Failing Teachers in Our Schools

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - For almost two decades, Indonesian students have been ranked low in the international index of student ability. The government needs to focus on improving the quality of teachers.     

    The low score in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) confirms the poor quality of Indonesian education. Minister of Education and Culture Nadiem Makarim should use this to spur on improvements to teaching in schools.

    The PISA index is produced by testing the ability of 15-year-old students to apply what they learned in school to the real world. It does this by measuring their ability in reading, mathematics and science. Since the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development conducted the first PISA survey in 2001, Indonesia has always been ranked low. The highest position was in 2006, when Indonesia was eight from the bottom. In the latest survey, carried out last year, Indonesia was ranked lower than other Southeast Asian nations such as Thailand, Brunei and Malaysia.

    This low ranking for almost two decades shows that problems have not been resolved despite the changes in government, which are usually accompanied by changes to the curriculum. Various regulations, such as the 2005 Teacher and Lecturer Law, have not improved matters. The same is true for the constitutional requirement for 20 percent of state and regional funding to be set aside for education.

    One of the most important components of the learning process in school is the teachers. But a 2015 OECD report on reforms to Indonesian education showed that government endeavors to increase the quality of teachers only had a small impact. Increases in salary, tougher educational requirements, professional development courses, opportunities for promotion and other strategies only had a small effect on teachers.

    The teacher certification program, for example, was intended to even out disparities in and improve the ability of teachers. On paper, the program went well. The target of certifying 2.7 million teachers in 2015 was achieved. But, a closer look at how it was implemented reveals that the program had problems.

    The initial plan was that the certification would be based on tests of teaching material and classroom observations. But this model was subsequently replaced by assessment based on a simpler teacher portfolio on education and lesson planning, which lacked objectivity and was easy to manipulate. The proof of this was when they were assessed by a team from higher education institutions, almost every teacher passed their first test.

    The OECD study also showed that the certification of teachers did not have any effect on student performance. The grades of students taught by certified teachers were no different than those who were taught by non-certified teachers. Thanks to this certification, teacher salaries rose by up to two times. However, there was no evidence that it improved the quality of the teachers. Teachers were no more active in teaching associations, did not increase their teaching hours and did not have lower levels of absenteeism.

    The state of our education system is even worse if we consider the uneven distribution of teachers, a large number of temporary teachers, the decentralization of elementary and junior high school education, the number of children dropping out of school and the lack of coordination between institutes graduating prospective teachers.

    Nadiem was right when he said in his speech commemorating National Teachers Day that teachers must be freed from ‘administrative duties’. The promise of the new minister needs to be realized through significant measures to improve the quality of teachers.

    Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine