Sunday, August 26, 2007

Doctor H. Arief Rachman on Education: Part One

On Words

Doctor H. Arief Rachman – part one


Tuesday, 17 June, 2007, 8:17 PM Local Time

JAKARTA – Deep into his fifth decade of educating, Doctor H. Arief Rachman has no plans of slowing down.

In fact, with his recent appointment to Diponegoro junior, high, and vocational schools adding to his work as a Universitas Negeri Jakarta (State University of Jakarta) lecturer along with his duties as the Executive Chairman of the Indonesia National Commission of UNESCO, his frankness is clear as he claims the word retirement holds scant desirability for him.

He says, “I do not understand the meaning. Perhaps there is status in the word. For me, I think I will be busier in my old days, because at that age it isn’t just about implementation, but about inspiration.”

Sleep, at times, does not find the grandfather of three easily. Thirty-six of his high school senior students had recently failed their national examinations and he says, “I couldn’t anticipate whether I’d have the courage or not to face them. I knew it was to be hard and it kept me awake at night.”

However, meet them he did, saying, “I am trying to build a system that teaches honesty is most important. When you fail, you fail.”

This commitment to integrity is important to the man. Before he joined Diponegoro half a year back, he declared “if I am wanted in this school, honesty is on top of everything. True, the final exam results are sad and quite low but… you’ve got to perform according to what you are and failing is OK.”

Rachman believes dishonesty is rampant in lower-income schools with tests being marked up and reports falsified. He does not understand how the schools can have 99% or 100% final examination pass rates.

“Corruption in education is largely uncontrolled,” he says, “lots of teachers enjoy doing wrong practices. We’ve got to keep echoing to everybody that this is wrong. I’d like to call on my fellow teachers to be honest. Do not make up scores or reports.”

The educator feels that it is the final examinations that breed problems and dishonesty. “We need to go back to the essential and ask what we are evaluating. Marks, final exams or students progress over the years? A student’s continuous evaluation should be considered as a basic criterion of passing. So no national government rules should be the only criteria for passing.”

Explaining, Rachman continues, “In Banda Aceh, 32 teachers were killed in the tsunami and entire schools destroyed. The students were living in tents and suddenly it was demanded that they meet the same criteria as those in Block M. This is very illogical.”

The youthful-looking, eternally-smiling lecturer is a realist and understands the need for examinations. He says he knows there is a need for student evaluation, but believes the examinations “are causing people to worry, and does not make them aware. Our education is fonder of competition with ranking, putting people in blocks, not together as one.”

He warns, “Unless the government gives realistic criteria for passing grades, people will try to find shortcuts instead of being true; people will try to be safe. This principal has got to be abolished. I’d like to change it by giving guidelines to schools and then letting the teachers and headmasters decide who’ll pass and then demand all teachers and headmasters are honest.”

Rachman believes that this desire to be safe at the expense of being true “comes from the discrepancy between the haves and have nots, [from] the big gorge growing between the clever and the slow learners. I am afraid,” he says, “the clever and the rich will have better facilities and will go up and up while the slow and poor will sink down and down, although our constitution and our laws of education do not agree with this.”

“Our philosophy in Indonesia,” he elaborates further, “Unity in Diversity, is an excellent philosophy and we should go in that direction. We should be more consistent with what’s in our constitution. It is said we’ve got to believe in God, humanity, nationalism, social justice, democracy and being humane. [But] How can you be humane if you are cornered by a situation in which you are forced to steal and to lie? I think education should come into that area and teach that no matter how poor you are, you have no justification to steal, to lie. You must be strong no matter what you face.”

Rachman says he was drawn to Diponegoro for the opportunity to assist those that face such dilemmas. He says that 75% of his students come from poor families, the children of our maids, guards, laundresses, walking food hawkers.

“It attracted me,” he says, “because the students come from the lower financial classes and I’ve discovered that although intellectual input is not very high, financial input is not very high and the salaries of our teachers average just five to six hundred thousand rupiah a month, the schools have about 3,000 students in total.”

“I am also attracted to the schools because the students are so enthusiastic to go to school, although I do not think many of them have healthy support at home. They’ve got to fight for their lives.”

He leans back, pushes his fingers through his full-head of salted hair and remembers, “I asked one student why he wasn’t wearing a belt and he replied, ‘This is Tuesday. It’s my father’s day to wear the belt.’” During the interview the professor shares similar one-belt family stories about shoes and study materials.

“I do not feel we have addressed them well and I do not think we have paid enough attention to these kinds of schools. I imagine these types dominate all schools in Indonesia.”

He is proud of Diponegoro’s progress thus far. “When our students finish they have strong confidence to face all our challenges.”

The good doctor was gracious enough to invite me into his Rawamangun home for more than an hour as he readily shared his thoughts. On Words next installment will continue the interview, with the professor’s words about building a progressive school culture, the role of indigenous and foreign languages in Indonesia, his decade as a English quiz show host on television, and the two times he was imprisoned.

This article was originally published in The Jakarta Post.

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