Wednesday, 11 February 2009

If I were the Jakarta Governor - a year on.

by Thomas R. Belfield of the Jakarta-Indonesia Urbanblog

Last year I contributed a section to Thoughts Outside The Indonesian Box outlining what I would do if I were Governor of Jakarta. This is how it began: Traffic, floods, H5N1, dengue fever, inappropriate land use, rapid urban expansion, air and water pollution, corruption, crime, street brawls, kampungs, and evictions appear like clockwork in the Jakarta news.

One year on I cannot see that there is any change in the pattern.

In a Jakarta Post article published on 31/1/2009, it was reported that while Governor of Jakarta, Fauzi Bowo, was out jogging near MONAS (formerly Merdeka Square with Sukarno's "last erection" and now Jakarta's logo), he was furious to find damaged park lights, dead trees, puddles of water and piles of garbage in some spots in the Monas park

The article states that… he claimed it was not the first time he had noticed the shabby condition of the park but said he preferred to keep silent and hope for an improvement.

"But until today there is no such attempt [from Monas management] to improve this [messy] condition. I’m very disappointed,” Fauzi said, adding that there were too many institutions involved in the maintenance of MONAS.

When I visited Jakarta in February of last year I noticed the same things and I have the photographs to prove it. Mr. Bowo should get out and see his city more often. It’s not just MONAS that is in need of attention.

Mr. Bowo is also fond, apparently, of mega projects such as the Jakarta Subway and the reclamation and development project for high end housing and recreation along the North Jakarta coast. All the while people wade up to their knees in flood water.

Mr. Bowo is representative of a symptom of the “blinkered short-termism of nearly every Indonesian city”. His policies are reactive rather than proactive while Jakarta survives by its wits and through “typical ‘third world’ ingenuity” of its informal economies.

In Christopher Silver's Planning the Megacity: Jakarta in the Twentieth Century, he notes that the planning vision for Jakarta states as its overriding objective the creation of ‘a humane, efficient, and competitive capital supported by a participative, prosperous, well behaved and civilized society in a safe and sustainable environment’.

But like the traffic in Jakarta these guiding planning principles are gridlocked and where they are not they appear to be tilted toward the moneyed interests.

Such was the case that through the 1990s there was actually an 'ungreening' of Jakarta. For example, Silver notes that up through the 1990s there were banana trees growing along Jalan Sudirman, the main thoroughfare of the business district. In the 1970s open and green spaces represented - I know it is hard to believe - between 40 and 50 per cent of Jakarta’s surface area of 63,120 hectares. By the 1990s 246 of the city’s 412 public parks had been converted to some other function.

To compound all of this the Singapore-based Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia (EEPSEA) ranked Central, North and West Jakarta at the top of a list of administrative regions most at risk due to climate change due to the rise of ocean levels. A World Bank study noted that unless action is taken much of the coastal city of 12 million will be submerged by sea water by 2025.

This is further compounded by the fact that Jakarta is sinking under the weight of out-of-control development exacerbated by factories, hotels and wealthy residents drilling deep-water bores to bypass the city's shambolic water grid, sucking out the groundwater and causing further subsidence.

Of all the apparently intractable problems of Jakarta one that stands out to be me is trying to get a handle on just what is meant by ‘Jakarta’. Is it the city proper? Is it DKI Jakarta? Is it Jabodetabek? Demographia now ranks Jakarta as the second largest urban area in the world with a population of over twenty-million people. How is this to be managed, if at all?

Traffic, air pollution, green space, poverty, crime, police corruption. There is a long litany of problems which face Jakarta. Most everyone knows something that is in need of being done or being fixed in the city. The easy thing to do is to point at the problems. The harder thing to do is to try to fix them.

This year I propose the following:

That the managing budget of Jakarta be devoted to investment in its people and the re-greening of the city.

