Education is a cornerstone of any successful nation, because an informed populace can not only develop a country, but make it a shining beacon to the world. This is Indonesia's ambition and many, including Amanda Witdarmono, seek to achieve this by improving the nation's educational standards.
Amanda is the founder and executive director of We the Teachers, an organization that seeks to overcome the educational hurdles the country currently faces. She recently spoke with Globe Asia's Gilang Al Farisi about some of these challenges and her organization's plans to address them. Here is an excerpt from the interview.
How did We the Teachers start and what are the organization's objectives?
The organization started with a thesis I did during my studies, when I identified the demand for elementary level educators. One of the solutions I came up with to help solve the problem of a shortage of elementary teachers is school-based teacher training. This is what my group and I seek to achieve – to develop both the teacher's ability to educate students, and maximize the school experience for the students. Our initial effort has become more extensive after we formalized the organization; we now handle curriculum development and distribution of school supplies to those that need them. The end goal of our organization it to empower teachers.
Why focus on education?
Because I believe the issues affecting education are important to solve, especially in a developing country such as Indonesia. Although we have been improving our education system as a country, we have yet to reach the rural areas. In the present era of digital technology, children are not bound to only learn in classrooms. I believe education begins at home with parents, but ultimately, the choice of school and classroom the family chooses reflects on the educational values they hold. And education is something valuable to every citizen of Indonesia; we talked to many parents, from every background, and all stated that they would work their fingers to the bone to provide a good education for their children. This signify the value Indonesians put on education, and we as an organization felt obliged to satisfy that need and help solve the problems within the national education system. And I like the fact that most Indonesians appreciate the value of vocational schools and promote the acquisition of marketable skills, which will ensure that the nation has a skilled workforce.
What do you think of Indonesia's education system as it is now, and how can it be improved?
It is a complex issue; I believe even the most balanced education system has its flaws and can be improved. But when I look at Indonesia's education system, a big issue I have with it is the national curriculum, which is set by the Ministry of Education and Culture. While we see a standardized curriculum, it fails to account for local needs. An example of this is when we are taught national songs, like 'Riding the Train,' most children outside Java have never seen a train. And this is where local education authorities can play a bigger role in deciding what children are learning, to craft a curriculum that matches their environment.
What type of national education standard should Indonesia adopt?
Well there has been a major shift in standard in recent years as our country has had to adapt with the times and the demands. But I believe the standard set by the country should reflect the goal that Indonesia strives to achieve. I think before we decide on the national standard, it is imperative to ask ourselves where we want to be, five or 10 years down the road, and do our leaders allow these long-term goals to be realized. What we often see, is that with a change in leadership, the whole curriculum also changes, and that creates a lot of confusion for teachers and students. And looking at the Indonesian economy, we can think about developing raw skills in vocational schools.
What do you think of the current national education standard?
I think there is a lot of room for improvement, and with the progress of time, there will be changes that may or may not be suitable. But I am optimistic that the country is moving in the right direction regarding the education standard. Because of the advent of the digital era and the widespread availability of gadgets, students can now learn beyond the classroom. And this new platform has been implemented by some to enhance the education of Indonesian children.