Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Current Malaise ...

... within Indonesia’s education system.

The Ujian Nasional (UN – National Exam) was introduced following Act Number 20 of 2003 on National Education System (download). This was brought into law with two major objectives: to make schooling compulsory until the age of 15 (i.e. the end of junior high, SMP), and to allocate 20% of the nation’s annual budget to education.

Since then, with the philosophy of producing citizens who are compliant with the tenets of Pancasila which was used by the dictator Suharto to stifle dissent, ‘teaching to the test’ has been the norm.

The multi-choice format, for standardised ease of marking, only emphasises competitiveness. Private schools, dependent on fees paid by parents, are encouraged to initiate regular, often weekly, tests so that ‘progress’ could be monitored. The schools which accrued the most ‘passes’ and trophies for their cabinets would attract more applications, which in turn has encouraged these schools to sift out the less academically inclined students.

Public schools came under similar scrutiny from the Ministry and/or local education authorities and were judged to be a success or a failure based on the pass or fail rates. That the pass benchmark was raised or lowered by politicians had more to do with their egos than for any educational reason.

Teachers have been caught in the crossfire of politicians, the education bureaucratic hierarchy, and parents with expectations raised by the first two. Such has been the drive for ‘results’ within the school system that little effort has been made towards the serving the needs of students once they leave the system.

The much maligned UN has been dropped as of this school year (2014/15) for graduation purposes, yet will remain for “mapping” regional results. Schools are now been tasked with graduating students based on a continuous assessment process.

This is problematic in that schools have been using weekly and/or monthly multi-choice tests for assessment since current students first entered the school system. As reported in the Kompass newspaper on January 8th, “it is normal if schools still practice drilling because there is still no clear new evaluation method from the government.”

It can be argued that this methodology runs counter to sections of Act Number 20/2003 mentioned above. Chapter V, Learners, Article 12 (1 f.) states: Every learner in an educational unit is entitled to receive an education programme based on an individual's rate of learning.

Except for those few schools who had successfully introduced Curriculum 2013, the vast majority of schools have been instructed to revert to the 2006 curriculum, which has/had course material geared to rote learning.

Here it must be emphasised that teacher training in Indonesia is inadequate. There are more than three million teachers working in 208,000 schools “giving instruction” to some 50 million students. Yet it is estimated that as many as a million teachers are unqualified, lacking a bachelor’s degree and/or not having passed the certification test.  The new Culture and Elementary and Secondary Education Minister Anies Baswedan recognises this and is setting up a directorate general dedicated to the teaching profession focussing on training and improving teachers welfare.

The new President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo has called for a change in the nation’s mindset. A start could be made by considering the core concept outlined Chapter IV, Part One, Rights and Obligations of Citizens, Article 5 (5) of the Act states: Every citizen shall have the right to enhance his/her educational ability in the process of life-long education.

Drilling to pass an inadequate ‘final’ school test in a rapidly changing world does not do that.

Teachers, students and their parents are naturally confused. Some clarity in this evolving situation could be achieved by an emphasis on Chapter VI, Streams, Levels and Types of Education, Part 6, Informal Education, Article 27 (1) which states: Informal education can be in the form of self-learning, provided by families and surroundings.

To “provide” self-learning is a non sequitur. However, if students are encouraged from an early age to explore and experiment, and if guidance rather than regulated systems and strictures is provided, and the “families and surroundings” were to provide the necessary ‘tools’ and opportunities ("surroundings"?), then Jokowi’s main prime objective may yet be realised.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

2B or not 2B?

That is the question —  
 Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer  
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,  
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,  
And by opposing end them?
- William Shakespeare (Hamlet) 

Our Kid who will be sitting the SMA national exam today, tomorrow and Wednesday, and will therefore be coming to the end of a dozen years of suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous schooling. It is certain that he has enough pencils to fill in rows of circles marked A, B, C and D, because that is all he's been doing during the current school year.

He hasn't learnt anything new because everything has been geared to reinforcing the sets of knowledge inculcated by his teachers in the past school years in order to maximise his grades.Taken from umpteen practice tests, teachers use these for assessment purposes and we parents are handed computer printouts which give percentages of each tested subject.