The health, education, and welfare of the citizens of Jakarta must be the priority of city government: clean air, water, sanitation, schools, affordable housing; investments in kampung improvements, open green space; restoration of the North Jakarta mangrove forests; urban agriculture, sustainability, alternative energy, recycling programs and environmental protection; extension of no car days, large scale mass transit and the return of the bicycle and becak at the expense of the car; support and investment in the informal economy; zoning laws which support people over property; progressive and enforced taxation by representation; preservation and restoration of Jakarta Kota; city planning from the bottom up not the top down; and reformation of the judicial system and police.

All of these issues can and must be addressed at the local levels of neighborhoods, kampungs, and districts. As Governor of Jakarta I would turn Jakarta over to the people who live in it. My job would be to assist them with the finances, the information, and the skilled personnel they need to organize and create the livable city they deserve.

In short, I would grow banana trees along Jalan Surdirman.

And as usual my guiding principles are:

1. Democracy: A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly.

2. Transparency: It is essential to the democratic process that citizens have the right and ability hold government officials, elected and appointed, accountable for their actions.

Of course, if the business-as-usual option continues, nothing of significance will be accomplished. This does not mean that Jakarta will implode or fall into the Java Sea. Jakarta will find its way regardless. But this ‘do nothing’ option does speak to the lack of creativity and the political will to make choices from opportunities and options that are out there by the score.

It is the difference between thinking inside or outside of the Indonesian box.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Thinking Outside The Indonesian Box - 2009

It is nigh on a year since I invited readers of Jakartass to uphold SBY's dictum to "Think Outside The Box". However, whereas he was then extorting the world's leaders to reach a consensus regarding the Bali round of Climate Change Conferences, I suggested that folk in greenhouses shouldn't throw stones and perhaps local politicians should be admonished for their myopic visions.

A number of fine essays were contributed which I published in this blog and they received general acclaim worldwide, particularly those which were concerned with Education.

This year will see at least two rounds of national elections: for the President who, with his/her government, will determine the country's direction, and the national legislature which may or may not ensure that government programmes and policies are adopted. Independent observers tend to be cynical as the legislators seemingly follow their own agendas such as seeking financial 'rewards' from granting infrastructure projects which invariably cause environmental destruction. They also seem to kowtow to Islamic groups, presumably because they are a sizeable proportion of the electorate, and prioritise non-essential and sectarian issues such as an anti-pornography law.

This most recent parliamentary session has seen a slew of politicians, both national and local, bureaucrats and other public servants, such as ambassadors and government ministers (both current and former), and from such institutions as Bank Indonesia and the Attorney General's office, face allegations of corruption. Many have been imprisoned - for which I believe SBY deserves much praise for allowing their prosecution and not interfering in the due process of the law.

The next round of elections will see some changes. The current House of 'Representatives' consists of handpicked cadres ranked according to their fundraising power by the political parties. Because electors voted for particular parties, who were allocated seats according to the number of votes cast for the party, rather than directly voting for particular candidates, this has ensured that the entrenched Suhartoist elite have clung on to their vestiges of power.

It has also lead to an incredible proliferation of political parties - 38 for Indonesia as a whole and four for the semi-autonomous region of Aceh (this list needs amending) - established by politicians who have slipped down the pecking order of more established parties and are therefore fearful for their sinecures. Of course, there may well be one or two which have been established for purely altruistic reasons, but I don’t intend to examine each and every manifesto, assuming they yet exist, because there’s virtually zero chance of true independents getting within sniffing distance of a seat.

And therein lies another problem.

Although the Constitutional Court has ruled that candidates receiving the most popular votes should represent their parties, only candidates from those parties receiving more than 2.5% of the national vote will be allowed to take their seats, thus ensuring that the same old, same old parties, and the splinters thereof, are likely to grasp power.

There are few electors who can differentiate between the parties other than perhaps recognising those which are pluralistic and those which promote religious values. Most parties, if not all, rely on personalities, recognisable from news media or popular entertainments.

To put it simplistically, who is Indonesia’s Obama Barack? Where is the promise of sound leadership for all Indonesians? Who has a manifesto with a clear vision offering security, welfare, reassurance and, above all, hope for future generations?

