Sat, 15 May 2004

Quality schools becoming a growth industry in RI

Rachel Davies, Sydney, Australia

The variety and options for parents considering their child's or children's education are, pleasingly, increasing in Jakarta. A variety of private schools are now placed alongside of the state- run schools as potential sources of quality education.

Maybe it is true that state-run schools have not been looked upon in a particularly favorable light but this is not entirely fair as there are some very good state-run schools achieving fine educational goals. However, the concerns over state-run schooling have undoubtedly opened up the way for the private sector to become involved.

It can be seen that the private sector has now become deeply involved in education and schools; so much so now that it seems that education is seen as a good business prospect and a growing business sector. A significant portion of the private sector of schools is schools characterized as "national plus" schools. These schools typically market themselves as being able to offer a superior alternative to the state-run schools. But this rather loosely defined sector of national plus schools may have a considerable variety.

Sometimes it does appear that the title of "national plus" school is utilized as a marketing tool. Even though there may not be a fully agreed upon definition of what exactly constitutes a national plus school, the mere mention and idea of being a national plus school is seen as beneficial.

That word "plus" suggests that a better educational experience may be had at the school in question. Generally, this would seem to be the case as many national plus schools do provide a higher standard in education and overall the sector that is national plus schools has been a positive development and assistance to schools and schooling in Indonesia.

But like most things in life, national plus schools should not merely be accepted on face value alone. Careful scrutiny is wise. The title of "national plus" should not obscure or limit one's ability to carefully consider what a school really has to offer and whether or not it is the best and right choice for you.

To give an example, certain schools will market themselves on the basis of the facilities that they have to offer. From quality gymnasiums and outdoor facilities to suites of computers, and languages laboratories some schools may be able to offer built facilities of excellence; but facilities alone do not necessarily make a school.

An essential ingredient for any school is its teaching staff and here again many national plus schools show an admirable degree of commitment. The training of teachers and requiring teachers to be updating and developing their teaching material is a quite common experience. Also, a commitment to curriculum development and the utilization of new methods and media for teaching reflect national plus schools' commitment to improving their educational service.

There are, then, many facets that come together to cultivate a "national plus" environment. Another significant, and at times controversial, facet of national plus schooling is the concept of parallel languages within a school. Some schools can go so far as to highlight that they are bilingual in their provision of education. For them English is placed firmly alongside Bahasa Indonesian and in some cases even takes up the larger percentage as the actual medium of instruction.

Other schools may not be able to claim such a high percentage of English usage but it is a common and consistent characteristic of national plus schools to claim to have both more English and better English than other schools. But occasionally these kinds of claims can be a cause for concern. Sometimes the desire to promote the idea of English usage within a school borders on the obsessive. This kind of obsession can leave doubts as to the overall quality of the school.

For example, one new national plus school has promoted itself almost entirely on the English language educational experiences it proposes it is able to offer. With promotional material, such as brochures and leaflets, written entirely in English, the focus is clear.

All of what this promotional material discusses is what the school aims to achieve in providing English language instruction. Unusually there is no reference to the school's built facilities or teaching staff or size of classes and so on.

In this kind of situation you could be forgiven for thinking that what is being read about is not a formal, general school but specifically a language school. This is something of a dichotomy for a national plus school. The goal of bilingual education is admirable but it has to be administered within the wider context of providing a basic general education.

Similarly, national plus schools can face something of a dichotomy when it comes to the curriculum that they follow. It is an unavoidable reality that they are Indonesian schools and as such they are providing an Indonesian education to Indonesian students. However some national plus schools are also offering imported curricula, such as the International Baccalaureate. Where this kind of dual system is in operation the tasks and challenges facing the school and indeed the students may be multiplied.

However, no matter how potentially problematic the challenges facing national plus schools may be, there can be little doubt that they are an important and beneficial addition to the provision of education within Indonesian. Evidently they are a significant growth sector too. There are perhaps upwards of fifty schools that would now claim "national plus" designation. But this growth should not be allowed to be too rampant. Schools should not merely be looked upon as business ventures. The founding of a school is not merely about profit margins for its owners. At the heart and soul of every good school should be the founding principle of bringing about the development of people. The development of new schools then becomes the development of so much more within a nation.

The writer is education consultant.