The state of global education standards was revealed on Dec. 3, with the publication of the results of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).
This three-yearly assessment has produced international education rankings for 65 countries based on tests in reading, mathematics and science taken by more than 510,000 15-year-old students.
The PISA results for Indonesian students are the second lowest in the league table, worse than the last PISA in 2009, when Indonesia ranked 57th. The result shows the Indonesian education system is going nowhere, despite massive investment.
Meanwhile, some Asian countries such China, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and also Taiwan have maintained their slots in the top five of the league. In addition, a surprise came from Vietnam, which administered the exam for the first time and wound up in the top 20.
Can Indonesia learn how to improve its education outcomes by looking to the example of high-performing PISA Asian countries like China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, or even Vietnam?
The fact that many countries have experienced rapid progress in their education systems shows that the answer is 'yes!' South Korea, for instance, within less than a decade, was able to double its students' achievements.
According to the OECD, the survey reveals several features of the best education systems. Top performers, notably in Asia, place great emphasis on teacher developments through selecting and training teachers, priorities investment in teacher quality and giving teachers autonomy in the classroom.
This country must do its best to develop exceptional teachers. It should begin investing in the preparation and development of high-quality teachers. This requires rethinking many of the methods in use in Indonesia for preparing and developing teachers, including: How to optimize the pool of individuals from which teacher candidates are drawn; new guidelines for recruiting and selecting teachers; and how teachers are monitored and inducted into their service.
Indonesia is now at a critical point of its teacher training programs. Nowadays, there are about 415 pre-service teacher-training institutions, but only about 10 percent of them are public institutions.
It is a huge challenge to ensure institutions effectively screen teacher trainees, provide relevant training content and provide modality to establish links between university courses and practical classroom teaching in schools.
Therefore, controls on the intake of pre-service training candidates will be necessary to ensure only a reasonable number and quality enter the system.
In terms of teacher recruitment, the government needs to reassess its guidelines for recruiting and selecting teachers. The option of simplified procedures for teacher recruitment through only written tests seems to have weakened the educational outcome.
In top performing countries such as South Korea, the teacher candidates have to pass several different steps of tests.
It begins with an education knowledge test, a critical essay about subject matter, and then continues to interview, lesson plan, and the final test is about teaching simulation.
It is noteworthy that the top performing countries that have succeeded in making rapid improvements have often done so not just through increasing teachers' salaries, but also by raising the status of teaching and giving teachers responsibilities as professionals.
The lesson from South Korea is that as a professional, a teacher is evaluated not only by the government but also peers, students, parents and principals. Based on the evaluation, teachers with poor results will receive supplementary training tailored to their needs, while teachers with high performances are given opportunities for personal research or education at universities or relevant institutions at home or abroad.
We have witnessed how doubling a teacher's salary, so far, does not have any correlation to the student's performance. In its 2013 report entitled Spending more or spending better: Improving education financing in Indonesia, the World Bank revealed Indonesia's teacher certification program needed to be reassessed, since it was not delivering expected results.
The students of certified teachers do not perform significantly better on tests. Consequently, the Indonesian education system needs more than only increasing teacher salaries.
Indonesia has the resources and the talent to compete more effectively and raise its level of educational achievement, but only if it demonstrates with its actions that it truly values education and develops the political will to devote the necessary resources for educational reform.
If Indonesia fails to improve its education achievement, it will most likely face many problems in economic development. As an OECD official for education, Andreas Schleicher, says, 'your education today is your economy tomorrow.'
The writer is a recipient of the Indonesia Endowment Fund for Education Scholarship (LPDP) and is studying at the University of Southampton, the UK.