Prioritize curriculum, not learning method, in national study

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Syarifudin Yunus Lecturer in Indraprasta PGRI University and literacy activist from Lentera Pustaka Community Library

IO – True, the Government has decided to reinstate face-to-face learning and teaching in schools in Semester 2 of the academic year, i.e. in January-June 2021. However, COVID-19 infection numbers remain high and continues to increase in various regions. What should schools do then? Do we continue with RL (Remote Learning), or do we revert to FFL (Face-to-Face Learning) anyway? 

The world of education is balanced on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, we can perform learning and teaching in schools face-to-face (FFL), with the risk of turning schools into new COVID-19 clusters, even with strict health protocols imposed by the Government. This will affect students, teachers, and their families. On the other hand, extended home learning has sickened students, teachers, and parents alike, and can cause permanent psychological impact. Even worse, the RL format is still far from being either effective or efficient. 

Then what should schools do? Maintain RL, or forge on with FFL? 

Both the schools and the Government must understand that implementing FFL in January 2021 implies strict adherence to health protocols and various costly limitations. Students have both the right inflaand privilege to learn, as well as the right to healthy living. Balancing these two equally important rights is difficult for everyone during the current COVID-19 pandemic. 

To avoid confusion among schools and parents, we opine that FFL should not yet be reinstated. This is because COVID-19 infections continue to rise, vaccines are not yet available for the masses, and we must avoid turning schools into new COVID-19 infection clusters. In view of the risk, FFL should not be implemented yet – even in in Green Zones. 

Schools should continue with RL instead of FFL. Preparing for physical learning in schools in accordance with health protocols is both complex and expensive: Providing for swab tests, health infrastructure, hand washing and sanitizing, ensuring proper sanitation, ensuring physical distancing, determining schedules, etc. FFL is simply too risky and difficult to control right now. Even without the disease, some regions simply cannot implement Face-to-Face Learning. Let’s not implement this during the second semester of the school year to be safe. 

A survey performed by the Federation of Indonesia Teachers’ Unions (Federasi Serikat Guru Indonesia – “FSGI”) in December 2020 found that 49% of teachers agree to reinstitute face-to-face schooling in January 2021, while 45% of teachers decline, and the rest are uncertain. Even this is another sign that teachers are not fully ready to restart FFL. Therefore, RI’s Ministry of Education and Culture should consult with schools and teachers to find solutions for RL problems throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. These include: 1) Creative means of teaching that teachers can use to help stave off boredom in RL; 2) simpler learning materials that can be presented more interestingly, with a bigger emphasis on applicable case studies; and 3) availability of online learning equipment for students and teachers, including of internet access.

We all need to admit that the COVID-19 pandemic prevents learning and teaching from being implemented normally. Therefore, we must transform the values of education to shift from prioritizing grades and cognitive knowledge. COVID-19 should be utilized as a moment when the educational process is more focused on the strengthening of students’ character, specifically through a more varied online learning activity.

 To repeat: We all agree that children have the right to learn as well as the right to remain safe and healthy. No matter what argument you put forth, the very basic right to health and safety must be prioritized during the pandemic. Both students and teachers must be free from the fear of being infected. 

Therefore, RI’s Ministry of Education and Culture must improve and revitalize Indonesia’s educational system, which is frozen in place and fails to anticipate the dynamics of human civilization. Our education today literally “lives in a new age using ancient ways”. The “Free to Learn” concept should address the following issues in the new curriculum: 

1. Education is not merely a process for building intelligence or intellectuality. It must also strengthen children’s character and help them understand the realities of life as they grow into adults. 

2. Parents must also be educated on the proper perspective of child education. Children must not be tyrannized with the parents’ will or forced to live parents’ dreams. Children should grow to realize their personal potential and become good adults. Children should not be forced to live for “grades” – something that does not matter much in adult life, but they should learn things that help them in society later as good citizens in terms of both skills and character. 

3. Teachers must strengthen their teaching competence and creativity in order to keep studying. from merely textbook learning. Fun should be included, and learning must be focused on useful skills and character building. 

4. Learning should be fun and interesting, so that students do not feel fear and burdened by studying. 

5. Parents should participate strongly in their children’s education and cooperate with teachers instead of leaving teachers to shoulder all the burden of education. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, let’s not force the reinstitution of FFL (Face-to-Face Learning). Instead, let us continue to implement RL (Remote Learning) with various improvements. It is important for everyone – the Government, teachers, parents – to change the curriculum, the learning materials, the teaching methods, to be more fun and comprehensible to students. We need to change not just the educational system, but our perception of education itself. Education is not about it being RL or FFL, but about whether or not the curriculum is useful in getting children to become good and useful adults or not.