By Agita SesaraRampant teen violence and interschool brawls have been on the rise in Indonesia. The National Commission for Child Protection (KPAI) had a record of 339 school brawl cases just last year, which was more than double the number in 2010. In 2011 alone, there were 82 recorded deaths that resulted from the brawls, up from 40 the year before. This staggering statistic has led to an uproar questioning the quality of Indonesia’s education system.
Retno Listyarini, secretary general of the Indonesian Teachers Federation, said that the heavy workload in school was one of the prominent sources of pressure for the students, which increased the likelihood of them using violence and aggression as an outlet for their stress.
With these violent incidents in the spotlight, the Ministry of Education has proposed a solution in the form of curriculum reform in primary school. This new curriculum will apply several changes, such as removing science and humanities subjects, changing the teaching methods, and shifting the focus of education to improve morality among the youth.
Musliar Kasim, the deputy minister of education, said that they are trying to eradicate some of the subjects that are deemed less important in the elementary level, and focus on character-building to prevent more misdemeanors. Under the new curriculum, primary students will only have to deal with six mandatory subjects: religious studies, citizenship, Indonesian language, arts, mathematics and sports. This simplification of curriculum is hoped to reduce the burden on students.
In another interview, minister of education and arts M. Nuh said that he wants to make a curriculum that is based on science and not on memorizing. He wants to encourage children to observe, question, and stimulate their curiosity. In doing so, he hopes to develop their logical reasoning capabilities and creativity.
The way he described the new curriculum sounds quite similar to the child-centered approach to teaching and education inspired from developmental psychologist Jean Piaget’s work, where educators are encouraged to engage children in novel and individual modes of thinking, inspiring them to create, invent and innovate. That way, children will learn more from being active. This, of course, is a good thing, an improvement on the current system. But will this utopic proposal pull through?
One thing for sure, this will be a very fundamental change. This is not just a matter of eliminating subjects, but a complete alteration of the core teaching methods of the current pool of teachers. Will the teachers be able to keep up with the changes?
With the new method, teachers will have to be proactive in engaging the children in active, hands-on learning. Old textbooks will have to be updated for relevance. Teachers must choose reading materials wisely for maximum exposure to information.
A new, more holistic, method of assessment must also be devised. The usual multiple choice or short answer questions are not going to cut it. Children should be tested not on their knowledge, but on the development of their skills as a whole.
All things considered, will the government be able to accommodate all these changes? Are all the resources and personnel involved in education ready to adapt? If the answer is no, then the change will be nothing but an empty gesture.
When we look back at what started all this commotion, the main trigger of the reforms was the escalation of youth violence, which the government felt was caused by low level of morality in youth. Piaget believed that morality in children developed in stages and, for the most part, autonomously. Real moral growth is not the product of adult instruction, but rather based on the child’s own observations of the world. He also viewed peer interaction, rather than interaction with parental or authoritative figures, as one of the most crucial parts of moral development in children, as it provides a hands-on source to understand the concepts of reciprocity, equality and justice. With that in mind, will more hours of religious studies and citizenship lessons, to teach morality and ethics in children, have any effect?
Most humans learn through modeling. According to social learning theory by the renowned psychologist Albert Bandura, learning is achieved by acknowledging and then imitating the observed action of other people, who serve as models of appropriate or acceptable behavior. He also added that behavior partly molds the environment, and in return the environment influences behavior. Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg, in his theory of moral development, stated that in the first 9 years of their lives children’s sense of morality focuses largely on the external consequences of what their action may bring. If the society consciously condones behaviors that are morally questionable, how are we going to expect our youth to do any different? When bribery and corruption are the norm and secretly accepted by people in Indonesia, when injustice is rife, and queuing is not even widely implemented, what kind of examples are we setting for them?
I think we have to look at the big picture and realize that this is bigger than how many hours the children need to spend on morality lessons. We as citizen have to realize that this responsibility belongs to all of us as a community. We must comprehend the kind of moral codes we truly hold as a society. As cliché as it might sound, we must be aware of the examples we are setting for the next generation. If we want our children to have a better sense of morality, should we not have it as well?