Emphasis on Exams Unhealthy: Critics

The Jakarta Globe

The inordinate focus placed on national exams results is holding back the development of education in Indonesia, nongovernmental organizations and teachers said on Sunday.

Some 2.4 million Indonesian students will take their national exams today, supervised by more than 270,000 teachers across the nation.

Bambang Wisudo, executive director of nongovernmental group Schools Without Borders, said by focusing only on the results of the exams, the government was neglecting other important areas of childhood education that could still be improved.

“The marks from the national exam should not be used to indicate if a student should graduate,” Bambang said. “Because the actual point of studying, for the purpose of learning, is forgotten.

“The high value placed on exam results encourages students to focus only on achieving good grades,” he continued.

“Instead of producing critical thinkers, the national exam produces robots, who depend on final exam results that can be achieved through a variety of deceptive methods.”

In the past, the national exams were the sole determinant for whether a student graduated, which led to widespread cheating by students. The Education Ministry responded by including end-of-term tests and reports in consideration for the final graduation score.

The exams’ detractors have claimed the tests encourage rote learning, saying that once the exams are over, students forget what they have memorized.

Critics also say too many resources are poured into the exams, citing the fact that the ministry has prepared five different versions of each paper to minimize cheating.

Separately, Retno Listyarti, a teacher at State Senior High School (SMAN) 13 in North Jakarta, said it seemed the government’s primary concern with the national exams was that schools and students did not collude to obtain high marks. The government, Retno said, was not really interested in improving the quality of education.

Education critics have accused teachers at state schools of attempting to pass their students at all costs. Teachers often gain significant benefits, such as promotions or additional work, from having a high pass rate.

“The government is only concerned that schools and students don’t collaborate or work together to help students pass exams, irrespective of whether or not they are actually learning anything at school,” Retno said.

“This can be seen in the way the ministry has prepared five different versions of each question for the students.”

Lody Paat, an education observer, said if the government truly saw the exams as the ultimate determinate of whether a student should graduate, it should allow schools to evaluate their own students.

Meanwhile, students on Sunday attended mass prayers for success in the exams. Pono Fadlullah, the headmaster of SMAN 68 in Central Jakarta, said the prayers were important to relieve stress and provide the students with psychological balance.

However, Utomo Dananjaya, the director of Paramadina University’s Institute for Educational Reform, said the phenomenon of holding mass prayers before the exams showed that students and teaching staff were too concerned about the results of the exams, when the time would be better spent studying.

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