Saturday, July 30, 2011

What They Don't Teach You at Indonesian Universities

NO QUESTIONS? Asian students –including Indonesian– have always been notorious for their reluctance to ask questions or participate in the classroom’s discussions, and it is no secret that they are always more concerned towards academic matters and written exams.

“How does Satria know all of those things?” my friend whispered almost soundlessly to a friend who sat next to her.

“Perhaps he always tried to memorize all that he read, so he could pamer (show off) to all his friends and lecturers when questions are asked,” she said.

Sadly, a person whom she was referring to was me. At that time, my macroeconomics lecturer asked his students who was the chairman of the Federal Reserve (US central bank) prior to the legendary Alan Greenspan, and as nobody seemed to be interested in answering his question, I eventually raised my hand and answered the question correctly.

Her sarcastic response is the sort of reaction that you could expect from other students if you are a student in Indonesian universities who want to be proactive inside the classroom. It is no secret that in most Indonesian universities, a learning environment where students are freely exchanging ideas and defending their own opinions is, unfortunately, not present.

In my early years in college, a lecturer once told me that my university was paving its way towards a world-class university in its teaching system; where learning in a classroom soon would become a two-way discussion between both students and lecturers instead of a one-sided talk. Lecturers, he predicted, could become no more than facilitators in the future.

In an internet era where students have boundless access to knowledge and not only limited to their textbooks as their education materials, I heard with awe as this promising idea could possibly enhance my learning experience in university, as well as improving the quality of our education system in the future.

Fast-forward four years until I finally reach my last year in college today, the reality in the Indonesian classrooms still goes very far beyond from what I have envisaged in my early years in the university.

Students’ feedbacks, lively debates, and heated discussions rarely occurred inside the classroom. In most cases, Indonesian lecturers were asking questions yet the students remained quiet. Even if there was any student who tried to answer question, other students were most likely to label him as a freak who just wanted to show off.

Once my assistant lecturer on Indonesian economy class was so disappointed to see that no single student in the classroom responded to her query. At that time she referred to us as ‘typical Asian students’ who were highly passive compared to Western students who always raised hands to give answers or ask questions.

“Look, if you’re a professor in the United States,” said Alvin, my high school senior who is currently pursuing his master’s degree in Princeton university, “if you are not clear in front of the classroom students will ask you to death.”

“[The students] will hound you to make your points clear,” he added.

The stark difference in learning environment inside American and Indonesian universities could happen possibly because there were less, or even any, incentives for Indonesian students to be active inside the classroom.

A best-selling book titling What they teach you at Harvard Business School reveals that 50% of Harvard students’ grades would be determined by how they participate in class –the quality and frequency of their comments. Then the rest 50% would be determined by how students perform on their mid-term and end-of-term written exams

In staggering contrast, in most of the subjects in my university, the combination of mid-term and end-of-term written exams’ scores account for 80% for our final grade. Participation in classroom, on the other hand, only accounts for 20% –sometimes 10% or is not even reviewed at all.

If Indonesian universities want to encourage their students to become researchers or academics, perhaps this could be the right approach. But for students who major in economics and business like me whose knowledge and understanding would be mostly applied in practical terms; this really is an irony.

Besides, because the largest percentage of our grades is measured by our performances during written exams, most of the students (including myself) come inside the classroom every week empty-headed. For us, what matters the most is how we could perform well during the exam, which could be achieved by studying insanely hard just one or two days prior to exam day.

Truthfully speaking: Indonesian students don’t really care about the learning process –things like classroom’s discussions or case-in-studies of how the theory works in real life– since they pay enormous heed only to the written exams, which can contribute more to their grade point average (GPA).

Indonesian university students are excessively judged by their GPA. While this could be used as indicator on measuring students’ comprehension towards the subject that they learn, it should not be deemed as the perfect measurement.

Indeed, with Indonesia’s current education system, students who graduate with cum-laude GPA emblazoning their graduation certificates are more likely to become an academics rather than policymakers, entrepreneurs, or innovators who are equipped with problem-solving skills.

