Can Indonesia Survive a Future Where Science is Cut From Schools?
Dessy Sagita & Markus Junianto Sihaloho
Development of human capital is often seen as a prerequisite for Indonesia assuming its place as a global power.
Most activists and experts agree that in order to fulfil its potential, the country needs more experts in science and technology that can introduce industrial and technological innovations to bolster the economy and raise the nation’s standing.
They argue that attempts to abolish science lessons in Indonesian schools will be counterproductive to efforts to achieve that ultimate goal.
And yet the government is moving forward on its plan to scrap natural and social sciences from elementary schools as it finalizes revisions to the curriculum to be implemented in the next academic year.
A team of experts from the Ministry of Education and Culture has concluded that natural science (IPA) and social sciences (IPS) shall be scrapped from elementary schools because “it is too early to teach such hard subjects to the students.”
Not long after the Education Ministry made the announcement last Friday, a barrage of criticism came forth.
Many say that the policy would push Indonesia back to the Stone Age because in other countries, science is taught in elementary school in order to cultivate a critical and scientific culture at an early stage.
That would encourage students to develop critical thinking and creative attitudes, preparing them for higher learning. This in turn would ready them to develop scientific and technological inventions for the nation as a whole.
Advocates of the change fear that teaching science to students at such an early stage would deny them the precious opportunity to a nurture good, “motherland-loving attitude,” as Dedi “Mi’ing” Gumelar, a member of Commission X at the House of Representatives, puts it.
“In elementary school we need to teach them more about good character, the values of state ideology Pancasila, culture, and ethics,” said Mi’ing, a legislator from the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
“Teach them about sciences, such as geography and social sciences, at a later stage, like when they are at the junior high level.
“And then at the senior high level, teach them other subjects that prepare them to enter university.
“It is not good to imitate the Western education system in a way that would kill our Indonesian values. We don’t just need experts in physics and mathematics, but people who understand human values.”
Won’t this lead to Indonesia lagging even farther behind other nations in science and technology? Mi’ing said he was not worried about such a possibility because pursuing global standards while neglecting the nation’s own cultural values would lead to Indonesia becoming “a fragile nation without character.”
“It is easier to produce smart scholars than to produce scholars with good character and integrity, people who have nationalism and good morals,” he theorized.
The head of research and development at the ministry, Chairil Anwar Notodiputro, said that from next academic year, IPA and IPS subjects will be merged because it is “not necessary yet” for students to receive those lessons separately.
He said that students will instead be taught to learn thematic lessons such as observing the weather and rain, or why a car can move. In short, teachers will translate hard science subjects into simple themes in accordance with the absorption ability of young students.
“The purpose is to prevent students from thinking too hard at such an early stage, because after all they won’t remember it all,” Chairil said, adding that by March 2013 the new curriculum will be ready for a July implementation.
But educational observer Darmaningtyas said it was wrong to abolish or postpone sciences at elementary school.
“Elementary school is a golden-age period for teaching students science according to their absorption ability,” Darmaningtyas said.
Similar objections were raised by Muzaini, the headmaster of SD Muhammaduyah 1 in Klaten, Central Java, agreeing that at such an early stage, students must be trained to think critically and objectively.
Asmuni, the headmaster of Cokroaminoto Islamic Elementary School also objected. He said that if science should be scrapped, it should only apply to students who are not yet in the third grade.