Saturday, January 31, 2009

Education That Is Christian

There are two comments from two different teachers which I will always remember not only in my education career but also in my Christian faith. The first comment was made by a Christian principal during a meeting held by the government. Our group, which consisted of 8 people from various educational teaching fields, believed in constructing students holistically. Our group was working on how we could help the government with the new curriculum. A Christian principal, who led a leading Christian school, came to us, inquiring the reasons of putting so much effort in changing our curriculum and emphasizing on developing students holistically. To him and his well-known school, he saw nothing wrong in exercising drilling, rote learning and giving lots of pressure to the students so they could excel. Additionally, since the school has been producing excellent and smart students, it is always in high demand.

Our group members tried in vain to convince him that a man would not become a fully developed human being by a mere cognitive development. The principal’s belief and position was very disturbing. Sad but true, he led a Christian school which aims to produce smart robots. This is indeed the exact opposite of the Christian principles.

The second comment was made by a public elementary school teacher in Central Jakarta. He has been teaching for more than 15 years. He told me persistently that my efforts to teach a critical and creative thinking would fail, because he strongly believed that students could be categorized into three groups: the smart ones, the diligent ones and the “left-over”. “Why should you put so much energy while you cannot expect any change?” he added. I was staggered by his comments. Whenever I looked at each and every student in my class, I dared not determine their future. How if God endows a Michelangelo’s talent, or a Yohanes Surya’s brilliance, or a Vanessa Mae’s musical gift among these “left-overs”? Finally, I told the teacher that I had no ambitions to expect an instant change from these students. However, if I can motivate the challenged students to be more hopeful in improving their grades from 3 to 5, or even to 4, I would already be happy.

On a different occasion, God gave me a chance to meet a curriculum director of a small yet progressive Moslem school. He told me that there was no religion subject in his school because he believed in constructing and building Moslem values in the students through integrated curriculum and critical thinking. Furthermore grades and ranks were not considered as essential in his school. The most important goal was to build a child holistically. I was so thrilled by his mindset. I wish I could meet more people, especially Christian educators, having similar mindset.
Many of us would ask what is wrong with rote learning approach, especially if the approach produces excellent students. Isn’t it our educational aim? Don’t we want to have excellent students who can become excellent human resources for the country? Aren’t they good assets for the future? Doesn’t God also want us to be Daniels for our country?

However, my question to those who raise such questions would be:
• Do the students get good grades because of their teachers’ teaching skills or because of long tutorial hours after school?
• Can an “excellent” Christian school which produces International Olympiad participants assure us that there are no students from that school who take tutorials after school hours? Because, in that case, at least, the school can show us that it is their teachers, and not the tutorial teachers, who have excellent teaching skills.
• What kind of assessments does the school use to determine students’ grades? Is it merely a cognitive test in limited “favorite” subjects such as science and math? How about their social skills? How do Christian schools and teachers develop social awareness and responsibility to the nations’ problems? In short, how do we define excellent?
• As for the students themselves, are they excellent in grades because they have to take a rigorous entrance test during enrollment to the school? Isn’t it an automatic elimination process that the school only takes students with high academic (cognitive) skills?
• If they are neither smart nor having excellent grades, will Christian schools take and educate them? If not, why? Please note that I am referring to normal students not students with special needs.

As a fact, Indonesia ranks 4th largest population in the world. Unfortunately, more than 60% of our population or more than 100,000,000 Indonesians are illiterate. Large numbers of students drop out before finishing elementary school. If we visit Ministry of Indonesian Education website , we will find that the total completion rate for primary schools in 2003-2004 is 3,616,414 students, where less than 10% (249,371 students) comes from private schools. Those who continue to middle schools are only 2,532,185 students (or only 70%). The main reason of high drop out rate is due to the high educational cost. Further survey conducted by Taylor Nelson Soffres (TNS) in early 2006 mentioned that 71% of students between 15 to 17 years old who dropped out are jobless .