That Our Kid has a stash of 2B pencils is but one indication of how well schooled he has become, much like the performing monkeys, the tethered topeng monyet now banned by Jokowi from Jakarta's streets. The most creative part of his 'education' has been in working out the intentions of the test setters in writing the questions.

Because he's on the cusp of being free to leave the family nest, and Our Kid becomes Our Lad, my immediate role is to teach him how to fly in safety. There's a big wide world to explore, and I want him to go where he will and where the wind blows him with his mind's eye wide open. We can but wish him a good life, full of curiosity, creativity and communality.
From my standpoint as a both a teacher and a parent I have often - too often - posted criticisms here of what I came to call the ujian monyet. I hope that this is my final rant against anti-standardised tests, but suspect it won't be.

However, I'd be happy to leave the subject to others. 

We need to stop thinking of our brains as filing cabinets, and treat them more like the creative, indulgent creatures that they are.
- Tristan Verboven, editor in chief of The Class Struggle

The entire schooling system with its emphasis on assessment and marking is geared towards the end result: the grade rather than the content, and this inevitability led to a feeling I would have been better off going home to study independently.
- Harry Cunningham, currently studying English at Loughborough University in the UK.

Therry says that "the education system in [Indonesia] has taught us all to do things as told. There is too much time spent copying down and memorising useless facts, [but] not to do things because we are passionate about it; or because we want to know how and why things work. "We are never taught to think, to solve problems, to question, to wonder, to challenge and to argue [against] what is already there.

In the USA, teachers are banding together to boycott standardised tests. Many "can no longer implement policies that seek to transform the broad promises of public education into a narrow obsession with the ranking and sorting of children.” 
See FairTest for similar campaigns.

The goal needs to shift from one of making a system that teaches children a curriculum more efficiently to one of making the system more effective by inspiring lifelong learning in students, so that they are able to have full and productive lives in a rapidly shifting economy.
- Steve Denning
If we first teach children how to learn, they will not only learn the 'basics' but more and in much greater depth.
- Tony Buzan, inventor of mind maps
Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything learned in school.
- Albert Einstein

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Graduation Day

These senior high school students in Medan, North Sumatra, completed their national exams on Thursday.

Compared to previous years, they had something extra to celebrate: they actually took the ujian monyet.

Students in 11 provinces were unable to sit the exams, set by the Ministry of Education and Culture, because the papers hadn't been delivered.

Police are investigating whether "the delays were only due to technical error or possible criminal acts.”

Junior high school students start their national exams on Monday.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

What's Wrong With This?

I'm not referring to the mix of English and Indonesian, but there's a marketing ploy in this package which justifies its inclusion in the Boggles category.

And this?

Regular readers of Jakartass will be aware that I take great care with sentence structure and punctuation. None of us are perfect, so if I spot an error in a post, however old it is, I correct it.

It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I did the sample grammar and punctuation test in today's Guardian. Thankfully, I got 14 out of 14 correct. Apparently, year 6 pupils in the UK will be taking something similar in June as they sit their 11+ exams, or whatever they're called now.

This past week I've been helping Year 9s with 'simulasi' (practice) English tests as they prepare to take their ujian monyet  exams which they have to pass if they are to graduate and enter senior high school. There are practice books available from book stores, but this illustration is from an official simulasi provided by the Jakarta Education department last year.

(Of the 50 questions students are expected to answer, just 17 were in 'good English, and three of them were so simple that they could have been answered by anyone who's never had an English lesson.)
"What does the caution mean?"

It obviously means that those charged with raising academic standards are incompetent.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

It’s not what we teach ...

... but how we teach it.

This article by Andrew Vivian, an educational consultant and former principal of two national plus schools, was first published in the Jakarta Post
Too often, I meet teachers who say that they want to be more innovative in their classrooms but are restricted by their curriculum. If asked why they feel restricted, the answer is invariably along the lines of “This is the way it has always been done” or “My principal makes me do it the way it has always been done”.