"Leaders with statesmanship should (must?) prepare a strong foundation for their successors. By contrast, most politicians merely lay traps to hold citizens hostage by making them dependent on the ruling regime."
- P.Agung Pambudhi. Executive Director. Regional Autonomy Monitoring Ctte. (KPPOD)

As Jakartass, I am once again asking folk to join in a group writing exercise. Can we offer the manifestos which are - ahem - manifestly missing? Judging from last year’s contributions, this should not be a task beyond our capabilities.

As before, this blog will host the contributions, with links from my blog and hopefully yours too.

Who can contribute?
Anyone who has the best interests of Indonesia and its multifarious folk at heart.

Writing what?
Just think outside the box about how Indonesia could be a better place for all if visionaries of an ecumenical persuasion were able to promote their manifestos.

Please email me with your suggestions, questions and, hopefully, contributions.

Deadline: February 13th which is, purely coincidentally, my birthday.

Possible topics/titles

-- Green architecture
-- Leftovers are all right
-- Your country needs YOU
-- Indonesia - a model democracy?
-- Now, why didn't they think of that?
-- A healthy nation is a wealthy nation.
-- How religions can help offset climate change
-- The world I'd like your grandchildren to live in
-- Assessing the education of the education assessors.
-- What if the State paid everyone a basic social allowance?

Writing style?
From academic to awful, from serious to satirical, from readable to risible ~ whatever you're comfortable with.

I'll send formatting guidelines later to all prospective contributors.

Small Print
I reserve editorial rights, although these would only be exercised with your approval.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Thinking outside the curriculum: Changing education

Salvatore Simarmata
(Originally published in the Jakarta Post 29th March 2008)

Many experts have made genuine suggestions on how to improve our education system, which is essential for the prosperity and liberty of our nation. But debates continue because there have been no significant changes -- an opinion shared by Abdullah Yazid in his opinion piece in the Jakarta Post (March 15, 2008).

As a teacher, I agree with his ideas but offer different solutions. It has been widely reported university graduates find it difficult to find work. They lack the skills and creativity necessary for the workplace.

Individual institutions should not be blamed. We need to be critical of our overall education system covering elementary to tertiary education, which is in need of transformation. We need an serious strategy to solve these problems.

A Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, who wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed, explained true education goals could only be achieved by allowing the development of students' power to perceive and think critically. They should think about their existence in the world and they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process or in transformation.

Students and teachers discuss real problems existing in their society and proudly offer solutions through a dialectical process.

Of the four essential elements of education, curriculum is the most crucial aspect alongside the teacher, students and method. Comparing our curriculum with ones used worldwide might open our eyes and bring us to question our paradigms. Let us look at two prominent curricula and their strengths.

First, the University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) successfully offers a variety of programs around the world, including Indonesia, to provide international qualifications for students aged 5 to 18. Many schools have adopted this curriculum. Many schools combine the Cambridge and our national curricula so their students can sit for the UAN final examination as well.

Schools using the Cambridge curriculum emphasize flexibility. From primary to secondary levels, students can choose electives based on their interests, which allows them to explore less theory-based subjects.

Second, the IB (International Baccalaureate) curriculum, a program for students aged 3 to 19, helps develop intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills, which are much needed in today's globalized world. I am impressed by its primary curriculum designed to give students skills to cope with their future, something we need to focus on in our disorganized primary curriculum.

Students study transdisciplinary subjects of global significance that provide a framework for self-exploration. They question who they are, how they express themselves, how they organize themselves and so on. Essentially, the flexibility and constant transdisciplinary inquiry are elements we could incorporate in our curriculum.

Such a curriculum allows teachers to create an active learning environment where students can identify their strengths and abilities to change their social conditions and problems.
Most of us are so controlled by our curriculum we are forced to study prescribed materials which are then tested in a national examination. I like raising challenging issues to my students to be debated and discussed. They come up with their own alternative solutions to problems. Last December, for example, we discussed the UN's Millenium Development Goals. To do so, I decided to skip a few modules from the curriculum or teach them less thoroughly.

