Overcoming teachers’ ‘mission impossible’


Education is the key to personal growth. If you are poor, the only means to climb up the social-status ladder is education. Vertical mobility is made possible by mastering new skills and knowledge. US founding father Thomas Jefferson even said an educated citizen is the most important factor in building a democratic system. A good education will produce a free human who is mindful and resourceful.

At the core of education activities is the teacher. In Eastern cultures they are prophets doing honorable tasks including virtually divine intervention for our children. The researcher Keith Leuwin of Sussex University in the UK found that many countries forgot the true goal of education and were too busy pushing scores, aiming for their country to do well in global rankings. As Leuwin said, the goal of education is simply to make our children learn to become independent adults.

Experts including Leuwin shared their thoughts in a forum conducted by the Analytical and Capacity Development Partnership (ACDP) in Jakarta in early August, a think tank supported by the EU, Australia and the Asian Development Bank.

Can our education policies help our 3 million teachers do their jobs? Not exactly. Optimists would say “we’re working on it”.

After the much-appreciated Teacher Certification Program, we annually spend Rp 80 trillion (US$5.7 billion) for this incentive alone on top of the Rp 120 trillion for salaries and benefits or an average monthly salary of Rp 5.5 million per teacher, almost double Jakarta’s minimum wage. In fact, a teacher in Jakarta can get Rp 15 million per month, equal to many other professionals.

Yet teachers’ average competency test scores (ranging from zero to 100) in 2012 were low: 45.7 for civil employee teachers, 48.1 for part-time private school teachers and 51.5 for full-time private school teachers. They are the products of around 381 teachers colleges (LPTK), most of them very lenient in selecting students.

Now imagine you are a teacher who graduated from a decent LPTK in math education and are placed in a school in a regency in East Nusa Tenggara province. You must teach 24 hours a week — no problem here because you are teaching one of six grades of elementary students. However, the school has too many teachers, exceeding the nine teachers required for each school.

You have been teaching for a year, but the school and local education agency seem to have no plan for you to take training. Many say there is only teacher education and professional training (PLPG), a scheme for teachers ready to be certified.

But you are not yet eligible because many senior teachers are already in line for such a lucrative opportunity — once certified, he or she will receive additional pay.

Merit-based assessments are not yet in place in many provinces. Hopefully, the new teacher competency tests this year, after the last in 2012, will be a golden opportunity to reward competent and professional teachers, regardless of their age. Yet around 27 percent of teachers have not acquired a bachelor’s degree although the deadline for this requirement is looming: the end of 2015.

In fact, 30 percent of them will be retired within 10 years. Statistics helps us understand the aggregate of realities, but we should not stop there.

Meanwhile, your newly installed school principal seems incompetent in managing and leading the school. He was just a regular teacher without proper training in school management; yet, he got the job after successfully campaigning for the regent’s election.

Adding insult to injury, some colleagues are sometimes missing from their classrooms. A study from the ACDP and researchers of the Culture and Education ministry revealed that the 24-hour rule and nine teachers per school requirement created issues in many areas.

With good supervision, to overcome the 24-hour rule teachers could be allowed to factor in hours spent on lesson planning, extracurricular activities, project-work preparation, work with school/community committees, parents, etc.

Regarding the nine-teachers per school requirement, the ministry and local administrations must work hard to adjust the rule, especially for small and remote schools, and some kampung-based schools like Sokola Rimba in Sumatra or Sekolah Kampung in Papua.

Where population is low and dispersed, schools are small. As cited by ACDP advisor David C. Harding, with a school of 90 children, for instance, it is absurd to have nine teachers; this would give a student-teacher ratio of 10:1. Instead, teachers could also be trained to better teach combined grades, for instance grades 3 and 4. Several countries and areas in the country have long applied this method where teachers are lacking; but teachers should be trained to also better teach in more than one subject such as physics and math, or civics and religion.

Solving these two issues of the 24-hour rule and a minimum of nine teachers per school could solve several problems, such as teacher absenteeism and workload performance assessment. The role of the local superintendent is even more critical, because the tandem role of school principal and local supervisor is necessary to create a good local education ecosystem. The ministry’s director general for teachers and educational staff Sumarna Surapranata has always said that teachers must be appreciated due to their work, not only their social status. Mulia karena karya (noble because of their work), he says.

Indonesia needs dedicated and professional teachers. In the last 70 years we succeeded in reducing illiteracy rates and improving primary education participation.

It is high time to raise the bar in students’ academic performance and teachers’ professionalism. It makes sense that Culture and Education Minister Anies Baswedan asks us to make education a mass movement similar to the 1945 struggle against colonialism.

Also, we must work with a good plan, without too much depending upon chance. Concerted efforts must be made to reach the impossible dream: an educated citizenry of all Indonesians.


by Totok A Soefijanto, research director of Paramadina Public Policy Institute and deputy rector for academics, research and student affairs at the private Paramadina University, Jakarta.

1 Comment

  • Rosyid Jazuli

    “In Eastern cultures they are prophets doing honorable tasks including virtually divine intervention for our children”

    Unfortunately in Indonesia, being a teacher has never (ever) been better than being a doctor, an engineer, etc. It’s just better than jobless, public perception says.

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