Mon, 07 Jul 2003

The future of our children

Indonesian students rank among the lowest in basic skills compared to their peers in other countries, according to a recently published survey of 15-year-olds. The research, which covered 43 countries on five continents, was conducted by UNESCO's Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

PISA is a collaborative effort among the participating countries to measure how well 15-year-olds approaching the end of compulsory schooling are prepared to meet the challenges of today's societies. PISA administers tests and background questionnaires to between 4,500 and 10,000 students in each participating country to assess three forms of literacy: reading, mathematical and scientific. The assessments focus on how well students apply knowledge and skills to tasks that are relevant to their future life, rather than on the memorization of subject matter knowledge.

In reading literacy, well over 50 percent of students surveyed in Indonesia performed at level 1 - the lowest out of five - or below. Level 1 represents those students who have serious difficulties in using reading as a tool to advance and extend their knowledge and skills in other areas. Level 5 indicates those students who are able to manage information that is presented in unfamiliar texts, show detailed understanding of complex texts and infer which information is relevant to the task, and critically evaluate and build hypotheses with the capacity to draw on specialized knowledge and concepts that may be contrary to expectations. The lowest results were scored in Albania, Indonesia and Peru.

As with reading literacy, Indonesian students similarly perform at the lowest level in the mathematical as well as the scientific literacy. They are weak at mathematics in terms of its relation to its use in people's lives, in using mathematical knowledge and procedures to solve problems, in formulating and communicating the outcomes, and in other aspects of mathematics. The lowest performers are Indonesia, Brazil and Peru.

They are weak at scientific literacy in terms of using scientific knowledge, recognizing scientific questions, and in other aspects of scientific literacy, including in communicating these aspects of science. In these respects too, Indonesian students fall in the category of the worst performing countries, above only Albania, Brazil and Peru.

Are Indonesian students really weak in all those basic skills? It must be wrong to draw that conclusion if we really look into the factors associated with student's literacy proficiency, including student engagement in the learning process in Indonesia as compared to other countries participating in this program.

What Indonesia should do is to assess the strengths and weaknesses of our education system in the perspective of other countries' performance. Indonesia should look into how it formulates its education policy in seeking to bring about improvements in schooling and better preparation for young people as they enter an adult life of rapid change and deepening global interdependence.

To judge by the deliberations in the House of Representatives, and later the passing of the new law on national education, it is obvious that preparing young Indonesians for the world of tomorrow through education has been less of a concern than the political interests of the Indonesian elite toward next year's general election.

With its convoluted structure of thinking, the House passed the national law on education that will give Indonesian schools and teachers the impossible task of transforming Indonesian students into perfect human beings. The House is not concerned with the basic skills needed by the young generation to prepare themselves for an entirely different adult life that their older generations faced. The House seems totally disinterested in whether or not the students will have the capacity to face a harsh and much more competitive world in the future.

Now, it is left to the schools and teachers themselves, with the support of the civil society at large, to push for a better educational system that would equip our students with the basic skills to meet the challenges of the future world. If need be, this must be done by working against the mainstream of the Indonesian political elite.