Sat, 05 Mar 2005

Government and parents need to investigate private schools

Pieter Van Der Vienhart, Tilburg, Netherlands

Naturally, it is deeply disturbing that so many teachers are clearly suffering terribly under the load of excessive working requirements, stressful working conditions and poor salaries in return for all their efforts and stress. But something that seems even more disturbing is the way in which so many teachers are suffering -- who are employed in private schools -- around Indonesia.

It is very obvious that far too many of the private schools in Indonesia are being founded and managed for business purposes alone. Many teachers have told me through e-mail correspondence that they have suffered in private schools because "the bosses are making demands for returns on their investment".

What adds to the great concern here is the double standards and practically despicable two-faced nature in which these schools are being established and marketed. It is very clear that many of these schools are literally preying on parents' concerns and complaints about the performance and quality of national state-run schools. Capitalizing on parents' awareness that there are obvious weaknesses and deficiencies within state-run schools, these private schools are consistently selling themselves on the marketing strategy of being a better quality education option.

Sadly, this often seems to amount to nothing more than a marketing strategy, and the reality of providing a better quality education remains distant and forlorn. A number of respondents to the "respect for teachers" article described how their school managers and administrators are constantly pressing them to cut corners and reduce costs; and they described how this is reducing their effectiveness as educators.

Others too, highlighted how their schools (again private) marketed themselves aggressively to maximize enrollments. No admissions criteria or testing was applied, so schools could gather in as many students as possible. Of course, this also means that class sizes end up being large; and large class sizes amount to no difference between state-run schools and these supposedly better privately run schools.

The genuinely pitiful nature of all of this is probably worst exemplified by a school that simply does not have sufficient materials to support the teaching requirements. Teachers reported that they would request materials from the school management but be rejected because they were "working wastefully and costing too much."

The pitiful and practically shameful result of this would be that the parents would literally make donations of supplies to support the teachers out of sympathy and charity. This is truly a stunning condition; not only are the parents being expected to pay higher school fees, but when they see things missing in their children's school they are actually stepping in and footing the bill. How very fortunate these schools are! In fact, the parents should be complaining and even demonstrating against such disgraceful conditions.

Perhaps parents are tolerant of such conditions because they believe that their children are getting a better deal in such schools. But parents should not be so complacent and accepting of what is happening. They might think that they are paying for better quality teaching and teaching methods, but this too is cast into doubt by recent correspondence.

One teacher identified how she had previously been teaching at pre-school and kindergarten; on being recruited to a school she was told that she would be working with children of a similar age. However, once she started working in the school she found that within days she was expected to also teach a class of senior high students. This, it was explained to her, was due to "staffing redistribution" but she found out that it was due to staffing shortages.

Now, in this instance, the teacher has worked hard to make the best of a bad situation, but as she described it, she is very much "learning on the job" and first of all she was "in fear of the big kids" she was facing in the senior high. She had no training or previous experience teaching young adults but she has struggled on and is surviving. She may be surviving but, with respect to her, it has to be questioned whether those senior high students are getting the teaching that they need.

Alongside the mismatch of teaching experience and qualifications that can be seen in the above case, it has to also be noted that the teacher received no change to her remuneration package even though her workload would have increased substantially in having to prepare for quite unfamiliar classes. This case clearly shows staff mismanagement and inappropriate appointments, but it is happening in a "quality, management based private school."

Examples like this and others indicate that there is a great need for more active inspection of schools from Indonesia's Ministry of Education. Private schools are opening up at a phenomenal rate in Indonesia and this should be a good thing because it should represent investment in education. However, at present, the indicators seem to be that too many private individuals, businessmen and companies are leaping into education without sufficient supervision and inspection from education professionals.

The writer is an education consultant. He can be reached at