When testing matters more than learning

The Jakarta Post
Yanto Musthofa, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, May 03 2014,

The debates on the necessity of nationwide final mandatory exams for both junior and senior high school students, which mounted again in the wake of alleged widespread fraud, actually relates to a peripheral issue of education.

These debates could have been easily settled if national education stakeholders were willing to return to the essence of education.

The 2003 law on national education states three basic elements of education: by-purpose and planned efforts; learning conditions and processes; and students who develop their own potential.

The first element refers to the need for qualified accountable providers of education — parents, teachers, schools and authorities.

The second implies the necessity of best conditions, situations and processes to enable the third element, students developing their own potential.

The debates on the quality of the first two elements should never cease as quality needs constant improvement. They must always develop to enable students enjoy increasingly better facilities, environments and necessary support to develop themselves.

Herein is the cause of the destruction of our education. Over decades, the whole energy to promote the quality of those first two elements has been focused on the peripheral, numerical data of achievement.

There is virtually no happy learning in our schools. Schooling has long been reduced to merely creating the best test takers in the three-day final mandatory exams, which have been taken for granted as the only ticket to future success.

Worse, the selective-system schooling paradigm screens only the best test achievers to be able to enroll to the next level of qualified, reputable schools or universities, which are always in limited number and capacity. The rest, the large majority of losers, are steered out of the game as the residue of education, which cannot possibly find another way, because there is just no other way.

Their individual specific potential has disappeared along with the standardized-buzz saw schooling to pursue the uniformed scores. The schools do not provide them with the learning processes to acquire necessary life skills. They have been prepared to be only good at working answering the test questions.

Basically, the numerical data of school achievement should have been the accountability instrument for the providers of education. Instead, the instrument has become the burden to be inflicted on — and an intimidating tool against — the students since the earliest stage of formal schooling. We have got exactly to the point where testing matters more than learning.

The unintended effect is fraud, unfairness, as immoral practices become inevitable not only for students, considering the mighty power of the crucial scores for their future, but also for parents, teachers, schools and local authorities altogether. They all share the interest of determining the highest performance written in the students’ certificates at all costs.

This unhealthy model of education has stemmed from the 19th-century industrialist paradigm of American education, which had adopted the Prussian authoritarian-military education model. This compulsory schooling, which became the forerunner of American public schools was a breakthrough in fulfilling the needs of quickly available, massive and cheap labor for the industry since Horace Mann ceased standardized testing in 1837.

Of course, the compulsory schooling was not designed to encourage every student to become long-life learners, creative thinkers and independent and capable workers, because the industry needed only human bodies with standardized skills, uniformity and conformity.

Whoever becomes the next education minister in the new cabinet should bring back the basics of learning and learning process to our schools. In doing so, he or she need not to be a spectacular new curriculum super creator.

Instead, the minister would just need to make sure that every single Indonesian student is invaluable with his or her inherent potential. Every single Indonesian child is entitled with the right to be free from any negative stigma. We should no longer see the majority of losers after high school ends. For everyone should be a winner.

The writer is a member of the central governing council of the Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association (ICMI) in Jakarta.

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