Falling in Love

One of the happiest moments during my time teaching in a primary school was when I looked at my students and their eyes bright with interest and enthusiasm in learning. I think that kind of passion in very rewarding for educators because they know that what students learn is going to be meaningful for the students. However, it may not happen a lot in schools these days. I saw students complain about the school, how it makes them bored, how the subjects they learn are useless, and how they want to get out of it as soon as possible. They do not feel, as Pranoto (2012) called, the experience of being in love with learning.

Then, I saw a talk by Robinson (2012) who mentioned that children nowadays are being robbed by the education system. They lost their excitement in learning. How come? I think humans have brains to think and to learn. It almost seems like students nowadays are robots who do what they are told, do not do what they are not told or what they are prohibited to, and feel no emotion during their learning process. People should feel something during the process of learning because they experience cognitive dissonance (Piaget, 1929) which makes people uncomfortable about their state of mind and therefore seek for equilibrium. This may explain why humans are naturally curious and motivated to seek for more.

Probably the reason of people’s disinterest in learning is that because learning, mostly related to an institution called school, instead of coming through personal interest, becomes the commodity of external forces, such as parents, teachers, and even governments. There is no more personal value put into education and learning. It is just something you do because you have to and you have no other choice. It seems, at least for me, that students now have a robotic tendency. They are controlled by others, have some kind of “intelligence” to “operate” but still, have no free will. No free will means no human, no?

The prison called school, invented by the education system makes those students, the ones in touch with education, those who experience education, devalue it. Education has no personal value anymore. What’s in it for students here and now, then? I can imagine how a student in remote area who has never seen airplane need to learn to count the speed of an airplane. It just does not make any sense. Yes, this is the era of global information when everyone can access everything from everywhere theoretically, but not in reality. The reality is curriculum used in education is irrelevant for students’ closest environment, to the present situation now as in 1973 when Freire suggested it. The content of education does not give people the ability to meet individual and local needs (Colin, 2011).

Education, despite of its purpose for global society, is about human. The priority should not be the benefit for the society first, but for the people educated first; as if the emergency situation in airplane requires people to help themselves first before helping others. Education needs to trigger sparks in people. People need to feel that it is worthwhile (Gingell & Winch, 2008). In order to do that, what is learned needs to be meaningful for them, connected to reality. Education, the content and process of it needs to be loveable so that people are in love with it.

May 28, 2013

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If I Have a Child

Son, be a good student. Learn diligently and get good scores so that you can be a teacher, a doctor… If you don’t, you’ll just be a cleaner.

 

I heard this from my friend’s story last night. That is a typical advice given by a father to his son. It does not sound strange, it sounds perfectly logic. However, is it really not strange? Because I think, when I really pay attention to the words, it is strange. Why should the son be a good student to be a teacher or a doctor? Can someone be a teacher or a doctor without being a good student? Or, can someone, although he is a good student, still ends up in a blue collar job?

I think, what that sentence represents is the common society belief, that education or being educated leads to a better job. It obviously has a logical explanation because better jobs require higher qualification. My question is what if the kid does not want to be a teacher or a doctor and wants to be a carpenter instead? Does that mean he cannot be a good student? Or what if the question is swapped? I remember one of my students who hated school and learning so that he decided to be a cleaner because he does not have to learn to be one. There is something not right here.

I think people have short-translated education as a pathway for job, and job only. I am not denying that one’s chance to have a good job increases if he has higher level of ‘education’. What is education anyway? I do not think education is the correct term here. Yes, higher level of schooling but not education. Education should not be understood shallowly because then it will lose its essence. If people see education only as a mean to get a better life in the future ‘money wise’, then education can be replaced by many things.

Education as economic tool will not survive. For example, since I was in high school there has been a trend in Indonesia that students are encouraged to cheat during the national exam. Not all teachers or even all schools do this but it exists. Once students have their high school diploma, their chance of getting a job is higher. My friend also told me that in Nigeria, once a person can earn enough money, education is not that important, especially among girls. Moreover, especially in developing countries where the ethics of education has not been wholly understood, people can pay for their higher education diploma so that they do not have to attend university to get the diploma. What a shame. Education has been translated to paper document and money.

In my opinion, people should go back, trace the root of the meaning of education so that they are not being manipulated by people who control education. In order to understand education, one may also need to unattached it from schooling as school according to Dewey (2004) is an environment to facilitate education and therefore it should not exceed education itself. It should not replace the meaning of education. Education comes from Latin word educare which means to nourish (Gingell & Winch, 2008). Historically, as Dewey (2004) explained, education is used to bridge the understanding gap between older members of society and the younger member of society so that the society exists in the future.

Education contains broad meaning for me. It does not only have something to do with economy but with life as a whole. It is not only about individual but also about society. Reflecting on this and looking at the beginning sentences on top of this text, if I have a child, I will say: Son, be educated so that you can grow to be whatever you want, whatever you think will be good for you and your society. 

May 28, 2013

Pursue of Happiness

A few months ago I had a discussion with a friend. He asked me what my life purpose is. Wow, I have never really thought about it. The first thing comes to mind for an answer was to be beneficial for myself, others, and my environment. My friend told me that my answer was not adequate because it was a normative answer. Yes, I agree. My answer was what my culture and religion suggest to be the life purpose of human. Anyone in my culture and religion can answer the same thing. What my friend asked me was what my life purpose is, a specific purpose only for me. Well, I gave it a thought and I cannot disagree with my friend. Although I am not an existentialist, I believe that everyone is unique and humans have free will to choose and direct their life. Having a life purpose and free will are the characters of human.