Last February, the government announced sociology would be included in the UAN examination. As a sociology teacher, I now have to push myself just to make sure students remember and understand how to answer the questions. Should we restrict what we teach to the curriculum?

Adapting the curriculum has always been at the teachers' discretion. Teachers expand on the basic framework of the curriculum. It is an essential skill all teachers should be familiar with.

A teacher should be a facilitator and cultural educator encouraging students to critically articulate their opinions on social issues of concern and to suggest ways of resolving conflict in the real world. Cultural education is a tool, a helpful beginning which brings people and ideas together, people with a desire to accept responsibility for social change instead of living under the domination of powerful elites.

This kind of education could eradicate our severe corruption problems and other immoral acts if we also encourage vibrant, critical and broad-minded leaders.

We teach students many subjects at school every day, yet we do not teach them how to learn. There is a missing link; we want them to be successful but abandon them when they ask how to do so. I suggest students be taught learning skills from an early age and learn how to think critically so they become independent and pure learners throughout their lives.
The writer is a sociology teacher at Dian Harapan School. He can be reached here.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Out Of Our Boxes 2

21 Uses of Old Coffee Grounds

From repelling ants, removing furniture scratches to exfoliating skin and repelling dog fleas, there are loads of uses for used up and flavourless Java (Toraja, Sumatra, Mandailing, or whatever your taste is).

But not Nescafé.

A Tearless Onion

And why not, eh?

Scientists have developed a tearless onion that means cooks may no longer have to suffer stinging eyes and crying in the kitchen.

The breakthrough by New Zealand's crop and food research institute after six years of research has been made using gene silencing technology. But although the tearless onion will be welcomed by cooks everywhere, it is still at the prototype stage and will not be in kitchens for at least another decade.

Sixteen years working on something which isn't needed? After all, an alternative is to peel and chop the onions in a pan or bowl of water.

What next - square watermelons?

Saturday, 1 March 2008

What I’d Teach The Teachers

Let me start off with a little background. First, I started teaching 32 years ago, and I’ve taught students from ages 3 to age 60. What’s that mean? I’ve either been fairly good at what I do, or I’ve been lucky, or I’m an expert at CYA. Most probably a bit of all three. Second, I have a lot of respect for many of the Indonesian teachers that I’ve met - they work for peanuts in crumbling schools with few resources and little parent support (not to blame the parents either as most of the ones that I know are occupied with trying to scratch out a living and provide as best they can for their children). My wife and I give as much support to the schools as possible, but here are a few things that I’d like to teach the teachers.
  • Don’t teach to the test
  • Students will respond to interesting lessons
  • Long fingernails may be personally irritating, but they don’t have much to do with education.
  • Use your time wisely.
  • Individualized education is a possibility
  • Listen to what students have to say, you might be surprised at what you hear
  • Professional development, professional development, professional development
  • Parents are Partners - include them in the education of their child
  • Organize and develop a real teachers’ organization
Don’t Teach to the Test

This isn’t just for Indonesian teachers, although the amount of time that my children spend cramming for the national exams is outrageous and takes away precious time that could be used for some real learning, i.e. that is developing knowledge and understanding, not memorizing facts and figures. Barack Obama said something very interesting recently in a speech in Virginia when he was discussing education. He said that the US needs to expect excellence from our students, but that we need to stop teaching to the test. High stakes testing is found everywhere these days; it’s time that we all realize that doing well on a test is not the same as education. Take a look at the 21st Century Literacy movement. It’s where we need to go.

Students will respond to interesting lessons

Reading from the book (when our students have them) and parroting back answers is boring. It’s boring for the students and boring for the teachers. Bring in outside resources, get the students to do the presenting, break them up into groups and have a debate, let your personality come through in your lessons. One of the things I almost never hear an Indonesian student say about their teacher is that he/she is interesting or cool or fun. Education shouldn’t be a drag.

