Mon, 05 May 2003

Teachers mixed in reaction to new autonomy

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Teachers across the country have expressed mixed reactions to their increasingly important roles following the implementation of school autonomy early this year.

Teachers in big cities like Jakarta have welcomed the autonomy as it has allowed them to be more creative in teaching students, but those in villages have objected to the autonomy as it has placed new burdens on them.

"With school autonomy, we can create new study programs to serve students with the approval of the school committee," Emi Rusilowati, a teacher from Secondary School (SMPN) 252 Jakarta, told The Jakarta Post recently.

She said, for example, that teachers in her school could propose to the school committee -- or the parents of students -- the introduction of accelerated classes for highly intelligent students.

"This is part of our service to improve students' competencies amid tight global competition," she said, adding that only some schools had been allowed by the government to provide accelerated classes prior to autonomy.

Besides, teachers now have the authority to set final examinations in a number of subjects, allowing them to adjust the exams to their teaching materials and student abilities, she added.

Under school autonomy, national examinations, meaning those where the Ministry of Education sets the tests, are limited to English, Indonesian, and math for both junior and senior high schools. Examinations in the remaining subjects are set by the teachers in their respective schools.

Previously, national examinations consisted of between six and seven subjects that were all set by the Ministry of Education.

"Our new tasks has raised our dignity before the students, who previously considered us just like robots that only gave teaching materials but did not produce exams," Emi said.

"For us, autonomy gives us more satisfaction."

Rusli A. Fattah, a teacher from High School (SMUN) 70 Jakarta agreed with Emi that the current situation gave a greater chance to teachers to help their students improve.

"But actually we have no difficulty in following the new system as we had already applied it in the past," he said.

Under school autonomy, the government has given more powers to school institutions to develop their own schools.

Among these are the power to raise funds, develop new programs for students and set their own examinations to evaluate their students.

By introducing school autonomy, the government hopes that the quality of education can be improved to take account of global competition.

But for Endah Kusmarwati from the Tempurejo I Elementary School in Magelang, Central Java, school autonomy had only added to the pressures on teachers, particularly when they held meetings with the school committee.

"Our tasks in teaching students have increased but the school committee has only been criticizing us most of the time. It would be fair enough if they supported us with funds to develop our school, but that doesn't happen here. The school committee members are acting like they are our masters," she complained.

She added that although teachers now had authority to set their own exams, this could be seen as a further burden for teachers as they received no additional incentives for doing so.

"One thing for sure is that we still can't eliminate programs that are unnecessary for students, like know-how training. Students should be taught with better programs such as how to speak English properly," she said.

According to Endah, the Boy and Girl Scout program should also be voluntary as schools had to spend a lot of money on scouting activities.

"Our role is not improving at present. We only get new burdens in teaching. If I could choose, it would be better to return to the previous system," she said.