Do people realise that children are given uniform information about life purpose? They are given the same explanation about the preferred life style: getting higher education degree, working in a multinational company or white collar job, owning assets to ensure their economic welfare, and by achieving those stuffs they will live happily ever after. First of all, there is no such a thing like living happily ever after because human will die eventually. More importantly, whose preferred life style is that? Do all people want that kind of life? In a sense, education contributes to the distribution of that way of life; education which according to Orr (1994) focuses only on personal benefit and intellectuality, abandoning feeling and sense of humanity.

Education is a tool for people; not only a certain group of people but all people. Therefore education has the obligation to facilitate people to achieve their life purpose, at least in my opinion. If educators, including those who have the power to make decision, agree with this, education may be understood differently. Education which is now regarded to be what Robinson (2012) called the producer of university professors because it pushes all children into one direction; can be regarded to be the facilitator of people’s different life purpose.

I think, this concept of education as a facilitator for people to achieve their life purpose puts back human in the centre of education. It respects human’s choice and gives a sense of power for people (Freire, 1973). It is the opposite of the reality of education now. Uniformity is spread all over the world as Colin (2011) showed similarity of national education system worldwide. In an extreme understanding, this kind of uniformity can be regarded as indoctrination which violates people’s autonomy (Gingell & Winch, 2008).

In my opinion, education should be able to help people to live their own unique life. It should go beyond material adequacy, it better be providing spiritual and emotional adequacy; by, as mentioned by Fairfield (2009), enabling people to give richer meanings to their lived experience. Education should also be made in a way that allows individual uniqueness to be celebrated and supports people to pursue their life purpose so that they will be content with happiness.

May 28, 2013

Humanising Human

As education means to nourish (Gingell & Winch, 2008), one question comes into my mind: Who does it nourish? The players in education are people, human beings. And human beings, at least in my opinion, should be treated as human. However, as education nowadays is seen as a tool in globalised world – mostly seen from the economic point of view (Ball, 2006), people are regarded to be economic-, instead of human-being in education. Look at the statements mentioned by government officials, such as Indonesian vice president, Boediono (2012) who wrote that the purpose of education is to produce people who are competent in the workplace so that the national income can be increased.

In order to meet the demand from the government as a response of globalisation in economic sense, schools as the most common educational institution act as human factories. In a movie called Waiting for Superman (2010), I saw a clear description of students, categorised and directed towards different path of education in order to meet the workforce and business demand based on their test scores and intelligence. It seems like students, human beings, are treated as objects that can be controlled and moved around.

In another explanation, Freire (2008) proposed the concept of banking education which treats students as containers of knowledge. Education in this perspective seems to act as bank that deposits knowledge. How weird is that? Education which supposed to be controlled by human in general acts as if it is human and students – the human beings – are treated as if they are some kind of jars – non living things. Of course education in reality is controlled by human but only those who have power but nonetheless those people hide behind the ‘innocence’ of education. Then again, one can conclude from this point of view that education is used by people in power to oppress young people as what Freire (1996) suggested. It is a tool for the government to oppress citizens in order to achieve better economic performance which again benefits certain groups of people.

In my opinion, education should be used to humanise human. Education can be used as a tool to liberate people from globalised world’s ‘slavery’ to be fully capable human beings. Students, young people, or people in general should be the owner of globalised world, not the workers in it. I believe that it is the ideal condition as it is explained in the Koran that humans are the ones who inherit the world. The word inherit contains a sense of ownership, control, and power over the object. In order to do this – humanising human – Freire (1973) suggested that education should make people aware that they have the power to face challenges of the world.

One can see a sense of human empowerment in the process of humanising human. People need not to be passive which dehumanising, the lowest form of defence mechanism believed in critical psychology. Instead, they need to be reflective, a restless act to pursue knowledge through invention (Freire, 1973) so that they can act appropriately. Education should be able to empower people or students maybe, and make them capable of being truly humans in the era of globalisation now. Education need to humanise human if not re-humanise human at this point.

May 28, 2013

Sustainable

I was thinking lately about this word. Sustainable. The first time I really involved with this word was when I had to teach my private student about 8 goals of MDGs. But then, it turns out that I have to use the word more often.

Several months ago I went home with my friend from school where I worked. I had a chat with her about some of my students. We were wondering why their scores in so many subjects are bad. I thought that there are three possible reasons for this.

First, the reason is unclear explanation from the teachers. But then there will be so many teachers at stake here. There is one teacher for one subject and we doubt that all teachers are that incompetent. No way. They are hired as a teacher for some reasons and the reasons must be good. Nope, I don’t think that the teachers are the reason.

The second reason is students’ preparedness of the test. It should be worked out by teachers and parents. At school they study, do exercises and they did well. They were given homework to study at home. I am quite sure that the parents were aware of the upcoming exam and asked their kids to learn. Well, at least the kids told so.

Then there is the third reason. Maybe they can’t absorb the materials and extract them when they are needed! Humans have brains, right? How can they not be able to absorb knowledge? I remembered one of my students who always gets answer for his questions easily. Whenever he is challenged, he step back and choose not to try. Maybe that is the reason. They always get the answers to their questions easily that they don’t have to think, analyze, and strive to come up with an answer.

Finally I concluded. The later reason lead me to think that maybe the schooling system which depends a lot on test scores makes children feel that learning is only a way to get good scores. If children can get good scores not by learning, then what’s the point? Maybe this is what Freire (1996) warned as the result of banking concept in education which reduce the whole educational experience into test scores. People forget the educational process. They forget, as Pranoto (2012) said, how to fall in love with learning, knowledge, and science. Education is treated as a mean to an end while it should make people to be full of resources which will benefit them in the future. Education makes people educated and educated people make what they got from education sustain in order to benefit not only themselves but other people and their environment, to make people and the world sustainable.

May 7, 2013