Raising Teaching Standards: Combining Passion and Policies  

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  • Teachers of Harapan Lestari focus on promoting Christian values over academic results. Photo by Hannah Orr.

    Teachers of Harapan Lestari focus on promoting Christian values over academic results. Photo by Hannah Orr.

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - When Ms. Dinny asks her class who wants to be a teacher when they grow up, only one student raises a hand.

    In Jakarta, its seems the brightest children aspire to become doctors, lawyers and engineers, favoring a career of financial stability over a passion to share knowledge.

    Earning less than Rp3 million a month, Ms. Dinny can understand why the horizon looks bleak for those considering future careers as school teachers in Indonesia.

    “Teachers in Indonesia have a very low salary, so when university students decide what major they have to take, they do not want to be a teacher. The good students don't want to choose that path,” she says.

    “Indonesian Education is in an emergency state,” according to Najeela Shihab, founder and researcher of Education Research Centre (Pusat Studi Pendidikan dan Kebijakan).

    Underfunded, under-resourced and overworked, despite their passion, teachers in Indonesia are not always equipped with the necessary skills or funding to provide good quality outcomes for students.

    According to UNICEF, 55 percent of 15-year-old students are “low achievers” in reading and more than two-thirds (69 percent) are low achievers in mathematics.

    The UNICEF figures also show that in primary schools many children are struggling to acquire the basic skills in mathematics and science with only 50 percent of Fourth Grade students meeting low international benchmarks in mathematics and science.

    In such a context, the system’s best and brightest should be encouraged to pursue a career in teaching to help address this problem.

    Najeela explains the current education system is a burden for teachers and does not promote high-quality outcomes for students.

    Classroom situation at Harapan Lestari School. Photo by Gracie Richter

    “A lot of teachers don't actually have the minimal competency in terms of content knowledge, basic positive discipline approaches and the ability to differentiate instruction to different students,” Najeela says.

    A lack of effective approaches to teaching, coupled with rigid policies from the Ministry of Education and Culture does not allow teachers to exercise autonomy in the classroom.

    “Policies aim to standardize and unify approaches to learning. But actually what you define as good schooling and teaching can be different in one context to another. It’s not fair to compare everyone against only one standard,” Najeela explains.

    Experts in school education identify a number of ways to decrease the burden for teachers and increase the quality of learning that students achieve.

    While national policies are put in place to promote a more equal and uniformed standard of teaching across Indonesia, the Ministry’s funding is not being used to its best capacity.

    Doni Koesoema A., an Education Consultant from the Ministry of Education and Culture, says local governments are not complying with the Ministry’s prescribed allocation of funding.

    “When we give the money to the local government, they may just put it all into one school, rather than equally dispersing it among the zone,” Doni says.

    Local governments are creating only one “really good model school” in each area.

    Working at a “model school” herself, Ms. Dinny says teaching at a public school is easier than a private, non-government funded school.

    “It would be challenging to work at perhaps a different school. I have taught at a private school and it is not very easy.”

    These model schools also don’t comply with the ministry's zoning policy.

    Students should be enrolled in the public school closest to their home. Instead, these model schools accept the best academic performers in their region based on their rank, forcing local students to seek schooling elsewhere or not at all.

    “The idea with these model schools is for them to lead training in their zone and assist other local schools in improving,” Doni says.

    But it is believed this is not a feasible solution to such a large issue of low-quality teaching outcomes.

    “We need to distribute equal opportunity for all schools so then we can distribute good teachers fairly,” Doni says.

    Other industry experts agree.

    “Model schools leading the training won’t have that big of an effect,” Daniel Suryadama of RISE (Research on Improving Systems of Education) says, “but maybe something like a mentor program will help.”

    From her experience teaching in the classroom herself, Najeela encourages teachers to be self-regulated learners.

    “They should be empowered to design their own professional development and don't just go to training to get a certificate or to get money out of it, but do it for the sake of learning,” she says.

    Another issue contributing to poor academic results in the nation is a primary focus on building the “good character” of the students instead of academic achievement.

    Private schools such as Harapan Lestari School prioritize being a good person before academic outcomes. It is no surprise that the school does not have a strong focus on providing students with the capacity to enter or succeed at university.

    “Only one student among seven generations of graduates in our school actually went on to study at their preferred university,” says Principal Dipian Susanto of Harapan Lestari School.

    He says that grades and good report cards are not the main focus in their approach to teaching “but how the students make changes character-wise.”

    Even for those of his students who are interested in pursuing higher studies after they graduate from school, he promotes the view that teaching is not a strong career option for an educated person.

    “We told the children if you want to be rich, don’t be a teacher, but one student who wants to be a teacher says he will do it purely because it is his passion,” he says.

    Most students recognize that a teacher’s income is not as big as other professionals’ salaries.

    Cheetah Dillak, who studies teaching at University Pelita Harapan, says she is aware she will not make much money in her career as a teacher.

    “I come from a rural town that desperately needs good teachers and I want to help,” she says.

    In addition to the poor pay, teachers are also challenged by long days, and the expectation they must be generalists, rather than specialists teaching numerous subjects.

    Ms. Dinny finds managing a class of 36 students very challenging some days.

    “Sometimes in one day I have to teach around 5 different classes from 6:30 am to 2:45 pm. If I have to explain the same thing over and over all day I will be very tired,” Ms. Dinny says.

    ‘If I have to explain the same thing over and over all day I will be very tired,” Ms. Dinny says.

    In order to harness Indonesia’s potential as an economically competitive nation, world-class education which starts with quality teaching must be encouraged.

    There is no lack of passion among teachers. However, their needs must be met halfway with improved teacher training, a strong focus on raising standards, and greater equality with access to model learning environments which can positively affect outcomes.

    Those students who do become teachers know they will not live a lavish life but will make a significant difference to young people.

    “Now that I have seen the reality of education in Indonesia, I realize that we need to be teachers,” Cheetah says.

    She recognizes that only the few passionate students who go on to study teaching are doing so to make a difference in communities that need it most.

    “We need people who want to go out there and teach because there are so many children who deserve a good education.”

    Gracie Richter | Georgie Hewson | Anastasia Kathleen | Billy Stevanus

    Georgie Hewson and Gracie Richter visited Indonesia with support from the Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan mobility program.



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