Romo Mangunwijaya's dreams for education
Yusup Priyasudiarja Contributor Yogyakarta
Impian dari Yogyakarta (Dreams from Yogyakarta) by Y.B. Mangunwijaya, Penerbit Buku Kompas, Feb. 2003, 308 pp
Romo Mangun was widely known as an architect, priest, intellectual, social worker and novelist and also regarded by many as a fighter for the liberation of the poor from stupidity, powerlessness and injustice.
He toiled to help poor children and people in repressive situations to be independent and to act on their own choices. He contributed his ideas on crucial issues, especially on education, democracy and politics. Born in Ambarawa in 1929 and involved in the struggle for independence as a young soldier, he then dedicated his whole life to the development of this country through education.
During the independence struggle, Romo Mangun was deeply touched by Major Isman's speech during a reunion of Tentara Pelajar Indonesia/TPI (Indonesian student battalions) in Malang in the early 1950s. Isman said that the real heroes of the revolution in the independence struggle were not soldiers but the people who suffered during the war.
Since then, he decided to contribute his life to others, especially the poor and weak. He entered a seminary and became a priest in 1959. His service as a priest outside the confines of the church hierarchy in Kali Code, Salam, Kedung Ombo, Gunungkidul and Mangunan parishes, brought him into direct contact with the poor. His death, four years ago, was a great loss to the country but his vision for humane education still remains inspirational.
His valuable ideas on education have been collected in this book, which consists of 39 essays published in Kompas in the period 1974 to 1998. Even though some of his essays were written before 1980, they are still relevant to today's educational issues. This book, then, can serve as the heritage of his great ideas on education for the young generation.
In most of his features, Romo Mangun, the author of the novel Burung-burung Manyar argues that basic education in elementary school plays a significant role in the whole process of education. The quality of basic education will determine the quality of higher education. As children are by nature explorative, creative and curious, teachers should provide students with activities to stimulate them to be explorative learners and critical thinkers.
In reality, however, our education has "killed" these natures. Our education system does not boost students' creativity. Their creativity is hampered through the learning-teaching process, which does not treat students as the subject of education but as small political groupings. In other words, students are still regarded as objects or containers, which are filled with a huge range of information.
Besides, the learning-teaching process in class is mostly carried out in the form of wordy lecturing, and students tend to be passive-receptive. Hence students are likely to merely memorize facts but learn nothing.
Romo Mangun notes that students should be stimulated to be more critical, to ask a lot of questions, to observe their surroundings, to analyze data and find their own answers. As basic education is very vital, teachers in elementary schools should also be creative, well-educated and qualified.
They should not be the one who determine everything in class but serve as a close friend, brother and counselor for their students. Besides, they should not view the naughtiness of children at a narcissistic age as a negative aspect of their development, but as a creative process of learning.
Jean Piaget, a Swiss philosopher and psychologist, best-known for his pioneering work on the development of intelligence in children, shows the stages of cognitive development of children. He believes that children are not empty vessels to be filled with knowledge but active builders of knowledge: little scientists who are constantly creating and testing their own theories of the world.
Children are basically explorative; they are the ones who teach themselves. Hence their learning process can be optimally achieved through active exploration. It seems that Romo Mangun was inspired by Jean Piaget's ideas on developmental psychology.
Besides, all children are basically clever, but it is the teaching-learning process in class that makes them slow, as illustrated by Jean Jacques Rousseau's "God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil."
One of Romo Mangun's strong criticisms on education rests on the educational system. He points out that we have oppressed (not to mention "killed") our 30 million children every day through our educational system in formal schools, in which methodology, evaluation systems and management structure inhibit the creativity, spontaneity and explorative natures of children in their learning process (p.48).
In our educational system, evaluation systems such as THB, NEM, EBTA, EBTANAS and many others, are considered the factors that hamper the development of our education. The mushrooming of courses (nonformal education) and the high interest of parents in enrolling their children on courses indicate clearly the failure of formal education in Indonesia.
Romo Mangun put his ideas on education into practice by running an alternative elementary school, Dinamika Edukasi Dasar (Basic Education Institute) in Mangunan, Yogyakarta. He applied the curriculum used by other formal schools but modified it by adding some subjects such as question formulation and music lessons.
He thought that question formulation would stimulate students to think logically and music lessons would be good for building a sense of esthetics among students. The lessons at SD Mangunan are designed according to students' cognitive development, as elaborated by Jean Piaget.
Here, students are given the greatest opportunities to explore and develop their creativity. SD Mangunan has become one of examples of Romo Mangun's work on education, in which its education system is children-oriented. He also highlights the importance of language mastery among his students. According to him, language is the key to grasping as much information as possible and to comprehending any culture.
As a product of Dutch colonial education, Romo Mangun has picked up some goods points on the colonial education system. He points out that instead of the negative effects of Dutch colonialism, we can learn positive things from their education. Colonial teachers, with their humane educational background, taught students to be gentle, to think progressively, consistently and logically and to dared to say "waar of neit" (right or wrong). Teachers in class do not only teach math, history and science but also teach students to observe, to analyze systematically and to draw conclusions critically and systematically (p.103).
Hence the colonial education system incredibly manages to produce good graduates having universal values, analytical thinking and a strong character, such as Soekarno, Hatta, Syahrir, Soetomo, Agoes Salim, Adam Malik, Maramis, etc.
In some of his essays, Romo Mangun also points out that our government has not put education as the priority of development. Compared with China, Indonesia has still been left behind in education. In China, education has been a very vital aspect of life. It does not only cover formal education but also nonformal education within the context of life-long learning.
Education is carried out through TV, which can serve not only as a medium of entertainment, but also of education. Despite the apparently negative aspects of teaching, such as low salaries and overbureaucratization of education systems, teachers in China are still dedicated and have self-esteem. Education should be the main concern of our government if we really want to build a great nation.
In this book, there are at least three points highlighted by Romo Mangun. First, it is hoped that there will be a law which effectively protect children in all aspects of life from any unfair treatment from other people, including parents and teachers.
According to him, the quality of culture in one nation is determined by the following determinant: how children are protected, treated and improved naturally and culturally (p.112). As the development of the nation is mainly determined by the quality of its basic education, our education paradigm should be directed more to students in elementary schools. Second, the government should prioritize education in its development plans by allocating more funds. The budget for education in our country is still much lower than that of neighboring countries. Third, he also suggests that nonformal and informal education also contribute a lot to the development of this country. Hence, the law on education should not only cover formal education but also nonformal and informal education.
This book gives us a deeper insight into Romo Mangun's vision and concern for education in Indonesia. Now it is our task to continue his great work to build the nation through better education.