Long Fingernails and Hair

I don’t know how many times I’ve watched a child run back in the house because they just figured out that they might get punished by the teacher for having fingernails that are too long or hair that needs a trim. I thought the hair thing went out in the 70s. Take a look at the hair on kids on TV; quite a number of the cool ones are a bit shaggy. Shaggy might be cool. I can’t quite figure out why my kids are more concerned with the length of their hair and nails than their homework.

Use your time wisely

The school day for most Indonesian children is short enough as it is - my son in 6th grade does a period a day less than my students do. That’s ok if you use all of the time for teaching, but what about all the days that kids spend hanging out doing basically nothing around exam times, and the days spent sweeping the school? The schools should have a sufficient janitorial staff to take care of these duties. Provide some jobs for the folks that need them.

Individualized education is a possibility

We can individualize our teaching. I watched an Indonesian teacher at a “good” school spent forty-five minutes on a lesson that most kids had figured out in 15 minutes because a few kids didn’t get it. One size fits all only in cheap nightgowns. Students learn and work at their own pace; we can keep them engaged if we give them lessons that challenge them. A class that is always all on the same page may look good to someone, but it most likely won’t be to the students.

Listen to what students have to say

Students have a lot to say about a lot of things. They think, they question, they want to understand how the world works and that means that they have to work at it. They’ll get more from telling you about a concept or an issue or what algorithm works best for them, than they will from you telling them about it. What ideas and backgrounds and mindsets are they bringing to class? That’s where we need to start. It’s old hat now in Western education to say that teachers should be guides rather than the final authority, and most of us have gotten that (well, I hope so).

According to Edgar Dale’s book, Audio-Visual Methods in Technology: "After 2 weeks we tend to remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we hear and see, 70% of what we say [and] 90% of what we both say and do." It’s time this lesson reached Indonesia.

Professional Development

I can’t stress enough how much good PD has done for my teaching and my understanding of what it is that I do everyday. And there’s still so much to learn. Read about your subject, think about it, talk about it, discuss it with your colleagues. Push for PD. See below for more.

Parents are Partners

As a teacher, I know that some parents can be irritating, rude, and difficult to deal with, but the overwhelming majority want what’s best for their children, and they will support a communicative teacher with all their resources. Let them know what their homework is, give them regular updates on how they’re doing, create a school or class newsletter. Have an open house night for parents to see what’s going on in the classroom. Get them to provide extra resources if they have them. Children will be more responsible for their education if they know that there is regular communication between school and home.


Teachers need to be paid more, they need professional resources, they need professional development, they need modern technology in the classrooms. They won’t be given all this by bureaucrats and politicians. They have to demand it, and they need to do it with their students and their parents as partners. It’s time that the government takes education seriously and realizes that by shortchanging children today, they’re shortchanging the country tomorrow.
Dr. Bruce started his international teaching career in 1989 when he moved to Indonesia. He specializes in maths and technology.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

The pitiful state of foreign language education

An acquaintance of mine, let’s call him Danu, a graduate who majored in Japanese Literature in a public college in Padang, recently appalled me when he told me that the the highest achievement he ever attained in Japanese language is a decent pass in level 3-JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test).

I was even more surprised when I asked Danu if his kanji-reading ability has always been his weakness, and if he is much stronger in speaking the language instead. He said yes. I inquired no further as I fear it might hurt him somehow to see the surprise in my face having discovered his poor grasp of Japanese.

This should come as a shocking alarm to those who aren’t appalled as I am: passing a level 3-JLPT means that he could only read merely 300 kanji, which is just 15% of the ±2000 kanji necessary for a “literate” life in Japan.

Not that I am not going to make my own definition of “literacy” here. Being “literate” most of the time means that one can read the ABCs (some bigwig professors have extended the definition of “literacy” as the ability to say in words who or what you are, but this is not the main issue here), but being literate in a Chinese character-based countries like China or Japan may mean a different thing.