I feel bad for my parents because I neither have a cum-laude GPA in my academic record nor the extraordinary problem-solving skills; but am I doing the wrong thing here if I just raise my hand in the classroom because I want to ask questions or respond towards my lectures’ queries?

In an education culture like Indonesia where students remain acquiescent and quiet almost all the time, your child would be identified as a pamer or “show off” student if he or she ever does that –thus the answer of the previous question is, unfortunately, most likely a yes.

This article was published in The Jakarta Post on Saturday, July 30 2011


aam said...

setuju gan, gw pro aktif di kelas. banyak yg nganggep gw frek, tpi slow aj gw, yg penting bwt gw sndiri,gw tmbh tw tntang dunia..

masa bodo org bilang apa

aam 2008 eak

yosefsid said...

saya sangat setuju atas hal ini. walaupun saya adalah salah satu orang yang ngejudge orang2 yang TERLALU aktif di dalam kelas, saya sangat prihatin akan hal ini.

Jujur aja, bukannya gimana-gimana, tapi kebanyakan siswa itu belum memahami secara betul apa yang ingin dibicarakan di dalam kelas, sehingga mau ngomong apa juga bingung dong.

usul dari saya adalah untuk tetap menerapkan metode CL yang baik. kedua adalah universitas dapat memberikan media tertentu dimana mahasiswa dapat mencari informasi yang dibutuhkan. ketiga adalah dengan memberikan training kepada dosen/guru untuk menjadi fasilitator yang baik. Karena sebagian besar dosen/guru sendiri belum terbiasa untuk menjadi fasilitator yang baik dalam proses diskusi.

saya cukup senang ada yang mulai meneriakkan hal ini. Semoga hal ini juga mulai disadari oleh semua mahasiswa, pengajar, ataupun orang tua untuk membiasakan terciptanya lingkungan untuk diskusi yang kondusif.

yis, EAK UI 2009

Satria said...

Aam, surely it depends on how you define 'freak': In European or American universities, if you are just taking notes and being silent throughout the class Western students there would refer to you as freak.

If you are too silent inside the classroom, those western students would call you freak because they argue that you, as a student, are supposed to contribute something to the learning environment yet you are doing inside the classroom.

For example: I heard from my senior who are currently studying in Netherlands that her college newspaper published an article titled, "Why are Asian Students so Silent?"

See? We are just living in a situation that adopts wrong culture in its roots. So chill, I would definitely not among the persons that consider you as freak Am.

sherera said...

Gue bangga kuliah di FIB, atmosfer diskusi di kelas cukup tinggi, jadi ngga ngantuk. Mahasiswanya kritis, terutama di kelas filsafat dan budaya. Gue juga pernah ambil Antropologi Agama di FISIP. Mahasiswa dikasih topik untuk minggu depan, dan kita bahas berdasarkan apa yang kita baca. Karena tiap orang sumber bahannya bisa beda-beda, seru banget.

Untuk antar mahasiswa juga kami seru kalau diskusi ini-itu :)

nataya said...

sat, gw udah menyampaikan tanggapan gw tentang tulisan lo di fb..
tapi satu lagi yg pengen gw tau.. itu bener niki yang ngomong seperti itu? kalau belum tentu benar, itu bisa disebut fitnah lho sat, dan membuat citra niki jadi negatif. Rasanya kurang bijaksana sat kalau membawa-bawa nama niki seperti yg ada dalam tulisan lo di atas.

Satria said...

Ya, Niki berkata seperti itu.

Andi Ramadhani Akbar said...

Thinking about reforming changing the way we interact inside the classroom is still a far-off goals because most Indonesian student are used to study using the one-way method ever since grade school. Surely changing the habit by directly applying those policy to University student would give little result because it isn't easy to change a habit. My suggestion if you really want those methods to work in Indonesia, they have to start from below around SMP or SMA level. Of course the process isn't that simple and require further discussion.

As for how students currently studying should behave however. I suggest that you should learn how to "not care" of other people perception of you. If some people doesn't behave the way society does, it doesn't always mean that they are bad. YES we live in an Indonesian society where we still need to care about how people will see us. But I find that as a hindrance to being successful. Remember that in order to be successful you can't always have people to like you all the time as there will always be someone who don't like you. However they key is to be able to keep moving forward while accepting the support from people that like us and "to not care" for the people who don't like us.

