Sat, 13 Aug 1994

Entrance exam seeks equality

The results of nation wide entrance exams for state universities were announced recently. How good is today's entrance exam system?

By Syamsir Alam

JAKARTA (JP): For most Indonesians, going to university is a way to secure a job and status.

Unsurprisingly, most parents constantly encourage their children to pursue a university education, often disregarding the youngsters' true potential and academic performance.

A survey conducted jointly by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Manpower in 1993 showed that 90 percent of high school graduates wanted to continue their education at the university level.

Available data also shows that the number of those who took the state university entrance exam was always large. In 1984, a total of 483,000 took the test, while the number of available seats for new students was only 73,625.

The seats were distributed among 43 state universities throughout the 27 provinces.

In 1991, test takers totaled 470,000 and fought for 67,713 seats at state universities. The figures for this year have not changed much. Unfortunately, university seats are limited.

Currently we have only one selection method for admitting students, who meet all the requirements, to state universities. It is known as the Entrance Test to State Universities (UMPTN).

There used to be a second method, based on continuous tracking of the academic records of senior high school students but it was abandoned in 1989. It used to be called the PMDK, JPPB or PMP.

Looking at the results of the nationwide end of study evaluation, we immediately realize how the performance of our secondary level education fluctuates significantly from one high school to another.

In general, the best high schools are located in urban centers. These above average schools have the necessary learning infrastructure and means. The picture, however, is much different at rural high schools.

The availability of teachers for every subject is not a problem in the more fortunate schools. In case one teacher is unable to teach, there will be another who can fill in for the teacher so that the study process will not be disrupted.

Some good schools even have teachers with master's degrees. On the other hand, some schools, particularly ones in rural areas, have tremendous difficulty finding well trained teachers.

Research has shown that a lot of teachers teach subjects outside of their specialization. For example, we still have Bahasa Indonesia teachers teaching mathematics.

If we take into consideration the availability of laboratories, libraries, and other teaching necessities, the disparity between the excellent and the poor schools becomes even worse.

Such a disparity in the quality of education seems to be a fact that we must accept, albeit painfully. It is unfortunate that the UMPTN selection method has not factored in the uneven quality of education.

As we all know, every student does exactly the same entrance exam. No provision is made to accommodate those who come from less than excellent high schools.

The UMPTN test questions have been written based on the curriculum. The ability of the test takers to give the correct answers to these problems is, to a large extent, based on how much of the curriculum they have mastered.

UMPTN, in essence, measures the mastery of study materials based on the curriculum. Unfortunately, this factor is so strongly influenced by the learning environment and facilities that each student has had.

Based on this fact, the recently announced results of this year's UMPTN was exactly as expected: students of good schools, which are generally limited to urban centers, dominated the enrollment at the state universities, especially the top tier.

Formerly, five state universities belonged to this group of excellent universities. Today, there are ten of them.

Students in small towns or rural areas who went to schools with minimal facilities had a slim chance in a competition that is supposed to be fair.

The saddest thing is, these students might prove themselves to be superior learners if they had the chance to attend the university.

The Ministry of Education, in this case the Directorate of Higher Education, seems to be fully aware of this disparity. This was the reason behind the implementation of the now officially defunct PMDK method.

The method was first introduced at the Bogor Agriculture Institute. After its initial, successful implementation, the model was further developed to include other state universities. Finally, it was implemented on the national level.

According to the writer's personal experience as a high school teacher up to 1988, the PMDK selection model had a strong, positive impact on the students' academic life. Their academic performance developed in a healthy manner. Scores of students tried their best to get into the group of the "big five" at their school.

The PMDK model was also responsible for admitting the best youths from all over Indonesia into the state universities, especially the top tier.

Unfortunately, there were those who irresponsibly abused the system by manipulating their children's report cards. The report cards sent to the admission committee at the state universities were not always the original ones. They were illegally altered. This was the reason the Ministry of Education eventually abandoned it.

In general, the defunct PMDK is still getting a favorable evaluation. Studies at several state universities have shown that PMDK students are able to compete with those admitted through the written tests. Furthermore, in some departments, their performance was higher than the UMPTN students.

Based on the results of these studies, the ministry's decision to pull the plug on PMDK was criticized by many. Like the problem of a rat-infested house, one should not burn the house to get rid of the rats.

Fortunately, a certain degree of tolerance has been granted. In a very limited format, some state universities are still offering high school graduates the chance to attend without having to take the entrance tests.

Now, the question is, would it be possible to further develop the PMDK model to enable students with limited financial resources who possess the potential to succeed to attend state universities?

Every decision will entail certain consequences, advantages and disadvantages. The problem is, who should the government's policies on higher education benefit more?

These question and expectations will be more meaningful if we are willing to reflect on the true meaning of equality -free from political rhetoric full of vested interests.

The writer is a former senior high school teacher now working at the Research and Development Center of the Ministry of the Education and Culture.