Posted by: SDN Pondok Bambu 10 Pagi | July 29, 2009

Dreaming of an inexpensive quality school

by Ronald Stones

I met this person one time. Her name is Lia. She’s 45 and working on the administrative staff of a small NGO, while her oldest son is preparing to enter high school. Working at the NGO, she has come to realize the importance of good quality education for the intellectual and psychological development of her child. She wants him to get the best education possible, while ensuring that he is also imbued with a sense of social responsibility.

Her dream is that he can one day become a well-rounded person capable of thinking up solutions for Indonesia to take over from the foreign experts she sees at her workplace daily.

The problem is, she knows that the schools with the best teachers and curricula that would teach her son about social responsibility are mostly the international or national plus schools, which are well beyond her reach. Too expensive.

Lia’s problem is one faced by most Indonesians. Her desire to educate her son well is shared with the millions and millions of other people living in this country. However, good schools mean lots of expense. Affordable quality schools are more than a utopian dream. How truly wonderful it would be if inexpensive quality schools were no longer simply a utopian dream for our beloved country.

Experience has taught us that improving the quality of education is not at all easy. It will require a strong unified movement and huge amounts of funds to upgrade the quality of all aspects of our educational processes. We need to improve our pedagogic systems and processes and support the advancement of the quality of teachers as well. The enhancement of the role of the school principals in improving school management must also be addressed. Besides that, there is always the possibility that the school buildings themselves need repair, or the development of support infrastructure, such as laboratories and libraries. The question remains, however: how can this possibly be done without increasing school fees?

There must be another way. The first rational step would be to utilize all existing resources and infrastructure to their maximum and as efficiently as possible, rather than just worrying over where the huge amount of money is going to come from for starting from scratch. For this, the first step has to come from the stakeholder itself, starting with the local government and school principals. Once the government and school principals commit themselves, and then it is just a matter of involving school staff, teachers and students in maximizing the existing resources at their individual schools. To have this commitment, it’ll need paradigms and mind-sets shifting. They must become convinced that, with their own thinking and their own hands, they can make their schools better. At the same time, they are encouraged to formulate new standards for themselves concerning the quality of school they want to achieve.

We have to admit that this mind-set shifting mission is a difficult one to accomplish. It is not easy to dislodge the long-established assumption that no school could possibly advance itself without a huge budget. And, it can be even more difficult to motivate teachers to work harder to achieve higher standards for the sake of their schools without any attempt to enhance their welfare.

For that reason, I believe that we must consistently and continuously facilitate and guide the efforts of the principals and teachers in achieving the standards they set for themselves. And with the limited budgets available, the only way to achieve those standards is by enforcing partnership principles. Bill Gates, during his speech at World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, referred this new system as creative capitalism — an approach where governments, businesses and nonprofit organizations work together to stretch the reach of market forces so that more people can make a profit, or gain recognition, doing work that eases the world’s inequities.

As an example, local universities near the school can provide lecturers and facilitators to train the school’s teachers in order to upgrade and develop their subject matter knowledge, their pedagogical practice, their library management capability and even their bookkeeping and administrative skills. The assistance can also come from national plus or international schools to act as sister schools for the schools. The sister schools then can help the school principals to widen their horizons on how to improve school management and educational processes through comparative studies, as well as expertise and knowledge sharing. Cooperation with international education institutions, such as AMINEF, can also be undertaken in order to gain the assistance of native speakers of English to act as teacher assistants in school classrooms.

Is this enough? No, there is still so much more to do. The upgrading of support facilities, such as laboratories, or the provision of adequate libraries, all require fairly large amounts of cash which would exceed school budgets. Here, private sector can play its role. Corporations, through their corporate social responsibility programs, can step forward with assistance. For example, donate books for library collections or contribute computers and printers for school computer laboratories and administrative offices. In this way the quality of schools can be upgraded without burdening parents of students studying there with extra expenses.

This companionship model provides the empowerment schools need to be able to help themselves, and that it is their own commitment that brings the improvements they envision. This kind of model can bring the schools into a sustainability model so that not only can they maintain their new standards and continue improvement, but that they too can assist other schools in their geographical region to improve.

Once the mind-set of schools’ management and staff have changed, the chronic problem of budgeting funds for improving teachers’ skills and expanding educational support facilities disappears, then the school can focus more on developing a sense of social concern among their students because the best schools are those that become capable of producing ethical future leaders that will contribute back to society. Civics and religion teachers can motivate their students to take part in community service activities that focus on the areas surrounding the schools. These community service projects involve much more than just collecting and donating funds for charitable causes. They cover long-term service programs, such as volunteering to teach mathematics or English at local elementary schools, sanitation drives in and around the schools, and empowering street children, as well as many other socially significant activities.

Once this model is up and running well, once principals have gained enough confidence to introduce innovation toward more improvements in cooperation with the local education department, once teachers find better paths toward providing better education to their charges, and once students themselves begin to understand the importance of education, this nation will benefit from a movement participated in by its own children toward achieving the dream of Lia and others like her nationwide.

The writer is advisor to the Sampoerna Foundation’s board of executives. He can be reached at ronald.stones@sampoernafoundation.org

Source : The Jakarta Post (Sun, 09 March 2008)


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