Saturday, January 31, 2009

Quo Vadis – Christian Schools in Indonesia (a personal anguish)

It has been ages that the church believes education institutions are means to spread out the Good News. Many churches and Christian organizations open schools, hoping that they can evangelize the students. Later on the students can join the Sunday school, and hopefully, they will be faithful and become the church members. There is nothing wrong with the vision. On the contrary, it is a very noble one. Of course, besides spreading out the Gospel, the church also realizes that the “package” of the calling is to educate the people, to make people realize who they are and come to their utmost potentiality. We cannot deny that Christian schools have taken a great part, for example, in fighting illiteracy.

Along the way we can notice that Christian schools in Indonesia (especially in big cities) will be considered as either good and expensive, or cheap but with poor quality (many will also become places for juvenile delinquents). It is such a contrast when at the same time we can still find excellent and affordable Catholic schools or cheap simple Moslem boarding schools, which still provide character buildings and basic education. I should admit that my finding is not tested academically yet, however, the empiric data triggers my thought lately to go into a deeper study.

It is a disturbed discovery that apparently there are several essential things the Indonesian church forgets. It forgets that a school without in-depth philosophy is like a school without a goal. It overlooks that to run a school, it needs human resources that understand education otherwise, it will just like a hospital without proper doctors. It disregards that Christian education is everybody’s responsibility - it takes a village to change a man.

My writing below is an outcry to my Christian fellows, especially the Indonesians to be alert with the present Christian education situation in Indonesia. We have to admit that our vision has slumbered down and it is high time to blow the wake-up call trumpet.

“Christian teaching operates at the level of life. Anything less is sub-Christian.”
Lois E. Lebar

We can’t ignore the fact that Christian schools in Indonesia have produced not only many bright students but also literate generations. There are leading Christian schools in some cities where the waiting lists are quite long. There are schools in remote areas where even the government will not go.

But, again, there is one fundamental thing that the school, or, I should say, the Christian leaders, neglect. Many (I can say most) Pastors and members of the school foundation do not understand the Philosophy of Man and Education. Few recognize that education goes deeper into ideology and philosophy of everybody’s life. Most schools just do the “cut and paste” of the national curriculum and put the Christian value merely at the religion subject or Christian activities (morning devotion, school retreat, fellowship, etc.). They jump into “means” instead of thinking more on “ends”, they ponder more on “how” but not on “why” and its progress.

Since the prestige of a school is determined by the school’s result on the national test (percentage and high mark in the national assessment), many Christian schools forget that their main responsibility is to mold the children’s life and not to create competitive “robots”. It is a common knowledge that the school’s curriculum is overloaded, the teaching methodology is still teacher-centered and there is no space for teacher’s professional development. There is no time to integrate subjects and faith. And finally Christianity is only a symbol of a school’s logo.

Nevertheless, we should not concentrate on what is the phenomenon, or what people have talked about as the means (e.g., we should upgrade the teachers’ skills and salary, build a better facility, etc). We are encouraged to go into the essence, to ponder more not on “how” but on “why” and its progress - “why can our education slumber down”, “what’s wrong with the philosophy?”, “where are the people who know the foundation of education? “what can we do, then?”, “what will be the core issue (s) if we want to make our education back on track?”. It means we have to ask and answer all the philosophical inquiries - focusing on “thought about purpose” and “to think about what they are doing and why they are doing it”. . Back to square one (that we may have lost or forgotten).

During the Philosophy classes, educators are expected to find the rationale behind all questions above. The philosophic perspectives are the major determinants of the practical teaching application such as methodology, focus, role of teacher and function of the school itself in the community. For example, when we say we want to make a red glass, we fully understand why we want to have it red, why we should have a red glass instead of a red plate, what kind of red we want to produce, and so on. Then, we can go into means to achieve the redness that we want and the shape of a glass that we have in our mind. Our perception of a child will mold our curriculum and instruction. Again, the core value will be the ends, and not the means.

When we want to talk about education, we deal with human beings instead of merely technical instrument. We have the children as the major stakeholder, the parents, the teachers, the community as the “future recipient” and the nation in the wider sense. We need to seek for people or educators who are equipped with Philosophy of Education and Man. Or, places to prepare them in this issue. It is again, a big disappointment that there is no Christian Seminaries that answer the need. All of them concentrate on theology. Well, they do have Philosophy class, but it is a very general and shallow one. It is a sad thing that even though the Christians always say or believe that schools are the strategic place to win the souls, they don’t see the need to prepare the human resources well. It is a different story with the Catholic. They prepare even the priests-to-be with strong philosophical background before they go into theological subjects. No wonder we have very few competent Christian leaders who are serious in thinking about education in Indonesia in a long-term base.

And when we try to mirror our belief above with the education system in Indonesia, we find the contradiction. Our curriculum (and even our community at large) does not allow us to have dialog. We still use Banking Education instead of Problem Posing Education. We put stress on teacher-centered curriculum instead of student-centered curriculum. We (read Christians) are phobic when it comes to critical thinking where we are bombarded with the students’ questions. A friend of mine told me that when she was small she often received corporal punishment in her Sunday school because she asked too many “dangerous questions and comment”. She did not see Jonah swallowed by a gigantic fish was not a miraculous thing. It happened to Pinnochio. What happened in Noah’s ark? Why didn’t the animal kill each other? How did they get the food? God asked them to fast? Since she got punishment instead of satisfying answers, she did not want to become a Christian. Critical Thinking is an alien in our education system. No wonder we are so far behind in having “quality human resources”.

