Official Peace Corps Disclaimer

"The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I wrote this before Ramadan so it's not the brainchild of my food and liquid starved brain. (1 day, 1 hour and 7 minutes left of fasting.) It's not intended to be offensive to anyone. I respect and value the Indonesian way of doing things. I hope Indonesians who read this blog realize that. I'm interested in more discussions about this topic. The purpose of this post is to challenge your regular way of looking at things. I wrote it after the one day I spent singing English songs at the pre-school near my house.


This is a battle that I’m choosing not to fight. It’s so prevalent that I’m trying to look at it from a “different culture” perspective.

During national tests I sat beside teachers who were grading the tests. I sat there for hours. The teachers compared the answer key and counted up the errors, but just glancing at it myself, I would say there were some tests where more than 50% of the answers weren’t correct. And every student got between 70 and 95.

I watched them mark all the yearly scores into several different record books and once again every student got between 70 and 95 on every single test given during the year. In some subjects the range was 75-95.

My principal has given the same speech 4 times: twice to the teachers, once to a group of parents and once when he addresses the whole student body. It’s about the criteria for minimal competency. This is very important to him.

This week I received a pamphlet of teacher papers. Page 1 - the schedule for the year. (It’s already changed.) Page 2 -the list of which teachers are teaching which classes when. (That’s changed too.) Page 3 - the Kreteria Ketuntansan Minimal. All 4 varieties of Religion class KKM is 75, Civics 75, Bahasa Indonesia 75, History, 75, Sports 75, Technology Information 75, Mulok (whatever that is) 75. All the rest: English, Arabic, Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Economics, Sociology, Geography – the minimal competency is 70.

What I take this to mean is that we must give students the minimal competency grade. An alternate way of thinking is that we must teach so that the students understand and test out at 70 (or 75%).

In my school last year, only 2 boys did not pass (naik) to the next class. The teacher with the final say, after all was argued, about shoes and families and attendance was the religion teacher. If they were respectful and could say some of the prayers, they passed with the remedial requirement.

During national testing students would “sneakily” or not so sneakily ask each other for answers. In one test they asked the teacher and she told them the answer. In some classes the teachers looked the other way. During most tests the teacher was reading a magazine and didn’t care.

In the PC booklet “A Few Minor Adjustments” it talks about Accepting Host Country Behavior. The steps are: You become aware of your own cultural assumptions and values. You accept the reality of your own cultural conditioning. And you accept the reality of the cultural conditioning of others and although you don’t have
“Wholehearted acceptance of the local cultural norms, you start to see the host culture in a genuinely different light” and “change your own behavior.”

Okay. Here’s my justification for what I see going on.

It’s like speeding in the States. We all know there has to be some big law that keeps idiots from driving like maniacs and killing all the children, so we passively agree that speed limits are an okay idea. But do we follow the speed limit – No. I personally know of a few old ladies who never drive over the speed limit, but almost everyone drives a few mph over. Now, when we see a cop, do we slow down, Hell yes! Who wants to get a ticket! We know we’re doing “wrong” but we’re not going to permanently modify our behavior, just change it enough so we don’t get caught.

What I can figure out is that Indonesia is a “collective” society. At the pre-school where I’m a volunteer; even the 4 year olds can stand a uniform distance away from each other and march into the classroom. When it’s time to get your colored pencils, every kid takes out his individual box and opens it so that the pencils are half way out of the carton but not spilling all over the table. In America the pre-school workbooks give the kids choices about does the egg go with the chicken or with the cow? Here the dashed lines are drawn to the right animal. The kids draw in over top of the lines. It’s designed so that every kid succeeds.

Maybe it’s the same in High School. Is the system designed so that every kid succeeds? This week when the HS students teamed up and introduced each other, the teacher graded each group. Everyone got between 70 and 95. (Actually the ones I thought did an outstanding job were no more likely to get the highest scores than the ones who could barely squeak out “This is my friend, Putri.”)

I know not every student who wanted to come to my Madrasah got in, but what if all those scores are arbitrary!

If the goal of a society is to produce outstanding individuals, then competition and individual recognition are important. If the goal of the society is to produce a cohesive group who pretty much all think alike and dress alike and accept group standards then there’s not much of an incentive to reward an outstanding individual.

Students helping each other on tests may be a way for the whole group to achieve a higher standard. If group loyalty is more important than individual achievement, why wouldn’t you help your neighbor?

Because it’s wrong! (Maybe that’s my cultural conditioning.) They know its wrong that’s why they are sneaky. (Maybe. But all of us do a lot of sneaky things. It’s kind of the nature of being human.)

The day the announcement was made as to which students “naik” (move up) a kid and his dad came into the teacher room. The parent had the written report but couldn’t read it. He asked the homeroom teacher if his kid passed. His kid looked to me like what we call a special needs kid in the States. When the teacher told the parent and the kid that he had “naiked” you could feel the joy in the room.

What’s wrong with letting the less than competent kids pass the tests and the grade? What’s wrong with helping them, letting their friends help them and doing everything you can to make them like everyone else?

The outstanding ones float to the top anyway. I can already identify the smart kids and the natural leaders.

Two years of me telling them it’s wrong to cheat is not going to change their minds. I’ve decided not to battle this one. Every one in my classes will achieve the minimum standard. I may have a conversation with the teachers or the students about this, but right now my Bahasa sure isn’t good enough.

No comments:

Post a Comment