Tuesday, 19 November 2019

The unconventional message from Minister Nadiem and why teachers have yet to enable students to have the freedom to learn

Photo: Novita Eka Syaputri


This article is translated from Indonesian. The original article was published in The Conversation Indonesia.


During the commemoration of the Teachers’ Day on November 25, Indonesia’s newly appointed Minister of Education and Culture Nadiem Makarim asked teachers to become the agents of change for the freedom to learn in the country. One of the points he emphasised on his speech was that for teachers to not implement a one-size-fits-all method of learning for students with varied needs.

Nadiem also encouraged teachers to have more discussions with their students rather than having the students as listeners or passive recipients of the knowledge transfer activities.

The Minister’s appeal was indeed backed by data. A research result by the World Bank in 2014 showed that of the 200 hours of math lesson surveyed in junior secondary school (SMP) surveyed, the time teacher allocated for discussion was only 10%.

By contrast, teachers used about 60% of the class time learning time for exposition or lecturing the subject matters. The same study also revealed that when interacting with students, teachers spent 75% of the class time lesson hours lecturing.

The observation result in the study is rather surprising, given that many of the government’s programmes in the past decade, both through Institute for Education Quality Assurance (LPMP) and teacher working group (KKG), have promoted paradigm shift from teacher-centred learning to student-centred learning.

Why then, have teachers not adopted the learning method that enables students to have the freedom to learn? How teachers learned in school and in college, as well as the lack of variations to solving problems in textbooks may have been the reason behind this case.

Freedom to Learn

Here is a picture: When teaching multiplication in primary school, teachers commonly demonstrate how to solve the problems with the vertical (stacked) method, a procedure that is too complicated for nine-year old students.

On that account, in calculating the multiplication of two numbers, for example 11 x 25, there is only one way to solve the problem, specifically with the method the teacher had taught. If a student solves the multiplication using a method other than what the teacher had taught or what is exemplified in the textbook, they are deemed as to not paying attention to their teacher’s exposition.

Even worse, such teaching has made Indonesian students incompetent to calculate simple number operation without using the “standard” method taught in school.

In an article titled “A Nation of Dunces”, the author tells a story of a stall trader in Central Sulawesi Province who even had to use a calculator to calculate the total amount a buyer had to pay for two cups of coffee—each cost IDR 2,000—and two pieces of cakes—each sold for IDR 1,000.

The article questioned how it is possible for adults in Indonesia to not even master basic numeracy skills.

Two Fundamental Problems

The above picture on how to teach multiplication is commonly found in schools throughout Indonesia. In truth, it is not that teachers are unwilling to change the way they teach for the better. Oftentimes, teachers simply do not have the sufficient references on how to conduct teaching and learning activities that offer students the freedom to learn.

There are two possible explanation to such case:

Firstly, from their experience of being a student (in school and in teacher college) as well as a trainee in an in-service teacher training, teachers have no experience with the freedom to learn. They became accustomed to listening to lectures from their teachers and professors and undertook assignments with only a few open discussions to express opinions. These less active personal experience were then “transmitted” in their teaching practice when they become a teacher for dozens of years to decades. 

Secondly, textbooks and teacher books, published by both the Ministry of Education and Culture’s Language and Book Development Agency as well as private publishers, provide no reference on how to facilitate student-centred learning effectively. The existing student textbooks and teacher books are deemed of low quality.

For years, it was suspected that the “book mob” was the one causing the production of these low-quality books. However, when the issue of fraud in the development and publication of the books has been resolved, the quality of textbooks produced by the Book Agency has yet to improve.

How then, can teachers help students to have the freedom to learn?

In the above case of learning multiplication, for example, rather than giving examples of the use of the vertical method, the teacher can point to students to have a more flexible problem-solving strategy using number bonds and lead to the use of mental calculation strategy.

For example in the 11 x 25 problem, students can break the number 11 into 10 and 1 (number bonds), then multiply each number by 25 (10 x 25 and 1 x 25) and add up the respective results (250 + 25) to get the answer: 275. Students may also try another approach by multiplying 11 times 20 (11 x 20) and 11 times 5 (11 x 5), then add both of the results (220 + 55) to get the answer: 275.

Thinking Straightforwardly

If the freedom to learn strategy can be applied in classroom learning since primary school, students will be able to develop better reasoning ability rather than just to memorise procedures and formulas. That said, teaching high-order thinking skills (HOTS) problems, which even many teachers struggle to understand, is not the single way to develop students’ reasoning skills.

To be able to solve the HOTS problems, one need to have a high analytical and reasoning skills—that means at least two steps of thinking. This type of problem cannot be solved simply by applying a certain formula.

The teacher can start with a simple problem, but gives students the freedom to think about the learning strategy most fit for them.

To achieve this, teachers need support from all parties; central government, regional government, school management, parents, as well as the community. Among the most needed support for teachers are proper teacher education and training, both in terms of content and in terms of form, alignment between curriculum and student learning assessment, and the provision of textbooks and teacher books corresponding to the zest of freedom to learn.

Nevertheless, as Minister Nadiem said, when changes in other places have yet to occur, teachers are encouraged to initiate a small step in the classroom. When these small changes are achieved consistently and in unison, a progress in Indonesia’s education is no longer just a dream.  

Happy Teachers' Day!

Share it