It is known that the ability to read 500 kanji is sufficient for one to read a Japanese newspaper. However, the fact that someone who studied Japanese Literature for four years in college could barely read anything in a Japanese novel should come as a blow - and a wake-up call - for most language educators in the country.

To my knowledge, majoring Japanese Literature in Japanese and American universities gives students the ability to produce essays that discuss the historical and contemporary Japan, to provide literary comments on haikus of well-known poets, or even discourse at length with Japanese native-speakers, all written and spoken in Japanese, of course.

Another example is Tuti (not her real name too), an English Literature graduate from a public college in Jakarta. When I first met her, I greeted her in Indonesian. Then I tried to converse decently with her in English, yet she could barely manage to speak the language fluently, with a lot of stutters here and there. I first thought that she is the kind of person who stutters a lot. When I switched back to Indonesian, all her stutters suddenly disappear, making me wonder how on earth she could have managed to write her thesis in English and defend her arguments there.

It is an irony that in British curriculum-based secondary schools in Jakarta, children of affluent Indonesians and expatriates alike know very well that taking the subject of English literature means that they would discuss poems and Shakespearean plays in detailed depth as far as they could manage to handle, akin to my own experience in studying English Literature subject in a Singapore secondary school. Due to the tough nature of the subject, many non-English native speakers often find it hard to cope with, and choose to drop the subject instead. I myself could only manage a decent pass in my Literature ‘O’ level.

Of course, picking examples of public college graduates and comparing them to the international standards does not mean that I am picking up the “bad fruits” as examples to disdain. A bigger and more comprehensive survey that encompasses all levels of education, be it international, private or public, could always be conducted by scientific think tanks anyway. Instead, such public colleges that one has never heard of are the truest examples of where the average-income Indonesian normally matriculates; hence they give a better measure of what kind of standard is accepted for an average Indonesian university student to graduate.

Taking a look at the top-notch educational institutions such as the Pelita Harapan University or Bina Nusantara University would only give us the wrong depiction of what the Indonesian higher education looks like, because such examples have already applied a more extensively international standard in their qualifications. Taking a look at the traditionally Indonesian-based top universities too, such as the University of Gajah Mada in Yogyakarta, Petra University in Surabaya or University of Indonesia in Jakarta could generate a similarly fallacious impression, since only the best minority of Indonesian students could manage to enrol there.

All in all, comparing the language studies across differing spectra could turn some of us sceptical in viewing the future of language education in Indonesia. There is undeniably a need for a better standardisation of language education, starting not just from high schools, but from the very early grades of primary school. A lot of secondary schools - public and private schools alike - in big cities across Jakarta have already started to pick new foreign language subjects like Mandarin, Arabic, or German, only to find the graduates being able to converse no further than introducing themselves.

If even most high school graduates today are unable to converse eloquently in English, which is the main second language in Indonesia, how on earth could the school have high expectations for their students to master a third or even a fourth one?

A friend of mine, a high-school student who is currently studying in one of the main Japanese language course centres in Jakarta, once joked that he himself is the most multilingual person he has ever known: apart from learning Japanese which is a subject unavailable at his school, he is compelled to take five other languages in school, that is to say Indonesian, English, Arabic, Mandarin, and French! I do not question his ability to comprehend English, as proven by his devouring of the latest English language edition of Harry Potter soon after it was sold in the book stores, but I have yet to know his current grasp of the other four foreign languages he is currently learning.

The fact remains that having a trilingual education is perfectly okay (that is, if the pupil can manage to learn two new languages at once), but tetralingual is not. Scientific researches have shown that it is highly unrecommended for humans to study more than two foreign languages at once, as the meanings of different lexicons and grammatical structures could jumble up in the Broca’s area, the part of brain responsible for the articulation of speech and the producing of language, especially if the languages he/she is learning are closely related to each other or belong to the same language family (such as studying the Romance languages of Italian and Spanish simultaneously).

