Fri, 02 May 2003

Education needs human touch

Simon Marcus Gower, Director, Research and Development, Harapan Bangsa School, Tangerang, Banten

As Indonesia commemorates its National Education Day on May 2, there are those that would portray education here as lurching from crises to crises. The questions that linger over religion in schools, over the apparent need for reform of much of the education infrastructure, and the persistent fears of moral decay by under performing schools, all suggest a chaotic condition.

Every nation that seeks the civilizing benefits of a system of education experiences and must try to overcome such challenges and problems. For education to be of value and relevance it has to be in a state of flux. If education is in stasis, then it truly is the nursery of chaos and moral decline. It has to reject the status quo and live in the future tense.

But there is one critical factor that needs to, that must be maintained and encouraged to take on the burden and great responsibilities that are intrinsic to any human endeavor that incorporates ideals of altruism and supporting the needs of others. The greatest resource that any education institute has is its human resource.

This is perhaps where education here most needs development. The teachers, the lecturers, the principals, the university deans need to be nurtured, supported and encouraged to be real and deeply committed educators.

They need to be valued and appreciated for the great gift that they can give to a nation; but without proper backing they may be left to become uncommitted, complacent and even become part of the problem rather than the solution for education.

It can be easy for teachers to become cynical and under committed when and if they are not valued and appreciated. But real teachers find their own value and appreciation for what they do. The kind words and compliments of others merely becomes the icing on the cake.

However real teachers can rarely be molded or created by teacher training colleges. Too often such colleges become centers of extended brainwashing in which real creativity and originality is only marginally allowed to seep through.

The ever-changing nature of education demands that teachers are people that can handle change. Often, though, teachers that have been "run through the mill" of teacher training end up jaded and divorced from powers of originality and creativity. Often, the best teachers are born to teaching or graduate to teaching from life's great university of experience.

Personal qualities and characteristics are critical for teachers -- these would include a love of people and a love of knowledge and learning but also the ability to communicate and share.

Many countries now suffer from shortfall in the number of qualified teachers they have to supply to their schools. A common response to this is to attempt to attract "non-teachers" into teaching. This is perhaps a novel approach but it is also entirely valid.

For example in a school in the United Kingdom the headmaster and his board of governors supported the introduction of people "returning to education" to become teachers. Consequently this school employed a "new" teacher of 42 years of age.

This "new" teacher had previously run his own small business and had been a farmer in Scotland. He was employed to teach economics and geography and he quickly became one of the most liked and respected teachers within the school. His depth of real world experiences made his classes lively and successful for the students who consistently enjoyed higher grades -- not least because they were highly motivated by their teacher.

This "new" and untypical teacher was a success because of his experiences and his character. His character and personality and openness of mind allowed him to become a real teacher.

Indonesia commemorates its National Education Day on May 2 because that was the birth date of a visionary figure for Indonesian education. Soewardi Soerjaningrat envisioned education as a tool of empowerment. Education as a means for students to realize their own abilities and be given the opportunities to explore and develop them. Soewardi saw the vital role of the teacher in this scenario and defined it as being one of a guide helping the students along their own paths to fulfillment.

His vision, then, was very much one of teaching and educating with a human touch. Teachers are there to humanely and encouragingly bring out the best in their students. This is a vision that has perhaps been sidelined by too many people in education in this country.

Too many educators possess characteristics of stubbornness or wish to exist as dictatorial controllers. It is essential that educators have a deep and abiding human touch to all that they do. Education should not be about controlling our young people; it should be about altruistically helping them to meet the challenges of the future.

If educators in Indonesia can truly aspire to high ideals of altruistic education, we can reach a point where we may truly celebrate the education day of Indonesia and celebrate successful education results that will help build this nation.