Piece of Mind: Why Our Schools Get Failing Grades For Preparing Students to Compete
Posted September 19, 2009on:
published by Jakarta Globe, September 13, 2009
During the election, the presidential and vice presidential candidates talked a lot about the economy, politics and international diplomacy. But no one really broached the subject of education and how they would equip our children with the knowledge to compete against other nations.
They were probably feeling quite smug, knowing that many Indonesian students have won international academic competitions. At first glance, our students seem ready to face the future. But is this really the case?
Every morning, I pass by a small elementary school on the way to the office. I always see tired little children at the gate, lugging their bags around. I bet their backpacks are filled with weighty tomes, as mine was so many years ago.
For so many years, our education system has been about memorizing and writing. I remember when I was an elementary school student, my teacher would come into the classroom and tell everyone to open their notebooks. Then she would dictate straight from the textbook and make us write it down. During tests, it was always the students who could memorize the most information who got As.
I used to wonder why in the world I had to write down everything that was already in the textbook. Why couldn’t I just read it at home instead? But I never had the chance, or the courage, to ask the adults around me. Then there was the way the teachers worshipped students who excelled at math and science — I was considered one of the stupid ones because I hated math, chemistry, biology and physics.
I was so embarrassed in high school when I didn’t get into science class. My grades weren’t good enough so I was channeled into the social science class. I didn’t have any problems with social science. I discovered I was pretty good at it and I enjoyed studying it. But the ostracism was too much. It seemed to me that everyone looked down on me, and the teachers certainly didn’t lavish the kind of attention on us that the kids in the science class received.
Now I feel like I have an obligation to tell the world how unfair our education system is to some students.
When I lived in the United States for two years, I had the chance to visit some schools in my neighborhood. One of the main differences was that the students in America looked happy. Granted, they have better facilities, but I think the real reason they were so happy was because they had the chance to explore the subjects they really liked.
In developed countries, a student who sings well is encouraged to pursue that talent. If they fail at math or biology, it doesn’t really matter. Teachers will always praise their singing talent.
It’s the understanding that each student is unique that really makes the education systems in advanced countries so effective.
Our students are good when it comes to memorizing theories but they are weak in the implementation. That’s ironic when we see how students here have to lug around all those heavy books every day.
What is it that’s wrong with our education system? Is it the curriculum or the quality of our teachers? I think both. And it’s the job of our president and vice president to improve the quality of the education system.
They must make education a national concern. People are talking about the environment and all the concerns about global warming. But no one really talks about how poor the quality of our education is.
Some people may not take issue with our education system, but that’s only because they’re either too rich or too poor.
The rich have no problem because they can afford schools of an international standard. In Jakarta you can see this very clearly; expensive schools are being built every day. And for the poor, they are often unable to make their children’s education a top priority as they struggle just to survive each day.
What most people don’t realize is that education is a powerful tool for boosting a country’s economy in the long run. By creating a good education system — which also means free education — the government gives its people a chance to become economically secure.
We should learn from countries like South Korea and Singapore that place great importance on education. Look at them now. They were like us so many years ago, but now they can stand proudly among other advanced countries. If they can do it, so can we.