So guys, stand tall, speak loud, and be proud if you are different inside a class because being different is what makes a lot of people succeed in their path.

Safyra Primadhyta said...

I don't want to re-post my last comment coz the message has been sent.^^
Terkait dengan isu utama dari post lo kali ini. Menurut gw c lebih ke kultur sebagian besar masyarakat Indonesia yang tidak dapat dipungkiri memang demikian. (Bukan berarti semua orang Indonesia demikian, contohnya elo ngga kan :))
Tapi gw liat trennya sekarang pendidikan di Indonesia sudah mengarah ke sana koq. Setidaknya mereka berusaha memfasilitasi. Apakah sudah sempurna? Belum. Butuh proses berapa lama? Gw ngga tahu.
Tapi pendidikan kan suatu proses dua arah. Selain dari sisi sistem pendidikan kita juga harus melihat dari sisi masyarakat :)
Dan perubahan dari sisi kultur personal di masyarakat tidak dapat (belum dapat) dilakukan secara radikal.
Untung aja sie sekarang teknologi udah maju, informasi udah bebas dipertukarkan, opini-opini memiliki banyak chanel untuk disalurkan. Soal pemanfaatannya, kembali menjadi persoalan masing-masing individu,terlepas individu tersebut berasal dari bangsa, negara, suku apapun.
In short, sistem pendidikan kita memang masih memerlukan penyempurnaan.
Oia, opini dari orang lain pasti tetap akan ada. Dan menurut pengalaman personal gw, dewasa adalah ketika mampu memilah opini yang perlu kita dengar dan yang tidak perlu kita pikirkan lebih lanjut (dengan catatan kita tidak merugikan diri kita dan orang lain ya :))

P.S: Sorry kalo pemikiran gw ada yang kurang berkenan >>> Typical Asian student lol :D

Andreu Husien said...

I'd second the previous comment that it's part of our culture. Our fellow citizens tend to conform to their community and environment. It's not just in classrooms, but also in everyday life.

But I would be glad if you don't stop here. Keep on doing what you believe is righteous.

PS: Even researchers and academic staffs need to be proactive, so I would argue your statement. :)

Anonymous said...

This writing is so true, but very sad because it happen all the time. I read in the newspaper website and it is very impressive for you to be able to publish your article in the newspaper in such young age. btw did you mean the indonesian student who accused you of being show-off is putu geniki natih? i remember she also published article in the same newspaper right? I think I know her and with her at Seoul in one occasion, which she write in the newspaper ^^

I don't know what happens in Indonesia. But in my country there is still a gap between 'what the professor knows' and 'what the students know'. Students know relatively less, and that's why they go to school right? and that's why professors and textbooks are there to help them right? My two cents is with their limited knowledge, it is okay for students to be hesitate to be proactive inside the classroom. even though this is bad

However in some ways i would say that this thing happens not only in indonesia, but in my classroom as well.

Winnie said...

During my early days in college, I was amazed with American students who always argued in the class. However, I believe Asian students has their own quality. My teachers are always proud of us as high achiever students.

Yudiwbs said...

Ini foto mahasiswa kelas saya yang saya ambil. Sayang yang digunakan cuma foto saat ujian, padahal ada kegiatan lain (presentasi, diskusi) yang tidak diperlihatkan. Salam.
- Yudi Wibisono-

Hanry said...

Apa orang ini sudah meminta izin bapak? saya kira seorang Jurnalis lebih tahu aturan. Salam, saya termasuk mahasiswa yang ada dalam potret tersebut.

Yudiwbs said...

@Hanry: seingat saya sih tidak, tapi tidak apa-apa bagi saya.

Anonymous said...

Sebagai seorang jurnalis, rasanya sangat tidak pantas ya menggunakan nama asli orang untuk tulisan yang sangat negatif *just a thought* Punya akses ke Jakarta Post harusnya digunakan untuk menyebarkan sesuatu yang baik.