There are four aspects of a language, namely Listening, Reading, Speaking, and Writing. The first two aspects determine the ability to comprehend a particular text/audiovisual message, while the latter two determine the ability to produce them. From the way I see it, language education in Indonesian schools and universities tends to focus language-teaching methods on the first two aspects, while the latter two are mostly left uncared for.

It is of no wonder then, that nowadays language course centres in big cities tend to be laris bak kacang goreng (sell as well as roasted peanuts), as the real demand to see their children to be able to grasp the four aspects of the language has finally come to the attention of students and parents alike.

Ironically, this linguistic problem is not found merely in a developing country like Indonesia. In Japan and South Korea, two of the most economically and technologically advanced countries in the world, there is a similar demand for language course centres, and the only difference from the Indonesian ones is that almost all of them focus in teaching solely English.

In both Indonesia and the two East Asian countries, we can trace back the root of the students’ lack of mastery in the four language aspects in their educators themselves. If not even the teachers are qualified enough to teach them all the basic principles of the language, how can we thus expect the students to master it well? It is a well known fact that most Japanese teachers of English language often stumble when they converse in the very same language they are teaching, a similar case I found in Tuti.

In Indonesia, there would be no problem at all in finding such course centres for those who live in the big cities, but what about those in the rural areas? They would be hard-pressed to find any, and even if there does exist such a centre, most parents there would not prefer to enrol their kids there due to the high expense they bring. Being able to enrol their kids in the public schools which cost next-to-nothing is already an attainment they are gratitude for, let alone affording additional expenses.

It should also come to our attention that in this era of globalisation, our neighbours like Malaysia and Philippines have taken an earlier step in increasing the quality of English-teaching education in their schools. English language has become the main language in both urban and rural areas alike, and this is indeed a thing that is apparently nonexistent in Indonesia. The Indonesian government - particularly the Ministry of Education - has not taken any similar measures to ensure that Indonesia’s young generation today are well-equipped with foreign-language skills, apart from their own Indonesian language.

To ensure that there is a holistic and wholesome approach to the increase in quality of language-teaching across the country, the Ministry of Education needs to ensure that most - if not all - language teachers across Indonesia, regardless of whether they are to teach in international schools, private schools or public schools in the big cities or rural areas alike, should be given a chance to dive deeper into the language by learning them first-hand by either inviting native speakers into the country or sending those teachers-to-be abroad. Scholarships should be made available for those who cannot afford them, and only then can we see the standard of linguistic abilities in public educational institutions being put at on equal par with the more reputable ones.
Toshihiko Atsuyama is a teenage blogger who currently lives in Tangerang. He graduated from a Singapore secondary school with an 'O'-level degree in 2006, and is now seeking to pursue his higher education in Washington state, USA in June 2008. His blog can be found here.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Education: is it all about the money?

Our constitution has made it clear that the government must allocate 20% of its annual budget to be spent on education [1]. This allocation, however, still remains elusive. In the 2008 budget plan, the figure will only be 12%. It is already higher than 2007 (11.8%) or 2006 (9.7%) but a long way away from the 20% demanded by the constitution [2].

It gets more embarrassing once you read this:
Indonesia invests just 3% per capita national income annually per primary student. The East Asia and the Pacific region has a median of 15%. In contrast, expenditure is at least five times higher - ranging from 15% to 22% - in Australia, Fiji, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and Thailand. Countries in North America and Western Europe tend to spend close to 22%, Central and Eastern Europe 17%, Sub Saharan Africa 13%. Indonesia and Myanmar are the lowest two in the world ! [5]

How embarrassing is that?

Those facts have become a handy scapegoat when it comes to our frustration with regards to education. "Bad schools? Incompetent teachers? Bad curriculum? What do you expect? If only the government allocated the 20% ... if only we have more money.... if only, if only."

It all depends on the money.
Does it not?

Read on. The facts below may help you to think outside your money box:
Between 1980 and 2005, USA increased public spending per student by 73%. It employed more teachers, reduced class sizes, and launched thousands of initiatives aimed at improving the quality of education. The result? Almost no change in actual student outcomes (slight improvement in math, but reading score of the 9, 13, and 15 year old remained the same in 2005 as it was in 1980) [3]. America is not alone. Australia has almost tripled education spending per student since 1970. No improvement.

