of skills shortage

Tian Belawati
Jakarta   ●   Sat, November 2, 2013

In September 2012, the McKinsey Global Institute released startling findings on the state of Indonesia'€™s human capital in the face of global competition. The report titled The archipelago economy: Unleashing Indonesia'€™s potential, stated that by 2030, Indonesia could face a shortfall of 9 million workers educated to secondary and tertiary levels.

This further contributes to a shortage in leadership and managerial positions, which may lead to companies outsourcing for foreign talent across various industries in the country.

As the ASEAN Economic Community will soon be effective, the shortage may not only threaten Indonesia'€™s competitiveness at a global level, it will impact economic development in the long run.

The report'€™s finding calls for a great change in our education sector. As the popular saying goes, '€œIt takes a village to raise a child'€, thus the responsibility to raise and educate lies with every member of society, from parents to the various media that these children are daily exposed to.

But no one has such a major opportunity to directly influence a child'€™s education as teachers. Especially at the primary level, teachers have the crucial role of developing students'€™ inherent sense of curiosity. How teachers run classes and implement the curriculum affects how students learn, and in the end, the outcome of the learning itself.

Throughout the years, Indonesia has been accustomed to teacher-centered learning, where the teacher always has the final say in everything.

Students are not encouraged to elaborately discuss the materials taught to them, and are expected simply to swallow explanations. This discourages questioning by students, and withers their ability to creatively solve problems.

The result is where we are now; threatened by global competition in our very own homeland. It is urgent to give students more freedom, to take the initiative in the learning process.

In deciding how teachers can prevent a talent shortage, first we must set the parameters of an ideal teacher.

Basically a teacher should be able to nurture a student'€™s inherent sense of curiosity. Teachers should learn to overcome their fear of acknowledging they do not always have the answer to everything.

Allow students to ask as many questions as they want, no matter how trivial or difficult it may be. If the teacher finds himself unable to answer a student'€™s question, then ask students to work together with the teacher to find the answers.

The teacher'€™s role in guiding his students on finding answers to their questions requires ample sources of learning, and the teacher'€™s ability to utilize those sources. This is why the next parameter of an ideal teacher is the ability to capitalize on technology for learning and teaching.

Thankfully, upcoming changes in the teacher training system may just be the beginning of a new era in teaching in Indonesia. Aspiring teachers will be given scholarships to study at teacher training colleges, and to teach in rural areas as part of their training. Apart from a stricter selection process, teachers will also face continuous competence examinations throughout their careers to monitor their quality.

Teachers nowadays can use the ample open (read: free) and high quality teaching and learning resources on the Internet. One of them is the Guru Pintar Online portal initiated by Universitas Terbuka (the Indonesian Open University), through which teachers can save time and energy in seeking teaching materials to enrich students'€™ learning experiences.

Changes, however, do not happen overnight. In regard to the 2013 Curriculum, critics have said the education ecosystem is not yet ready for curriculum change. I strongly believe that we should not wait until we are ready; instead we should jump into it and start initiating the necessary changes.

If we wait until all (some 3 million) teachers in the country are fully trained, by the time we are '€˜ready'€™ for the new curriculum, the earlier trained teachers will have already forgotten the material.

It certainly will not be easy, but through gradual implementation, we can finally get there while continuing improvements. Just as when we wanted independence in 1945, we declared it first and then took care of all the necessary actions for building the nation later.

After the initial shock from the McKinsey report there are positive outcomes '€” if we know what to do, and how to do it right.

We should begin with gradual changes in how our teachers are being trained, which will lead to how they impact our children'€™s love of learning and hopefully their future.

The writer is the rector of Universitas Terbuka, Jakarta.