Mon, 22 Aug 1994

Preserving the dignity of schools and teachers

By Mochtar Buchori

JAKARTA (JP): Judging from the way he told me the story, my driver must be really upset. His second son was accepted at an elementary school where his elder son has been a pupil for two years. Now textbooks have to be purchased for this younger son.

According to him, these books are exactly the same as the ones used by his elder son except for the cover. What he does not understand is why his younger son cannot use the books used previously by his elder brother.

These books are still in very good condition and the contents are exactly the same. Why does he have to buy new ones? He asked the teacher for an explanation and the answer was very simple: That is the rule. He was also told that if he was unwilling to follow the rule, he could take his son to another school. He was really hurt by this answer.

My daughter has the same trouble. Everything that her son needs as a first grader must be purchased through the teacher at school. And the price of every item is in general almost twice as expensive as on the free market. She went to the principal and demanded an explanation. He answered, "Please understand my position, Ibu! I am just following orders from above. I am ashamed myself that such a thing occurs at my school. But there is really nothing I can do about it. I am sorry!"

From my other two daughters I heard the same story. I conclude that this practice must be common in certain types of schools. Reflecting on this situation, I feel deeply distressed about the general condition of our schools and especially about the condition of our teachers. At the same time, I also realize that the Indonesian school system has been undergoing a long transformation process that we have had no control over.

The image of the old school as an institution imbued with dignity, where no one can fool around, is still quite vivid in my mind. I still remember the days when a principal could punish the son of a prime minister for a violation of a school regulation without fear of being sacked. I still remember the days when a teacher refused to accept his salary because it was deducted by a certain amount without his consent. He did this for months until finally the principal acknowledged his mistake and apologized.

It is hard to imagine the presence of such principal or such a teacher within our present schools. How can a teacher inspire awe and respect in students and parents if he or she has to take part in a practice considered by most parents as unworthy?

The critical question is whether we can really afford to have schools where teachers cannot nurture trustworthy and dignified relationships vis-a-vis the students and parents. Without trust and dignity I think it is impossible for any teacher to effectively build the character of students.

What can be done to restore the dignity of schools and teachers? Stop using schools and teachers as instruments to carry out mean and illicit policies which benefit only a few characters within the educational bureaucracy, but inflict tremendous damage on the schools and society.

Let us hope that this kind of practice will be terminated very soon and that all schools will have an equal opportunity to blossom into institutions that teachers, students, and parents can be proud of.

The writer is rector of Muhammadiyah University, Jakarta.