The same again in England: The British government has changed pretty much every aspect of education policy in England and Wales, often more than once. The only thing that has not changed has been the outcome [4].

Surely not all countries have failed? Indeed not. Canada, Finland, Japan, Singapore and South Korea have consistently come on top in the best performing countries as measured by the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment.

So what do they do right?
Is it the money? No: Singapore spends less on each student in primary education than almost any other developed country.
Longer study time? No again: In Finland students do not start school until they are 7 years old, and even then they attend classes for only 4 to 5 hours a day for the first 2 years [3].

So what do they do differently?

This report [4] suggests that the top performing school systems do 3 things well:
1. Get the right people to become teachers
2. Develop these teachers into effective instructors
3. Ensure every child benefits from it.

Aha! So how do you attract the best people to become teachers? By offering more money, surely?
Wrong again: If money were so important, then countries with the highest teacher salaries such as Germany, Spain and Switzerland-would be among the best. They are not. In practice, the top performers pay no more than average salaries [3].

If it is not the money, then what is it?
It's the status. In top performing countries, teaching is a high-status profession.

So how can teaching be a high-status profession if it pays no more than average salaries?

There is a lesson from South Korea:
In South Korea, it is more difficult to be a primary school teacher (who must have an undergraduate degree from selected universities and must get top grades) than it is to be a secondary school teacher (who only requires a diploma from any of the 350 colleges). This has created a huge supply of qualified secondary teachers, with 11 new secondary teachers for each job. As a result, secondary-school teaching is the lower status job in South Korea; everyone wants to be a primary-school teacher.

Or a lesson from Singapore and Finland:
Singapore screens candidates selectively and accepts only the number for which there are places. Once in, candidates are employed by the education ministry and more or less guaranteed a job. Finland also limits the supply of teacher-training places to demand [3].

A right government policy, apparently, can help boost the status of teaching jobs to a higher level.

Of course the top performing countries do not stop there:
Singapore provides teachers with 100 hours of training a year and appoints senior teachers to oversee professional development in each school. In Japan and Finland, groups of teachers visit each others' classrooms and plan lessons together.

But hey. If we can just start with fixing the selection process, we're already on the right track.

So what are we saying? That we do not need the earmarked 20%?

That is not what we are trying to say. It is the obligation of the government to obey the constitution, and if the constitution demands it then the government must deliver. Even more so when we already knew that we have spent too little so far.

What we are trying to say is this:

We do not need to wait for the 20% to start fixing. Some changes in the policy on teacher selection and placement will do so much without the additional cost. We have been changing the policies back and forth all this time anyway! It is just a matter of doing it right this time around: learning from the best, focusing on selecting the teachers, coming up with the right initiatives to support that and discarding the others that we know did not work and are not going to work. Now with decentralization, it can even be done right away at a smaller level, either regional or city level.
And for once, stop thinking that nothing can be done without money !

Yes folks, Look at the failures of some countries above and the successes of the top performers and you can see that it is not always about the money.

Because we are still haggling with our government on when we would get our 20%, we don't have the money yet, so it is good to learn from the top performers that getting good teachers depends on how we select and train them, and that teaching can become a career choice for top graduates without paying a fortune [3][4].

For the sake of our children, let us start now with our teachers.

After all, as a South Korean policymaker said, "The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers." [4].
[1] Indonesia's Constitution (in Indonesian)
[2] House of Representatives report
[3] Economist - How to be top in education
[4] Mckinsey report - World's School Systems (PDF file - 9.52 MB)
[5] Unesco Education Fact Sheet '07 No.6 (PDF file - 300 kB)

Indonesia Anonymus is a group of Indonesian professionals who work and live in Jakarta. The group blogs anonymously to -- in their own words -- exercise their rights to be grumpy. Their blog can be found here.