If only we give ourselves chance to peep to some prominent philosophers, we will find that since thousand years ago Socrates has already mentioned the importance of dialog. He gave an example in his story of a “cave man” who find the ‘reality” versus his fellow who think they live a real “reality”. Then, decades ago Paulo Freire mentioned that to have “an educated nation” we should change our teaching system from teacher centered/ “banking education” to student centered. He stressed out in “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” how the consciousness is gained. “Conscientização” that will bring “enlightenment”, self-realization and critical thinking. And a hundred year ago, John Dewey says “to have a strong nation, we need democracy in education”. Many Christians are against Dewey’s pragmatism belief. And many can’t remember either that it is him who said “…in this way the teacher always is the prophet of the true God and the usherer of the true kingdom of God”. Of course, on top of that we all believe that Jesus is the Master of Mind (de) Construction. His philosophy covers all angles of man’s life. He challenges our belief on gender and class status. His arena was not limited in a four-wall classroom.

Seminaries blossom but almost all of them concentrate on theological subjects. Very few will have “education” as a faculty. Even if there is, it will concentrate only to prepare some people to become teachers in Christian Religion. The faculty is called PAK/Pengajaran Agama Kristen (Teaching Christian Religion). The irony is, top seminary students are encouraged to take major in theological subjects, and the “less smart” are asked to go to PAK. No wonder, we have people who, first of all, may not see teaching (Christian religion), as a dignified calling (well, it is just because there is no other place. They don’t really want to become teachers (if they can). And second, since teaching is considered does not need special skill, we have mediocre graduates. And on these people, we lay down our holy mission to save the world thru education.

When we make conversation among fellows and ask about our vocation, we give lots of “Ah…!!” when we hear someone is a Director of a bank, or a manager of an MNC, or marketing executive for a company. But we very seldom give the same complement and respect when our fellows are in the teaching field. We even feel pity why our brothers/sisters do not have brighter career. We seldom hear the Indonesian churches speak on the importance of education from the pulpit. Of encouraging the youth to become teachers, of encouraging parents to get involve actively in the education. The Christian schools are longing to have Christian teachers in any subject, but it is extremely difficult to have teachers who are both able to deliver the subject and have commitment to teach. Most of them will just consider teaching as a stepping-stone or a transit place. They will leave the school once they have a better “career” whether in a bank or in other professional institution but education.

We cannot really blame the teachers, though. One’s income in Indonesian schooling is very low. People, even the church (read = us, Christian, congregation) do not consider teaching as something valued as any other professional job. There is no career in being a teacher. The top one, if one manages, is only a Principal. It is not something worth to consider.

So, we have a complete chain that is difficult to break. We do not have human resources, the seminaries do not prepare the students to see the school as the mission field (compared to the Catholic who prepare the nuns and priests to run schools), we do not have churches that consider schooling as vital (even though many of them have schools) and we have the society who sees teaching as a low level job. And because of the above problems, we do not see it as a serious call to study philosophy. Why bother with tough and impractical subject which will not be used anyway. It is already difficult to get human resources, it is impossible to have “ideal” persons. Let’s be practical. Go to means. We figure out the ends later on.

PURPOSE – Evangelization vs Commodity
While Christian schools put the “outreach and character building” in each vision and mission, they also find the reality that schools cannot run without sound financial resource. Still, they have to get “customers” to buy the product. Another dilemma arises. It is so obvious that many Christian schools find the solution in building a better facility than other schools. Most (if not all) Christian schools in Jakarta will have classes with air-conditioned and better buildings. The consequence then, the operational expenses will be higher. From the first purpose of evangelization, we slowly shift into commodity. We see students (and parents) as our source of income. To entice them, we put all the “make up” as mentioned previously. Christian schools will have a better outlook that can also draw better “quality” people – people that can pay. Survival the fittest will be the keyword. The church endorses the idea as it proclaims the school should run independently and can’t burden the church. It is the church’s pray the school is able to fund the church and missionaries. Christian schools have become Church Inc.

We should “envy” the Catholic schools a lot. We should put on par our commitment and theirs. It is not taboo to learn from their capability, energy and effort spent to think seriously on education. In Indonesia we should also see how Moslems now follow the Catholic path. They do not hesitate to spend their money and encourage their youth to go into education. For the non-religion schools, we also have “national plus schools” flourishing in the country. They combine the national curriculum with creative methodology, multiple intelligence and critical thinking. They are able to entice parents with the new “packaging” and marketing promises.

It is my humble plea to Christian leaders, theologians, churches and pastors, to open the eyes to education, to see the need not only as a serious but emergency one. Seminaries should put top priority on philosophy of education. Christian institutions must go deeper than “instant noodle campaign”*. Pastors are to speak and encourage the congregations to go into creating a “community that learns”. I am sure that my cry will not be like “Waiting for Godot”.

*”Instant Noodle Campaign” = campaign to raise help for areas in trouble (e.g. earthquake, flood, fire, etc.). The easiest way to help is to donate instant noodle. Actually the church can and should go deeper than the “hit and run” type of ministry. The church should build the community instead.

Weilin Han
Alumni Forum Discussion/Indonesia

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