The Thinker: Quixotic Curriculum

Bowing to public protests at the effectiveness of the 2013 curriculum set to be introduced this July, and realizing the grim fact that many teachers are still in the dark about the new lesson plan, the Ministry of Education and Culture eventually revised its ambitious plan.

The ministry had earlier targeted some 30 percent of both public and private elementary schools across the nation to implement the curriculum when the new academic year begins, but later changed it to only 10 percent following resistance from teachers, education experts and parents.

Growing discontent compelled the ministry last Friday to again reduce the figure to only 5 percent of the total 148,000 elementary schools, while the percentage of secondary schools participating in the program was lowered to 7 percent from an earlier target of 20 percent.

Education and Culture Minister Mohammad Nuh argued that the new curriculum, which adopts an integrative thematic method, was suitable to promote students’ cohesive thinking and to boost their entrepreneurial skills, qualities young Indonesians need to thrive in global competition.

Under the new method, the teaching of physical science in elementary schools was integrated into Bahasa Indonesia while English, the most popular second language, was omitted as a compulsory subject.

This has raised public doubt that the 2013 curriculum, designed to relieve school children from studying too many subjects that the ministry argued could be best taught at a higher level, would truly be able to provide students with adequate basic knowledge and skills when they graduate later.

Scores of local Christian-run schools, many of which have a good reputation for their education, said they would postpone the implementation of the curriculum because they had not been informed about its substance and their teachers had not been prepared for it.

This has shown the ministry’s promise to train some 40,000 selected teachers to help familiarize the curriculum to be unfulfilled.

This was also evidenced by a protest by teachers from various organizations, staged at the House of Representatives last Tuesday, claiming they had not received such training despite the fact that the implementation date was looming.

Meanwhile, analysts believe the education ministry could better spend the Rp 2.49 trillion ($256 million) in funds allocated for the implementation of the new curriculum on urgent matters such as setting up training centers for improving teachers’ competency and quality, providing better teaching and laboratory equipment and repairing damaged school buildings.

People have every right to question the work of the ministry and the professionalism of its personnel. It is still fresh in our memory how the ministry’s program to bolster the national education standard — the so-called international standard school pilot project (RSBI) — did not meet public expectations.

That project, after years of operation, was even declared unconstitutional last year on the grounds that RSBI schools had indirectly applied a discriminatory policy for rich and poor students.

Dozens of “unfit-for-learning” classrooms and “prone-to-collapse” school buildings in remote areas are still in use, despite the fact such conditions endanger student lives.

Yet the ministry, whose very task is to improve education and educational facilities, seems to pay little attention.

And only two days ago the public learned high school students in 11 provinces in central parts of Indonesia would not be able to sit a final examination, scheduled to be held simultaneously nationwide on Monday, because of the inability of the ministry to distribute exam papers to the provinces on time.

It is hard to believe that the ministry, which consumes 20 percent of the total annual state budget, cannot handle routine matters concerning the yearly national examinations properly.

This means the ministry needs to improve its performance and convince the public it has worked hard to prepare its long-term education policy, including the controversial 2013 curriculum.

Oei Eng Goan is a freelance journalist and writer. He can be contacted at enggoano@indosat.net.id.

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