Mon, 10 Feb 2003

Teachers must focus more on students

Simon Marcus Gower, Director of Research and Development, Harapan Bangsa School, Tangerang, Banten

The role of the teacher in Indonesia, as with most other places around the world, is changing. The role of the teacher is and has to be an ever-changing one. But for many in Indonesia the modern day shift in emphasis of what a teacher is and what a teacher should do has, perhaps, not been easy to accommodate.

But teachers must accommodate change as the implementation of a new curriculum, that of 2004, draws nearer -- that will demand that they change.

The need for change and flexibility in teaching is undeniable and as we are increasingly exposed to the vagaries of globalization, teaching, and an accompanying appreciation of learning, has to be able to respond.

The ability to change and appreciate such challenges means that the shift in emphasis for teachers has been one in which they have, at least somewhat, been taken away from center stage. Here, student-based learning is where the emphasis lies.

Bringing the learners and the learning process to the center so that they are the key determinants of how an education develops and grows.

Learner-based education recognizes that learning is best conducted as a multi-faceted activity and relationship. In the past, and indeed many retain this mentality today, learning has been viewed with the singular simplicity of the spoon-feeding procedure. The learner is marginalized -- implicitly made passive and thus less effective.

People still entertain the pitiful notion that a learner is mostly an empty container into which the teacher simply pours the facts, figures and knowledge generally. The piteous way in which this misses both opportunity and reality is something that a learner-centered approach to education directly seeks to redress.

By focusing on the learning and the learner, a series of relationships and activities are opened up that make the whole approach far more respectful, holistic and able to capitalize on the valuable innate qualities that the learners already possess.

Rather than a straightforward teacher-to-student instructor relationship, other more complex and receptive relationships may be realized. For example, there is a student-to-teacher relationship, student-to-student encounters and the potential for teachers and students to work alongside each other in project- based type work. Implicit here is the very real notion that teamwork may and probably should exist in providing and developing an education.

These conditions, then, alter the learning environment and should enhance the learning experience in a number of ways. The divisions separating "teachers" and "students" are broken down.

With the removal of such divisions a more positive sense of belonging and participation may emerge, in which the notion of "we" are working towards learning encourages participation and creativity in the process of learning.

There should be no fear of the prospect that sometimes the teacher is learning and sometimes the student is teaching. The teacher that believes that he has nothing to learn from his students probably should not really be a teacher.

By creating such a key role for the learner, in which a realization may emerge that the learner may both learn and progress to teach, a real sense of involvement and responsibility can be nurtured. This can and should, then, logically and naturally extend beyond the classroom so that the learner does not just switch off when a class session has finished.

A sense of involvement and responsibility can act as a motivator, and the negative perception of going to school being a chore, rather than a positive choice, can be sidelined.

The weaknesses of learning by rote are all too obvious. Simple repetition and thoughtless automaton-like following of the teacher are of little value in the modern world. The ability to think and think with originality and creativity is a far more beneficial outcome from education.

Learner-centered education should seek out such originality and creativity. The depth in the learning process that may be achieved through the students and teachers actively participating in the learning process is fundamentally important.

With such participation there is the prospect of near unlimited creativity and consequent intellectual and social development. Provided that this participation is well managed, the outcomes can be rewarding for all.

The sense of fulfillment and achievement can be great when both learner and teacher feel that they have made a discovery and truly advanced themselves or others.

In the past it may have been sufficient to simplify our world for learning purposes. But if not cautiously and well done, such simplification can alter or even destroy the reality on which it is based.

Modern education should seek to maximize students' ability to think of and understand the world in which they must participate. Their participation in their own education is a vital ingredient in this preparation to participate in the wider world.

Modern teachers, then, need to be able to maximize the opportunities for students to develop their powers of creativity and originality. This has the knock-on effect of requiring that teachers are creative, flexible and able to adapt to new ideas.

The Indonesian education system is moving towards this with the design of the new curriculum; so the sooner teachers open themselves up to new ways and a more student focused approach the better.

It should be possible for teachers to retain the necessary respect and regard from their students -- but this is attained, not simply assumed and taken for granted. The learner should be able to reach a point where he appreciates and values his teachers' input and participation in his education.

In Indonesia, the "us and them" division between teachers and students is still too great. With the aims of the new curriculum teachers will have to think more carefully about their relationship with students; and in turn make students the center of their attention.