by Simon Marcus Gower, Coordinator Junior, Senior High Schools, St. Laurensia School, Serpong, Banten
Attaining the best qualities in education requires qualities of flexibility and sophistication in adapting to the changing needs of our world. From one generation to the next, education will exhibit both subtle and overt changes.
Parents with children in school may hope for and expect their children to achieve knowledge and skills in the use of computers whilst they themselves in their own school education may have rarely, if ever, even accessed computers. It is evident, then, that schools’ curricula adapt, change and hopefully improve for the betterment of education standards.
Indonesia’s education has been criticized, even vilified by some, for its failure to provide a high standard of learning for its millions of attendees. Many reasons may be and indeed have been put forward for the perceived shortcomings of the schooling system but one area that must be particularly telling is that of the nature of the schools curricula. They exert huge influence and effectively set the tone for most school activities and learning objectives.
“”We have too many subjects to cover; too little time to cover them in the depth that would be needed for the students to fully understand. So we are always battling to balance the amount of what we have to teach with the limited time we have.”” These the comments of one senior high principal (who understandably would prefer to remain anonymous) who is experiencing what he called “”endless frustrations”” in trying to keep up with the imposed curricula.
It appears that problems with curricula are two-fold. On one level there are too many subjects to be taught which means that the educational objectives are rather too broad – too general for the needs of the school students.
On another — what is required of teachers and students within that broad base of subjects is too specific, too detailed and demanding. Teachers and students alike are being caught up in the minutia of details and neglecting more common, reasonable and appropriate general learning.
One teacher summed up the situation as follow — “”We end up teaching things that are really not useful. The children won’t use this knowledge in their lives. This is stuff just for the classroom.”” This means that much of what is being done with students is “”self-serving””. It is just a process of “”running them through the mill”” of education.
End objectives and socially, industriously, vocationally useful outcomes are but a fortunate by-product. Much of what goes on in schools could, then, be seen as redundant — useful only within the school environs of passing tests but serving no greater or more legitimate purpose of providing a useful general education.
Too often teachers required to cover the broad spectrum of subjects prescribed by the curricula are forced to be caught up in an excess of detail that seems above and beyond the secondary level of education. Take this observation from an American teacher/ observer — “”I look at the math senior high students have to do here [in Indonesia] and often see things that are beyond tertiary level students in the U.S.””
This would seem to illustrate that schooling in Indonesia suffers from being both too broad and too deep. The author George Eliot masterfully wrote on the topic of the acquisition of knowledge and intellect and highlighted that education is not concerned with the “”ability to attain eminence in all departments”” and went on to warn that the “”application in one line of study or practice has often a laming effect in other directions.””
This is particularly pertinent to education in Indonesia. The current curricula do run the risk of “”laming”” the learners. For in being too broad, too detailed, too in-depth and consequently too theoretical they undermine beneficial use and application by the learners ‘in other directions’.
The example of English learning in high schools as prescribed by the national curriculum further illustrates this hazard. For often it accentuates the analytical theory of the language at the expense of practical application.
As a result many Indonesian learners of English often possess a depth of grammatical knowledge and vocabulary awareness, but are sadly lacking in putting the grammar and vocabulary of the language together to become communicatively competent.
Theory and practice should be combined to maximize the usefulness of high school learning. This demands careful review of the manner in which curricula are designed and the legitimate objectives determined to be targeted. The current curricula consistently seem oppressive and burdensome. They make the teachers less thoughtful and more pressurized to meet often unrealistic goals. They also risk leaving education in the unfortunate realms of ‘spoon-feeding’ school attendees rather than stimulating thinking by students.
The tone set by any curricula for 21st century education has to be one of motivation, stimulation and encouragement of creative and original thinking skills. Flexibility and sophistication in responding to modern learning needs is critical.
Without it education is liable to deteriorate into redundancy and irrelevance and be only of passing value, as people pass through school, when in fact it should be of critical value in setting up the foundations for future learning and value and usefulness to society generally.