In an old Teachers TV video, Tony Buzan, the inventor of mind maps, asked his British audience which option would they choose first: teaching young people how to learn or teaching them the “basics” of all subjects. He, along with almost every other educational researcher, proposed that if we first teach children how to learn, they will not only learn the “basics” but more, in much greater depth.

Buzan, Sir Ken Robinson and others are telling us that traditional approaches to schooling are unnatural in terms of how our brains work and are teaching most young people to be not creative. To educators such as Buzan and Robinson, thinking and learning are easy.

If they are correct, why do so many teachers not teach their students how to actually learn and think? What are the restrictions?

First, there is not unanimous agreement about the purpose of schools. Some sections of society want schools to prepare students for work, others want them to be “successful” in the 21st century, without detailing what this means, and still others want them to make a “difference”, again, without a lot of detail.

Many schools have a vision and mission, but, too many of them often have no clear understanding of the educational needs of their young people and how to turn their vision into programs that meet these needs effectively.

 In excellent schools, everyone in the school community is clear about the school’s purpose, and the strategies that will lead to the successful fulfillment of it.

Second, most teachers teach the ways they were taught. This means that unless a teacher was influenced by someone who was innovative, students will receive exactly the same pedagogy that has existed in most school systems since public schooling was invented. In times of rapid change, this approach is very unlikely to be helpful to students.

Finally, particularly in schools in which student face external exams, teachers and principals lack courage. They know there is a better way, but they will not risk doing something different to other teachers and schools in case their students’ exam scores suffer.

However, there are enough schools out there that both educate their students and get good external exam results by planning student-centered classes.

 It is actually quite simple. The teacher or school needs to look at the material being taught and ask “What are the big ideas that underpin this?” They need to identify the concepts, the knowledge that students should have for life.

For example, rather than being able to simply memorize the presidents of the US from a unit of work, students should walk away from it with a strong concept of leadership. They can Google the presidents or the teacher can teach them quickly using games or flashcards. Teachers can develop questions that facilitate high-level thinking and lead to an understanding of the concepts. The material from the curriculum can be used as a vehicle for this.

There are a number of excellent thinking strategies around. For example, we could use Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking: A big idea is about national leadership, could be examined through questions such as “Which presidents made the most impact on their society at the time?” (analysis), “What things would the perfect president do?” (synthesis) and “Can you think of ways to improve the political system to ensure that every president is highly effective?” (evaluation/creative).

Once good questions are developed, they can be used to plan engaging activities for students do, so that as well as remembering the basic facts, they understand the underlying concepts and principles of the topic. Students can critically analyze the topic and come up a much better understanding of the topic than an external exam requires. Activities could include Internet research, surveys, practical work, library research, etc.

Students can even work from textbooks as long as they are answering the high-level questions and not wading through the textbook questions, all students at the same time.

An advantage of this type of approach is that students can work at their own pace, and the teacher, instead of standing at the front of the classroom, can move around and work with individual students or small groups of students.

When schools and teachers step outside the box a little, and demonstrate energy and imagination, regardless of the curriculum, students can be educated about the course material and write correct exam answers about it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

U.M. Time - Again

Yep, it's that time of year when elementary, junior and senior high school students face the dreaded Ujian Monyet, the multi-choice exams set by regional and national education authorities.

The tests set by the national Department of Education, which in its (lack of) wisdom or vision has emasculated the English language teaching sector, are sat by students throughout the country. Local governments set 'tryout' practice tests, and students in grades 6, 9 and 10 spend an eternity, which several months can seem to be, learning little new, or of practical use for their futures.

This is what Iqbal Widastomo said three years ago.

We need to change the mindset of many of our educators to first become critical thinkers themselves before they can develop and encourage critical thinking in the schoolchildren.

Our continuing obsession with discipline and strict order in schools creates a problem for our students and this problem leaves them and us at a disadvantage in the international community. Too often they are being left behind because they have not been taught to think.

They have not been given a chance to think and explore as they naturally should have as children growing up and learning. But they need to be able to think and question and challenge ideas for themselves. Our schools, however, still do not encourage this but instead continue to emphasize memorization rather than actual thinking.

