Sat, 16 Aug 2003

A new force in Indonesian education

Raden Dunbar Chairman Association of National Plus Schools Jakarta

It is now just over 10 years since the first "National Plus" (NP) private school was established in Indonesia. Over the subsequent decade many more of these schools have opened as the popularity of bilingual education has increased.

The National Plus network is very small -- presently about 60 to 70 schools and 10,000 students -- compared with the vast mainstream national system of 2.5 million schools and 60 million students.

However, because of their bilingualism and international orientation, NP schools are beginning to exert influence on Indonesian education: They are proving that given the right conditions, Indonesian schools can successfully adopt and adapt international educational techniques, and achieve international education standards.

As private schools registered and accredited with the Ministry of National Education, NP schools conform to the same rules governing all schools, offer government-issue subjects in Bahasa Indonesia, and submit to occasional inspection by ministry officials.

The "Plus" in "National Plus" derives from additional provision of an international curriculum, usually taught in English, sometimes separated from the Indonesian curriculum and sometimes conjoined.

Most schools develop their international curriculum using public domain frameworks and materials obtained from education providers in English-speaking countries. Although not all schools register their international curriculums, senior high school courses must always be fully accredited by an overseas authority to give validity to the tertiary matriculation certificates issued.

The Association of National Plus Schools (ANPS) has developed a set of seven characteristics defining the expected educational attributes of member schools. Taken together these describe what is meant to have been developed in every NP school:

o A set of clear policies that has been developed, documented, published, and implemented by the school;

o Knowledge of and respect for Indonesian cultural values, diversity, and the natural environment;

o Education of students in the use of both Indonesian and English;

o A commitment to plan and implement ongoing staff professional development;

o Development and use of national and international learning outcomes in the curriculum framework;

o Educational programs, teaching methodologies and a range of assessment practices support student-centered learning;

o An appropriate range of resources and facilities provided to achieve described learning outcomes.

Most teachers in NP schools are Indonesians possessing three professional attributes: Fluency in English, appropriate qualifications and demonstrated teaching ability. Many have university degrees earned in English-speaking countries. Some have lived overseas and become "bridges to other cultures".

Indonesian teachers form the core of the permanent teaching force in NP schools, but are usually supplemented by a smaller number of expatriate teachers fulfilling native English-speaker roles, or teaching or skilling in specialized areas.

Each day Indonesians in NP schools teach children using a language which is not their own, and teaching materials and methods imported from other cultures. Many perform brilliantly, proving that Indonesian teachers can be of world class standard.

Although some NP schools have not yet submitted to international assessment at all, many are increasingly discovering the need to prove that they are of verified international standard. At least one school will soon attempt to obtain an International Standards Organization certification. Others must routinely comply with accreditation standards of the International Baccalaureate Organization, or Cambridge GCE/IGCSE, or Australian state Boards of Education Studies, or other accreditors.

One accurate way to determine educational outcomes in schools is to invite external assessment of student performance. The Australian Council for Education Research (ACER) has developed a method for assessing the educational performance of internationally-oriented schools by testing students in the areas of English language and mathematical literacy.

The first ACER International Schools Assessment (ISA) was conducted worldwide in October 2002 with 4 Indonesian NP schools participating. The ISA tested students in grades 3, 5, 7, and 10, and provided a very clear and detailed indication of true standards.

To reform its huge system of schools, the Ministry of National Education is devolving authority and responsibility for education to district and school levels. This has involved introducing community participation into education governance; school-based management, and school-based curriculum development. These are all well-established features of NP schools.

Senior education officials at national and provincial levels recognize that leading NP schools are valuable models to emulate. A senior official recently commented that NP schools were "setting the pace" in Indonesian schooling. There is talk of offering international, bilingual curriculums at handpicked national schools.

The number of National Plus schools continues to increase. However the challenges are many and varied. They include misunderstanding about profitability versus social purpose. Can schools ever be profitable businesses?

Also, the use of the title "National Plus" by schools where quality standards may fall far short of expectations.

Further, use by some schools of home made "international" "English language" curriculums, which are never inspected or validated by an external appraiser.

There is also a government policy vacuum: Presently there are no rules to assist with development and recognition of the National Plus concept.

Given these challenges the Association of National Plus Schools attempts to encourage high educational standards among its members.

Notwithstanding these bumps in the path of progress, the future of these complicated and unique schools seems to be bright. More and more parents seem to be prepared to make the financial sacrifices necessary to enroll their children, recognizing that a bilingual, internationally-recognized and accredited private education will provide far more choices and opportunities in the fiercely competitive world of the future.

The writer is also Principal Counterpart of Sekolah Cita Buana. The above views do not necessarily reflect those of Cita Buana or the Association of National Plus Schools.