If we pay attention to our nation constitution, there are four mandates mentioned in our preamble of our government, i.e., it must:
1. protect all her citizens and territorial integrity
2. promote public welfare
3. enhance the intellectual life of the whole nation
4. take part in world peace keeping

It is true that Christian institutions have supported the government to enhance the intellectual life for certain numbers of students. It is also true by enhancing the intellectual life of those students the institutions have prepared them for a better public welfare. However, to what extent have we educated our students about their national identities and responsibilities to create peace and order in their societies, not as mere passive agents but as proactive agents? For example, students, whose future occupations in commerce/business, should not only focused on earning profits but also should care enough to sustain the natural resources and healthy environment. All these qualities could never be obtained by merely teaching cognitive skills.

Furthermore, the Act on Education System in Article 1 verse 1 state:

Education means conscious and well-planned effort in creating a learning environment and process so that learners will be able to develop their full potential…. that one needs for him/herself, for the community, for the nation, and for the state (italics and bold added)

The goal of our education institution is to create a learning environment and process for learners’ full potential. We as educators are not supposed to create a feeding environment. We are expected to provide space for our students to process their knowledge and skill. We are hoped to develop them holistically, to their full potential – not partially.

Nowadays, schools promoting their institutions in ways that are no different than any commercial industries promoting their values. They put big banners such as: “Discount 15% for early bird registration” or “Pay now and you will get a laptop”. Don’t we feel something odd here? Isn’t it absurd to use marketing strategy to get students, at the expense of the core value of education?

Mr. Darmaningtyas, one of Indonesian leading educators, says that there is a misleading terminology when we replace “human beings” (manusia) with “human resources” (sumber daya manusia). He emphasized that we are more than just resource products (sumber daya) which are measured by our effectiveness; we are more than machine. We are human beings created in the image of God. If we narrow our perspective of human beings to merely human resources, there will be no space for senior citizens, the handicapped, and people with special abilities. They are just defect human resources, who (or even, which) are not effective for our purpose.

It is not a surprise then, that our education puts stress on things which are technical and pragmatic – how to get something done, e.g., how to produce a bottled water, because we focus our effort more on accumulating things – on being “efficient and effective” or on being “productive”. Our standard of success is measured by output. We rarely educate our children to think for others or to sustain what God has given us. In the case of water, we rarely put modules and create school projects on how to sustain and protect the forest so that we will maintain water resources. The terminology “we owe the nature to the next generation” does not ring a bell.

He mentions further that our current education system stresses on individual achievement which I heartily agree on. What I notice is that schools (and mostly Christian schools) put advertisement in strategic places saying that they support student “A” in joining International Olympiad Competition. It is as if a student’s education goal was to merely be an Olympiad part-taker or winner. Should a student win the Olympiad competition, he or she brings pride to the school. And that is the way a student becomes a useful human being. It is sad that the value of a student is reduced to mere achievement.

Howard Gardner , a strong pro-evolutionist, promotes “multiple intelligence” that is widely used by Christians. If we revert to the Bible, multiple intelligence is not something new. It may be put aside, forgotten, or discarded in our education. God never intends to create us as His “tools” to man the Eden Garden. He wants to develop an intimate relationship with Him – to know Him as God who is love. He gives space for our feeling. He creates the universe beautifully and provides us with sensitivity and ability to portray His grandeur - whether through music, painting, or poems. As He Himself is God of Trinity, He wants us to develop relationship with others. He creates us as social beings. No wonder He creates us with multiple intelligence.

In Phil 4: 8, the Apostle Paul said, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things”.

When Paul use the term “think” in the verse above, he didn’t mean merely cognitive and hard-fact thinking. He refers to a kind of thinking that is beyond rote-learning. Virtue, honesty, lovely – are qualities that are developed through life process, which cannot be measured, standardized, and framed in a certificate. Unfortunately, there is no International Olympiad of Virtue.
Weilin Han, M.Sc

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