I don't believe we should over-blame the schools. It's only been fourteen years since the abdication of Suharto and changing the mindsets of the powers-that-be takes a generation or two. That the élites in the legislatures and their bureaucracies are the self-perpetuating hangovers is a matter for the electorate to determine - and hopefully as soon as possible. However, teachers and parents of current school students are 'victims' of the Suharto era and, with a few notable exceptions, have yet to change their mindsets.

What gets my goat more than anything is that the tests themselves, both locally and nationally derived are flawed. Or, to put it more bluntly, are riddled with errors.

Last year, Our Kid graduated from grade 9 and is now settled in the senior high school regime. He goes to a school which bills itself as a 'National Plus', a private fee-paying school. These schools need a continued intake in order to survive as a commercial enterprise, and recruits qualified, experienced and caring teachers in order to ensure a 100% pass rate.

Image is everything. (That this year's annual wall calendar highlights various teachers including those who are awarded for their "Pucntuality" (sic) is somewhat unfortunate.) However, I do still feel a sense of resentment fostered at his graduation ceremony last year.

Our Kid came home after sitting the English exam and told me that he'd answered two answers (out of fifty) incorrectly. He'd made a note of the questions and the four possible answer.choices, and yes, he had got them wrong. But hey, 96% is an excellent result in my book.

At the graduation ceremony a lass was praised and awarded a month's free tuition for getting 100%. A couple of months later, the official certificate came through and it turned out that Our Kid had been awarded 98%.

Now, given that certificates are computer-generated, I can only surmise that one of the questions Our Kid had got 'wrong', had been a 'bad' question, i.e. had the wrong answer in the marking key. Therefore, the lass had given the 'right' answer according to the government, but was in fact 'wrong' and therefore did not actually achieve 100%.

If you've followed my convoluted thinking so far, consider this question set by Jakarta's (lack of) Education Dept. for this past week's tryout exams for this year's batch of grade 9s.

Q. When will the wedding anniversary be held?

.....A. In the afternoon. ......C. In the evening.

.....B. In the morning. .......-D. At night.

There's nothing wrong with the English, but the question ...?

How can you 'hold' an anniversary? The occasion is on a particular day or date, and is therefore of 24 hours duration, so none of the answers are correct. Surely it's a party, a get-together, or soiree that will be held at 8pm.

Then there is the matter of interpretation. 8pm in Indonesian is 'malam', i.e. night, yet to an Englishman such as myself, it's the evening, the gap between work obligations and bedtime.

Finally, the text preceding the one above is below. Your task is to work out how many mistakes you can find in the fourteen words.

We are not alone in Indonesia. Ruth Ann Dandrea has written A Teacher's Open Letter to Her 8th Grade Students: 'A Test You Need to Fail'

"…it doesn’t matter how well you write, or what you think. I’d been feeling [for] the past few years of my tenure in public education, that there was something or somebody out there, a power of a sort, that doesn’t really want you kids to be educated. I felt a force that wants you ignorant and pliable, and that needs you able to fill in the boxes and follow instructions."
Isaac Newton did poorly in grade school.
Winston Churchill struggled in school and failed the sixth grade.
Einstein was four years old before he could speak and seven before he could read.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

International-Standard Pilot Project Schools

The following are short articles taken from the Jakarta Post in the past couple of weeks. The notion of a strata of schools for the children of rich parents has caused concern for some time, especially as the schools' management bodies are able to charge high fees - and national schools are not supposed to charge any. That the quality of education provided is in no way comparable to that provided by genuine international schools, originally established for the children of expatriate parents.

An editorial in the Jakarta Post in March last year (2010) closed with these remarks.

It is the task of all elements in this country to improve the quality of our education, which ranks low even among Asian countries. Therefore, we appreciate the number of corporations that run schools, including those with international standards.

However, it is also unwise for the government to push certain schools, including state ones, to open the international standards of services in the absence of proper educational infrastructure and teaching staff who meet the requirements set for such schools. Besides, we need all categories of schools to serve society’s various demands.

