Friday, February 24, 2006


First published in The Jakarta Post, February 25, 2006


Alpha Amirrachman, Serang, Banten

The National Education Standardization Agency (BSNP) is reportedly planning to overhaul the much-criticized Competency-based Curriculum (CBC), which was introduced only in 2004, because of the yawning gap between its "ideal" and the very reality of our education system's condition.

Among the perceived problems is that the existing curriculum contains more subjects than the preceding one. This has resulted in more work for both teachers and students, while the CBC strangely emphasizes "process", which requires flexibility and creativity during the learning process.

Moreover, the definition of competency is never clear. Compounded by its complicated indicators of the subject content, the curriculum looks more like a maze than an effective guideline.

Likewise, except in a few top schools that participated in the pilot projects, most teachers and students could not live up to the CBC demands. Many teachers are still trapped in the old paradigm of one-way-traffic communication and most students are also trapped, preferring to wait for direct and detailed instructions.

This country has so far changed its curriculum seven times, but education quality remains grossly low and the country is forced to languish as a backwater among its neighbors. Education fails not only to bridge the education and industry sector, but more crucially to build intellectual and emotional aspects of humans - as evidenced by the many, many student brawls and communal conflicts.

What is wrong with our education and its curriculum development? It is hard to answer in a simple way as it requires a holistic approach to answer and there are, indeed, interwoven factors. But in order to identify its possible weaknesses, it is important to locate the issue of orientation in our curriculum development which, I would argue, seems acutely lacking.

Principally, according to Elliot W. Eisner and Elizabeth Vallance in their edited book Conflicting Conceptions of Curriculum, there are five curricular orientations.

First, curriculum as the development of cognitive processes highlights the importance of "the inclusion of materials and activities associated with processes and aimed at learning objectives related to learner's abilities to solve problems, think and become independent in the pursuit of understanding the world about them".

Accordingly, this means more emphasis on the process and connection between cognitive aspects and useful practicality that will help students appreciate their life, something that is clearly missing in our education, particularly given the controversial National Exam, which merely seems to emphasize output rather than process and excessively highlights cognitive aspects without enough attempts to relate them to affective and psychomotoric aspects.

Second, technology should not be seen merely as a "hardware". Therefore, the crucial element in technology is the measures and techniques of instruction and their related methodical knowledge.

In the face of the inadequate "hardware" facilities, this paradigm breaks the "lazy perception" that now teachers should be mainly assisted by advanced gadgets, which are non-existent in most schools across the country. Technology here is seen more as a "technique" of teachers to creatively make use of whatever facilities are around them.

Third, curriculum should have the spirit of learning creatively with "faith and reverence" through exercising responsible freedom, searching for the fullness of disciplined understanding and participating in unremitting dialogic query. This means the curriculum should encourage students to experience "transcendental" processes in learning activities.

Fourth, curriculum should be designed to support perceptions of social reconstruction that see schooling as an agent of social change, and which is relevant to the interests of both students and societies. As such, curriculum should help students grasp problems of larger societies from where their personal problems have stemmed from.

Fifth, curriculum as an academic rationale is to encourage students to be grateful for the works that comprise the diverse intellectual and inventive disciplines, but proposes that the emphasis is put not on topics or subjects but forms of thoughts.

In this case, academic rationalism does not merely mean multiplying the number of subjects in the curriculum (and making it as thick as possible!), but categorizing them in the form of thoughts that students can easily comprehend.

A curriculum might contain the five key interrelated orientations; however, it should have an emphasis as to avoid the "clash" or the excessiveness, which might instead blur its objective.

I do not mean to praise certain aspects at the expense of others, but against the backdrop of the situation where moral degradation, intolerance and dehumanization seem so pervasive, I just cannot agree more to an argument advanced by a noted education expert, Michael Apple, that what we need is not merely a "functional" literacy, but a "critical" literacy which "enables the growth of genuine understanding and control of all of the spheres of social life in which we participate."

Above all, nonetheless, whatever curriculum orientation or its combination is chosen, it inevitably needs open-minded teachers as the public engages intellectuals who are well-trained and are liberated from the old paradigm. Without this, we will remain abhorrently ensnared in our imprudent trial-and-error experiment in curriculum development.

The writer is a lecturer at the school of education at Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa State University in Banten and a researcher at ICIP (International Center for Islam and Pluralism). His published essays can be read at

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