Mon, 17 Oct 1994

A more effective way of teaching sought

By Prapti Widinugraheni

JAKARTA (JP): A question for parents: What would you do if you found out your child's teacher, in elementary school, taught your child something you know is definitely wrong?

Or what if you were told there were elementary school teachers who marked their students' examination problems incorrectly?

This may sound exaggerated, but according to Djauzak Ahmad, director of elementary education at the Ministry of Education and Culture, cases similar to these do happen, especially in the more remote areas of the country where monitoring and supervision are scarce and teachers are allocated merely for the sake of "evenly distributing education."

Teaching the three basic skills -- reading, writing and arithmetic, or the 3R's -- has long been recognized as a dilemma to elementary level students and teachers alike, while the ability of students to master them is undoubtedly crucial in determining the overall quality of elementary education.

A seminar to discuss the teaching of these basic skills at elementary level, held here last week, exposed weaknesses, and all fingers pointed to the incompetency of elementary school teachers.

"All my students can read, but only a few can do it fluently," said Suroto, a fifth and sixth grade teacher at the state-owned SD Pondok Betung III elementary school in Tangerang, West Java.

Suroto, who has been teaching there for 13 years, admitted many of his students were unable to memorize their multiplication tables well.

"Usually they only know their multiplication tables from one to five by heart ... after that they start to stutter," said the graduate of a School for Teachers' Education (SPG), which is the same level as a senior high school.

The situation cannot be blamed on Suroto alone.

His students had different teachers before they entered his class and so it is only appropriate that they bear the larger part of the responsibility since it is the first and second grade teachers who play a major role in teaching the 3R's.


Djauzak suggested first grade teaching should be limited to the more senior, experienced staff who, in his opinion, are more likely to have the expertise and patience to teach the young pupils.

John Gato Kano, principal of the state-owned SD Sukatani V elementary school in Cimanggis, Bogor, acknowledged the role school principals play in guiding their staff to "teach correctly."

"Many teachers now teach just for the sake of money and fail to enhance their teaching creativity," he said, adding that his own creativity led him to find his own way of teaching students to spell and read.

With simple, inexpensive, visual aids such as match boxes, his students read well by the time they enter the third quarter of the school year, he claimed.

Mohammad Djasim, principal of the state-owned SD Percobaan 01 elementary school in Menteng, Central Jakarta, which was established by the government as a model school, said teachers are constantly pressured to reach their curriculum target, resulting in a poor understanding of the basic concepts of certain subjects.

"Their understanding of the concepts of mathematics, for example, is shallow ... maybe because there are too many aspects to be covered. In the end, many teachers take their own courses just so that they can reach their targets," he said, adding that this had an impact on the children, who would get nothing from "shallow" teachers like these.

Education expert Anwar Jasin said teachers not only lacked teaching skills but also an understanding of the importance of teaching the 3R's at the elementary level and supervision from higher authorities.

"It is these higher authorities, or controllers, who should be showing the teachers how to teach the 3R's in the most effective and efficient way," he pointed out.

Experts still have not come to an agreement on the most effective and efficient way of teaching children the basic skills of reading and writing.

While the government currently regulates that teachers must use the structural-analysis-synthesis (SAS) system, in which one of the first steps is to introduce sentence structures, teachers are nonetheless encouraged to use their own methods which they consider to be the most appropriate.

Visual aid

Brother Ewald Merkx, who taught for 16 years in his home country of the Netherlands before coming to Indonesia more than 30 years ago introduced a visual aid for the teaching of reading and writing called Sarana Baba, or the Baba Facility, during the seminar.

The visual aid consists of a box containing small plastic plates with one letter of the alphabet written on each plate. The lid of the box is used to support the plastic letter-plates, where children can design words and sentences.

"Sarana Baba was based on the Malmbergs Letterdoos which all elementary school teachers used in the Netherlands," said Brother Merkx, who has taught in schools in West Kalimantan during most of his time in this country. The Malmbergs Letterdoos have been used in the European education system for 50 years.

A thorough study discovered that the most frequent letters of the alphabet used in Bahasa Indonesia included the letters a, e, i and n. Therefore, Sarana Baba was designed with more name- plates to meet the requirements for these letters.

Brother Merkx acknowledged that the only disadvantage of the SAS method was that it lacks enough visual aids. The Baba facility provides this.

"The most important thing is that the approach is suitable for the children's personalities, because they can play and learn at the same time," he pointed out.

Although, in the beginning, the Sarana Baba went through bureaucratic difficulties due to government regulations which only allowed teachers to use the SAS method's visual aids, it gained official recognition from the Ministry of Education and Culture and its trademark was registered in 1985.

Brother Merkx, who gained Indonesian citizenship in 1980 and now lives and teaches in Yogyakarta, said there was still much to be done to encourage children to enjoy the world of books.

"Libraries are scarce and children do not use them as they should," he said about school libraries in Indonesia. He considered class libraries as being far more effective in attracting children to books.