Fri, 02 May 2003

In search of a meaningful law on education

Mochtar Buchori, Educator, Jakarta

What is an education bill, and what is its function after it is passed into a law?

An education law is a mandate or command to the education system to execute an assignment outlined in the law, and in a way prescribed by the law. The next question would be, "What does the present education bill order our education system to do?"

This is not very clear. The bill in its current format suggests the entire educational system to perform a national education that will lead the future generations to become "human beings that believe in and show piety towards The One God, [while] having noble character, being healthy, capable, creative, independent, and (eventually) become democratic and responsible citizens for the purpose of prodding the nation towards an intelligent existence." This is an unofficial translation.

What struck me most was the complexity of the sentence -- and the convoluted structure of the thought behind it. Essentially what this awkward sentence intends to say is that henceforth our educational system must guide students to achieve five goals, i.e. religiousness, morality, scientifically literate, independent life armed with skills, and responsible citizenship.

Did the drafters of this document realize that they were putting our schools and our teachers into an almost impossible situation? This definition orders our schools to transform our students into perfect human beings in the future.

What is the criteria to be met before one can be considered to have a religious belief and piety? How noble should the character of a person be after finishing a given level of education?

Faith and religious piety, noble character, being responsible citizens etc. are not all-or-none things. They exist in every person always only to a certain extent. Education does not shape the character of a person in a finite manner.

What education does is to provide the basis, on which every person should build his own character. And judgment about character is almost always subjective. Someone who is not too religious in my eyes may feel sufficiently or very religious.

More fundamentally, the current bill fails to outline the academic program that our schools should provide in the future.

The one sure way to guarantee that conditions of the country and of the nation will be improved is only if we can provide the next generations with education that is significantly better than what is available thus far.

Obviously, what the education bill is going to determine will be of paramount importance for the next generations. Will they receive education that will make them understand what the various problems that still plague us are?

If their education will be just a repetition of our present practices, we will not be getting better in our life as a nation, but we will become increasingly and progressively worse.

This is why I am very disappointed with the current bill. It says almost nothing about the academic program that will be implemented in our schools in the years to come.

This bill gives clear spiritual and moral guidance regarding how our schools should be run in the future, but there is not enough guidance regarding the intellectual or academic program that should be carried out.

Restoring our educational system to the extent that it will become able to guide the next generations towards gradual solution of problems that have beset our country requires a bill or a law that is more rigorous and more clear in stating the academic or intellectual path our educational system must follow.

To make a "second national reawakening" possible, it is not enough for the bill or law to point out the spiritual and moral direction for our national education system. It must also outline the academic or intellectual trajectory to be followed by our schools.

What kind of academic program must be provided to enable future generations to be able to understand the problems of their own time, and able also to explore various methods of solutions that can be realistically followed?

These are things that I could not find in the bill, even after it was revised three times. I could also not find it in the article on the objectives of national education, nor in articles on the curriculum, on standards, and on evaluation.

Is the working committee (Panja) of the legislature put in charge of deliberating the bill still capable of seeing this fundamental shortcoming, or is it convinced that it has produced an educational masterpiece that must be defended at all costs?

The writer is a legislator with the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan).