Friday, March 10, 2006


First published in the Fourth Quarter Report 2005 (October-December), issued in March 2006, Sampoerna Foundation


Alpha Amirrachman

Comparing today’s teachers to those who lived in the previous era seems to be very ironic. Becoming a teacher then was perceived highly respective in the society, but now many will only regard it as second or even third alternative before they come up with an idea of other “ideal” professions. It is no longer considered as a desirable occupation, even though we all realize, without teachers we will not be able to get sufficient education—or to put it bluntly, without teachers we should not be able to achive what we have now.

Up to know, ideals campaigned by noted educationalists Ki Hadjar Dewantara and Ahmad Dahlan remain in history books, with virtually no generation to transform their noble values into education that is truly liberating the ordinary from vicious circles of poverty and intellectual backwardness. What is wrong with our education system? Why do we remain in a backwater even among our fellow neighbors such as Malaysia and Singapore? Should we blame teachers from all these failures?

Indeed, no one can agree more that teachers are the backbone of this nation whose duty is to sharpen the intellectual life of the nation. However, one would also agree that the competence and qualification of teachers in this country are still far from satisfactory.

So, we can simplistically answer that our backwardness is the result of poor academic performance of teachers. But one may argue that formal education is not every thing; teaching certificate doesn’t guarantee that teachers are effectively able to transfer their knowledge to students. Besides, teachers are not only to teach, but also to educate. They deal not only with sharpening cognitive aspect, but equally important with molding the soul and character of this nation, the aspect of humanity.

In this area, too, I am afraid to say, that teachers have also lost their capital to become a decent model for their students. When students do not look up their teachers in genuine admiration and respect, it is hard to believe that teachers are able to carry such a noble duty. From what I learned, during the independence movement teachers were not only members of a noble profession, but also a liberating force who transmitted their zest for independence to their students, and were highly respected for their morality, integrity and dedication.

Burning with curiosity, I recently met with Chairman of FGII (Forum Guru Independen Indonesia, Indonesia Independent Forum of Teachers) Pak Suparman and had conversation with him at his modest house in the outskirts of Jakarta to explore more stories about teachers.

From the outset, Pak Suparman, who is also a public high school teacher, has always been concerned with the saddening development of education in this country, so particularly the fate of teachers. He said that though not the isolated factor, but miserable teacher welfare must have led to the decline of teacher professionalism. He also deplored the fact that many teachers are still unaware about their rights—their rights to at least being treated as decent human beings, not mere cogs in this huge but often ineffective bureaucratic machine.

He said solemnly, “During colonial time teachers were open-minded individuals who liberated our people from backwardness. They used to be very well respected, but the New Order has heavily bureaucratized teachers. Teachers are no longer engaged public intellectuals who promote democratic values—they were instead made into acute obstacles of democratization. Worse still, they have effectively lost their dignity.”

In short, teachers were turned into mere “mechanical mannequins” who teach without creative thinking. Moreover, due to insufficient salary, the cases of teachers moonlighting to desperately meet their family needs are widespread; sometimes their side jobs are irrelevant to their profession. Ironically, teachers are even having difficulty even to give the best education to their own children.

The quality of teacher education declined as teaching becomes the last choice of profession. Or can we still call teaching a profession, given it lacks not only intrinsic rewards but also most of the characteristics of a real profession? I feel too shamed to answer. But what is obvious is that teacher competence is below standard. Let me take public schools as an example. Based on teacher required education background, statistics from the Ministry of National Education (2004) disclose that at the elementary school level, out of 1,150,554 teachers, 391, 507 (or 34 percent) are incompetent; at the junior high school level, out of 445,175 teachers, 317,112 (or 71.2 percent) are incompetent, at the senior high school level, out of 187,000 teachers, 87,133 (or 46.6 percent) are incompetent; and at the vocational high school level, out 211,642 teachers, 70,595 (or 33.4 percent) are incompetent!

Therefore, there are three interrelated problems of teachers that we need to deal with. First, it is their low academic performance. Second, it is their deprived welfare condition. Third, it is their curtailed creativity after almost three decades under the authoritarian government. All these need to be addressed with integrated, not partial educational policy. And gladly, the government and the House officially endorsed Teacher and Lecturer Law on December 6, 2005 as a “New Year gift” for the education sector. It is perceived that the new law will boost teacher professionalism and welfare and provide legal assurance for teachers’ right to association.

Nevertheless, according to Pak Suparman, it is actually easier said than done to realize the spirit carries by the law. Showing some statistics to me, he lamented, “It is stated that the welfare would only be realized when teachers have met the newly required qualification and competence. However, out of 2,777,802 teachers in Indonesia—from kindergarten to senior high schools, public and private—only 958,056 or 34.49 percent who hold undergraduate degree. Teachers of junior and senior high are a bit fortunate because about 50 percent of them already posses undergraduate degree or at least Diploma Three. But this would be a disaster for kindergarten and elementary school teachers, out of 149,644, only 12,658 or 8.46 percent who are deemed qualified.”

This means that there are a huge number of teachers who would not be able to immediately enjoy the upgrading of their welfare promised by the law, while the government only sets ten years for all teachers to meet the required competence and qualification. This is a giant task that puts our education really at the crossroad in this country. In this case, the government is now planning to screen teacher education institutions, both public and private, which would be granted accreditation to provide extra training for the unfortunate teachers.

Teacher training, nonetheless, is not simply training teachers and awarding them with certificate, but more importantly it is also about how to enhance genuine teacher professionalism and make them love the job they have chosen—because what impedes effective teaching is that teachers worked within outmoded and unprofessional systems where there is nothing they can be proud of.

For this to achieve we need sincere and unrelenting commitment from all concerned parties to participate in making this undertaking meaningful and beneficial, otherwise it would be a waste of time and energy or could even be prone to irregularities which will again victimize the already ill-fated teachers.

However, when we come to the nuts and bolts of commitment in education investment, it often proves to be low. Why? According to Miguel Palacios Lleras (2004) in his book Investing Human Capital: A Capital Markets Approach to Student Funding, for industrial sectors, the unlikely immediate fruit of investment in education poses risk to their economic calculation—uncertain value, illiquid investment, difficult collection of payments and absence of collateral. For the political establishment, besides fiscal constraints, it is also risky because there might not be any return of investment by the time the next election is held.

Lleras’ argument is undeniable. The enhancement of labor productivity and human capital could have deep social implication because they would gear the nation towards a bright and prosperous future. But so appalling that it is often difficult for us to put it into practice. For example, the portion borne by our own government and industrial sectors only reaches between 26.13 percent and 46.26 percent of the total cost of education, while by parents, ironically, has amounted to between 53.74 percent and 73.87 percent (The Jakarta Post, March 24, 2005).

Therefore, with the government is still unable to meet its constitutional duty to allocate 20 percent of national budget for education on the ground of financial constrains, and with many students benefit little due to low professionalism of teachers, it is high time for private sectors to take part in this dignified effort and help determine the fate of the teachers whose noble duty is to liberate this nation from its backwardness.

It is heartbreaking that teacher like Pak Suparman did not seem want to lose his optimism. “As a teacher, I should always be optimistic, no matter how impossible it would be,” he proudly showed his t-shirt bearing the picture of Ki Hadjar Dewantara which read Guru Sang Pembebas— Teachers the Liberator.

Alpha Amirrachman is an academic member at the Faculty of Education and Teacher Training of Sultan Ageng Tirtayasa State University in Banten and a columnist for The Jakarta Post daily


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