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Jakarta Post

Professionalization of the teaching profession

  • Rebekah Nivala

    The Jakarta Post

Boston   /   Wed, December 9, 2015   /  04:46 pm

In response to the stimulating article by Setiono Sugiharto in the Nov. 25 issue of The Jakarta Post Supplement, entitled '€œProfessionalizing teachers in the face of global competitiveness'€, I would say that identifying needs and providing tailored support for teachers is essential to the transformation of the education system.

However, there are several claims in the piece that may serve to confuse or even mislead.

Sugiharto'€™s points on research and teaching at university level are well made. However, the Education Ministry'€™s competency test was for all teachers in Indonesia, not only those teaching at the college level. Pairing higher education with the recent competency test and calling for increased rates of research, therefore, does not equate.

While there are universal elements to teaching, the primary function of K-12 education is to ready students to enter society as contributing citizens whereas tertiary education is intended to deepen students'€™ knowledge and understanding with the aim of expediting career success.

In general, K-12 teachers are not expected to research and publish as part of their occupation (Finland is an exception). However, given the context and purpose of institutions of higher education, university professors are required to push the boundaries of human knowledge. Research and publication is an integral part of that process.

The reason there is an emerging emphasis on publication of research among academics and teachers in Indonesia is not because of a recent trend or new direction in academia. The practice of '€œpublish or perish'€ has been going on in universities overseas for several decades.

Unfortunately, in this area, Indonesia has been and continues to be significantly behind other countries in the region. For instance, Indonesia sees one peer-reviewed academic article published in an international journal per 1 million people annually, which contrasts starkly with Thailand'€™s two articles per 1 million people.

To claim that concerns about encroaching global competition and unacceptable teacher performances are the underlying motivations behind recent competency testing in Jakarta is naïve. Rather, the end goal is to address Indonesia'€™s perniciously poor performance on international student assessments. Helping teachers improve their competency and potency may contribute to hiking students'€™ test scores, but let us not skirt around the primary problem.

Earlier this year, in collaboration with McKinsey and Company, the Education Ministry identified teachers as the most powerful factor in student achievement, but, teachers in Indonesia are often underpaid, underprepared and unsupported. This month-long teacher assessment, therefore, simply serves as an empirical research tool to confirm what many already suspect.

Nonetheless, herein lies another lever for change in the endeavor to transform education: Indonesia'€™s foremost universities should lead the way by creating new top-tier teacher education programs. Specifically, this is a call to action for the University of Indonesia, which has donned the mantle of the nation'€™s leading institution of higher education, to provide good quality teacher education.

In reality, teaching industry branding in Indonesia remains ineffective; the teaching profession '€”whether university or K-12 '€“ is quite low on the list of career choices for students entering and graduating from higher education. Why are aspiring young graduates repelled by the idea of being a teacher?

Indonesia needs to expand options and strengthen support systems for teachers.

Consider this: would you be inspired by a profession constantly suffering from insufficient preparation time, low salary, long hours, inadequate support, lack of mastery, minimal autonomy and limited career pathways, all of which translates into a position that is often met with contempt by society?

In response to this dismal situation, Indonesia needs to expand options and strengthen support systems for teachers. Solutions include: increasing the rigor and quality of pre-service training, providing government scholarships and stipends for top-performing students to pursue teaching (Indonesia Mengajar program is a good start, but the one-year commitment creates a vacuum when teaching fellows leave after completing their contract), offering career pathways through which teachers can progress, providing ongoing development for in-service teachers (such as Professional Learning Communities) and offering adequate remuneration so that teachers do not have to take on multiple forms of employment. This will serve to attract more talent into the corps of pre-service teachers and improve the effectiveness of in-service teachers.

Student learning should be the end goal of all institutions of education. Thus, knowing what students should learn and how students learn best should inform what and how teachers teach. Sugiharto acknowledges this by calling for a '€œground-up approach'€ to education that prepares students for pragmatic concerns.

If research '€” whether action research in the classroom or conceptual research that informs pedagogy '€” helps teachers connect pedagogy with praxis and increase students'€™ learning, then the onus is on the Education Ministry and school administrations to support teachers to develop their research muscles.

If Indonesia wants to professionalize the teaching profession and develop a powerful teaching force, the government and nation as a whole must be willing to make the long-term investments necessary to equip, support, compensate and recognize teachers. The question is: are the benefits worth the cost? Look to the research '€” which is lacking in Indonesia.

The writer, a USINDO SLS fellow 2015, is a recent Ed.M graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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