Sekolah Berstandar Internasional: Singapore the model for Indonesia?

singapore-educational-consultants-good-schoolIn Indonesia, there is currently a deep interest in the “Sekolah Berstandar Internasional” or SBI concept. “Sekolah Berstandar Internasional” can be translated as “School of International Standard”. The idea of the SBI is being pushed by the Indonesian education ministry, DINAS, in an effort to upgrade the quality of Indonesia’s schools. It realizes the importance of Indonesia not falling behind internationally because of the poor quality of education offered in its schools.

DINAS itself is conscious of the rising popularity of schools in Indonesia that exist so that students can take international examinations like the IGCSE and the IB. However, it is concerned that such schools may orient Indonesians to look out of Indonesia and this may have an effect on its national development goals. Furthermore, it can be argued that such schools tend to cater to an elite minority belonging to the upper middle class and middle class. Such schools tend to be beyond the means of the average Indonesian who sent their children to the government schools. It is perhaps to cater to this lower income group, and to allay fears of the creation of an elite group of Indonesians with one foot out of Indonesia,  that DINAS has proposed the creation of SBIs. In official DINAS documents, the SBIs are supposed to be staffed by local teachers with a local curriculum that emphasized quality  teaching and learning that is on par with the rest of the world yet rooted in Indonesia.

However, private schools in Indonesia have been looking elsewhere for their model. In this search many schools have looked at the Singapore model as the example to be copied. Singapore-style schools have sprouted up with the typical Singapore emphasis on high stakes written examinations. “Educational consultants” from Singapore have pushed for a transplanting of the Singapore school system upon Indonesia without a thought or understanding of the real needs of Indonesia because little thinking is required by such an approach. There is also an almost arrogant assumption by some of these educational consultants that what works in Singapore, will work just as well with minor only minor tweaking.

As an example, Singapore school textbooks which are in English, are being used for lessons in such Singapore-style schools in Indonesia, never mind if the level of English language competency is not at the same level as Singapore. Not quite a few of these educational consultants have of course ingeniously argued that Indonesian students need to learn English like Singapore students because English is needed to be on par with the rest of the world.

Some even argue that Indonesian students need English to enroll in foreign educational institutions, which is far from true. They, of course, notably forget to mention that countries like Japan, Germany have done well enough without English at the earlier stages of school. Not too mention also that in Singapore you do have the environment that you need to learn English unlike in Indonesia where it is hard to come by, even through TV!

In addition, if the goal of DINAS is to produce good quality education, written examinations do not guarantee this. Singapore-style high stakes written examinations only turn schools into examination preparation centers, which are what Singapore schools really are in general. Students can still do well in such examinations even without deep understanding of the subject matter because much of such examinations require only rote-learning of facts and mechanical operations.

Indonesians would also do well to remember that even in Singapore there is already an acknowledgment to move away from this “examination-centeredness” in its schools. Yet, Indonesians are being peddled with the same outmoded Singapore approach. If Indonesians keep following these outdated approaches to education, they will always be playing catch up when they have every opportunity to jump to a higher level and a better approach to education more suited to the needs of their country.

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