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