Sunday, August 26, 2007

Doctor H. Arief Rachman on Education: Part Two

On Words

Doctor H. Arief Rachman – part two


JAKARTA Today’s On Words’ column completes Professor Doctor H. Arief Rachman’s interview.

Coming into being just a few years before Indonesia gained independence; the educator has matured alongside his nation. And, similar to his younger sibling, he does not hesitate to stand up for what he believes to be just. This trait has landed him in prison on two separate occasions.

The first was in 1966 when he fought against communism because, he says, “Our philosophy says to believe in God, while the communists claimed to be atheists. For me it wasn’t political. I just went against what I thought was wrong. All the fighters who went against communism were imprisoned.”

A dozen years later, the man who spends his free time helping drug abuse victims was locked up a second time while he was a dean of students. He explains, “All the students went against the government due to its corruption and instead of the students being caught, the Dean of Students was caught. I was in for eight months without ever being charged.”

With his forty plus years in classrooms, schools, and universities, Rachman has witnessed the development of education in Indonesia. He says, “The city universities and teacher colleges are changing, though evolutionary, not revolutionary as we need.”

Despite this sluggish pace of growth, the heart of the man remains rose colored and he says, “On the micro side we are OK, with many good universities flourishing along good high schools and international schools.”

Rachman was just a teen of 16 when he first experienced the joys of a multicultural classroom after he was accepted into the American Field Service foreign-student exchange program in 1959. He was enrolled in a small high school in New Jersey, America, becoming the program’s first Muslim student to move in with a Jewish family within a Jewish community.

He recalls about that pivotal time, “In that high school we exercised cross-cultural understanding, active learning and discovery learning. I saw teachers as friends. It was then, that I began to think in the back of my mind, I’d like to go into that field and help students.”

Now, Rachman envisages a land where schools are genuine societal reflections. He says of the late 1980’s, when he was a member of the team that established Lab School’s integrated culture, “I discovered that a school should not only have intellectual input. So we tried to have a healthy population of children from the poor, the middle, and the upper classes. We did this both for financial and intellectual points of view along with cultural diversity. A homogeneous-school society cannot create a strong school.”

“We should have,” he explains, “Muslims, Christians, Hindus and more, all in good proportions. Additionally, we should not only have clever students, but also average and slow learners. With that blend, we’ll have a healthier, intellectual society.”

“Fast learners understand that life is a learning process in which we all live together with people who are not on the same track, different races, and religions. The good schools have a mixture of fast and slow learners that help each other. Multiculturalism should be emphasized.”

In keeping with his assimilation goal, Rachman’s vision as an educator has always been to develop well-rounded people. He remembers, “We aimed [at Lab School] to develop good personality and character based on good faith and strong healthy nationalism… Our teaching curriculum was accompanied by lots of extra-curricular activities that involved: intellectual development, emotional development, spiritual development, social development and physical development.”

“Those five potentials,” he adds, “we realized by using the school culture, the relationship between the parents, the teachers, and the students. We became a strong family.”

Unfortunately, Rachman feels this spirit and vision are lacking throughout much of the archipelago. “The state system of putting all the clever in the same schools is a mistake because not much learning takes place in those schools. It’s more like training.”

“I think we have a weak and narrow way of looking at success,” he adds. “Perhaps it goes to the love of materialism and status of the tangible, instead of the soft power of the intangible that education brings, like values, music, dance, culture, and religion.”

Elaborating, Rachman continues, “Even at the global level, Greenpeace and WWF have not been successful,” says the professor who also is the executive chairman for the National Commission for UNESCO. “In UNESCO we have a motto: ‘Learning to know. Learning to do. Learning to be. Learning to live together.’ I think now we [Indonesia] are only at the stage of learning to know.”

He feels that second-language instruction in Indonesia remains at that same stepping-off phase, saying, “Language is an arbitrary system used to communicate. For English, the communication is not there, what teachers are doing is giving the knowledge of rules. Here, English is knowledge, not a skill. The teachers realize this, but do not yet have the capacity and skills to go beyond the rules.”

Aware of English’s importance in today’s world, he says, “The role of English in Indonesia is as an open window to knowledge, a window to the world. People who do not speak English, do not know the world. Secondly, English is a path of international friendship. Without English you are confined in a box.”

Rachman has long been propping open that window to the world for Indonesians. For ten years, more than 20 years ago, he was the presenter of a televised English language quiz show on TVRI. “I entertained and motivated people to like English,” he says. “Everyone watched me since there was only one channel at that time. I was lucky.”

Indonesia is fortunate too, for older brother Professor Rachman continues to watch over her.

This article was originally published in The Jakarta Post.

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