Obviously, judging by the following news articles, no-one in the Department of Education reads the Post.
Teachers to request review of RSBI schools

Retno Listyarti, the secretary-general of the Indonesian Federated Teachers Union (FSGI) says the FSGI will request a judicial review of the National Educational System Law that administers international-standard pilot project schools (RSBI).

Several NGOs would join the union in backing the review, Retno said, including the Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), the Legal Aid Foundation (LBH), the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam), and the Education Coalition.

The review request would challenge article 50 of the law, which obliges every regency or city to have an RSBI school, Retno said as reported by

The presence of the RBSI schools has irked critics, who claim that the schools segregate students from different economic backgrounds.

There have been huge disparities between the facilities for traditional and international students. While international program classrooms are typically equipped with posh tables and chairs, only second-rate facilities are available for regular track students, even within the same school.

Retno, a teacher at SMAN 13 Jakarta said an international-class student at the state high school could pay up to Rp 31 million (US$3,500) a year in fees and tuition.

“Education should be based on our values and culture. It should not be like airline flights, where there are economy and executive classes,” Retno said on Tuesday.

RSBI schools prone to corruption: Activists

The establishment of international standard pilot-project schools (RSBI) not only widens the gap between the affluent and the poor, but opens new corruption opportunities, activists say.

“There are many findings that point to potential corruption,” said Febri Hendri from Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW), regarding documents consisting of SMPN 1 state junior high school’s budget and its cash book for the 2010/2011 academic year at the Jakarta Education Agency on Thursday.

ICW and the Alliance of Parents Concerned with Indonesian Education (APPI) visited the agency to submit a proof of corruption indication report on SMPN 1 in Cikini, Central Jakarta.

RSBI is a category of state schools in the process of achieving international standard school (SBI) status. Unlike regular state schools, RSBIs can charge parents monthly fees.

Febri said on Oct. 18 2010, for example, the school spent Rp 1 million (US$117) of unallocated funds on Central Jakarta RSBI supervisors as incentives, which the ICW viewed as gratuity fees. The school also provided Rp 9 million in transportation funds to a certain monitoring, evaluation and supervision team.

“What is this for? If the priority is supervision of SMPN 1, why is the money going this way?” he said.

Febri read out a total of 16 oddities and potential corruption cases in the school’s treasury accounts.

SMPN 1 is one of four RSBI schools in the region that refused to disclose their accountability report and planned expenditure budget, which the Central Information Commission (KIP) has officially categorized as public information.

SMAN 70 Jakarta senior high school in South Jakarta, another of the four schools under scrutiny, has also raised suspicions on matters of discretion.

Musni Umar, a parent and SMAN 70 school committee member, said the same situation was occurring at his child’s school. “We will take it to the Corruption Eradication Commission [KPK].”

Education agency deputy chief Agus Suradika promised to look into the case. “We will study the documents and announce our response in 14-days time at the latest,” he said.

There are 10 RSBI senior high schools in Jakarta of a total 117 senior high schools. There are 11 RSBI junior high schools of 287 and 7 RSBI elementary schools of more than 2,000.

Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo has recently ordered an evaluation of RSBI schools following complaints regarding the schools’ failure to achieve superior academic achievement.

RSBI schools ‘worsen’ social divide

The Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency (FITRA) has urged the government to change its international standard school funding policy, which it says widens the gap between rich and poor students.

Only children from affluent families can afford international-standard schools (SBI) and international-standard pilot project schools (RSBI). Ironically, these schools receive more government funding, instead of the poorer schools that definitely need more attention, said FITRA investigation and advocacy coordinator Uchok Sky Khadafi in a press statement sent to The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

“This very unjust and discriminating policy will prompt regional administrations to compete in opening SBIs and RSBIs so they can earn block grants from the central government,” Uchok said.

“And this will cause those regional administrations to spend more on those international standard schools and at the same time abandon schools in outlying areas that actually need more money from the regional budgets.”

Uchok added that the government had allocated Rp 242 billion (US$27.35 million) to SBI and RSBI schools next year and only Rp 108 billion for regular schools, even though the latter constituted the majority.