First published in The Jakarta Post, June 25, 2005
BENEFITS AND PITFALLS OF THE NEW CURRICULUM
Alpha Amirrachman, Jakarta
It has been a year since the introduction of the new competence-based curriculum, but a pile of basic questions has been left poorly answered: Why a competence-based curriculum? Is it possible to pursue this while many teachers are still perceived as "incompetent"? How to validly measure competence?
First, it is important to examine the impetus that forced the government to introduce this curriculum. Some argue that the need to have quality human resources to compete in a job market was the main reason. But I agree more with Siti Wachidah (2004), an expert from the Jakarta State University (UNJ), who argues that the introduction of a competence-based curriculum was merely a "logical" consequence of the wide-sweeping political movement of decentralization, which also pushed for the implementation of school-based management.
Indonesia is currently undergoing social transformation. Since the school curriculum is interwoven with the entire cultural fabric, the adequacy of the old curriculum for the new cultural circumstances will be searchingly questioned and changes in the curriculum projected. The problem is under such unstable circumstances, fewer standards of conduct and elements of knowledge are usually adopted.
Second, it is significant to note that the nature of the competence-based curriculum is result oriented rather than process oriented. This is evident as the new national curriculum system introduces two innovations: First, focusing on standardized competence and learning output; second, decentralizing syllabus development and implementation.
This means teachers are pressed to strike a balance between "standardization" in learning output and "autonomy" in its implementation, the latter demanding creativity in exploring the supporting teaching methods. To sum up: Specific standardized achievement should be "uncompromisingly" achieved, but how to pursue this is "left" to the teachers. But what sort of standardized competence is required?
Some argue that this standardized competence needs a thorough consensus among stakeholders. Nevertheless, experts say that a competence-based system, which permits curricular diversity due to the diversity of potential of each section of education, does not necessarily need "uniformity" in curricula. But a broad consensus on curriculum development including the reference points (such as what it means by competence and the stages to achieve it), as Harries, Guthrie and Hobart (2001) argue, is still important mainly for practical consideration.
The obstacle, however, stems from the contradicting policies; a trademark of our government. The competence-based curriculum runs at odds with the national exams, which now fall under the responsibility of the newly established National Education Standardization Agency (BSNP) whose formation has been controversial, making one doubt whether it can really represent the concerned stakeholders. While the curriculum emphasizes performance standards, the centralized national exams emphasize merely standards reflecting academic content.
Thus, the recent confusion on the part of teachers is not unexpected. Reforming the national exam by turning it into an instrument to map out "national competence", not as a requirement to complete one level of education, or abolishing it and letting schools or districts conduct local exams as a measurement mechanism might be worth considering.
Likewise, the curriculum marks the shift from mass-based learning to individual-based learning, which is pedagogically laudable. But the number of students in regular classes is around 40, sometimes more. How on earth can teachers give quality attention to individuals in a class with such a high number of pupils? Virtually impossible.
Worse still, the competence of teachers to even adopt the spirit of this curriculum is sadly doubtful. Take public schools as an example. Based on teacher education background, statistics from the Ministry of National Education (2001) reveal that at the elementary school level, out of 1,040,698 teachers, 556,009 are incompetent; at the junior high school level, out of 292,835, 106,783 are incompetent, at the senior high school level, out of 109,374, 30,385 are incompetent; and at the vocational high school level, notably, out of 43,614, 30,085 are incompetent!
Other countries' experience shows that national awareness to improve their workforce was the main pressure that pressed for the implementation of a competence-based education. But Indonesia is unique, the spirit of decentralization was instead the main factor; hence, there is a legitimate concern that its relevance to what is actually needed in the job market might have also been overlooked.
We still expect that vocational education will be "whipped" to perform better than general education in terms of technical competence and for the general education not to entirely abandon its effort to sharpen students' cognitive capability. Indeed, inserting a substantial, but appropriate degree of "competence" in general education can hopefully augment student "life skills" and in due course help address unemployment.
And because we are left with almost no choice but to adopt this curriculum, we have every right to demand that the government listen to the stakeholders and pursue the policy in a consistent and concerted manner. Teacher professional development; reference points of a targeted level of competence relevant to the job market; delivery of teaching materials and resources of approaches to teaching; and measurement of competence are among the issues that need to be addressed.
Support from the grassroots level, however, is equally important. While a local initiative to activate inter-school Teacher Study Program Discussion Forum (MGMP) to share all related teaching issues -- such as teaching methods and classroom organization -- is commendable, more needs to be done. Continual assistance both from local governments and industry can be useful to empower teacher professionalism and help build a more concrete bridge between education and the job market.
As with any other policy, there are always snares, short routes, shallow implementation, and overemphasis on one aspect at the cost of others. Let's hope this will not end up merely as another band-aid solution to the acutely ingrained problems of our education system.