Indonesia | Economics

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Reforming the teacher-bureaucrat mentality

I recently came across Chris Bjork’s enjoyable little book, Indonesian Education. It’s, in essence, a lucid thesis of what’s wrong with the incentive structure – and, by incentive, I don’t mean ‘salary’ but whatever inducements that prod people into action – provided by the Indonesian government to teachers everywhere.

To sum, Bjork argues that due to its obsession with national cohesion and nation-building, the New Order has created a new “species” of educators, namely a “teacher-bureaucrat”. As a teacher-bureaucrat, a teacher is expected to show loyalty and obedience to the established hierarchy with the state at the top – instructional abilities come second. As such, when teachers are expected to take charge and innovate, most are stumped – obedience usually doesn’t come in the same package as independent thinking.

If Bjork is right, then truly we got our work cut out for us. In essence, we need to reverse the damages incurred by the New Order strategy. Physicists have a term that can illustrate the difficulties of the task: “hysteresis”: if we heat a piece of metal and let it cool, its molecular composition will have changed from before heat was applied. We can’t reverse the damage simply by ‘removing the heat’ – i.e., dismantling policies associated with the New Order strategy. The social scientist’s version of ‘molecular composition’ – i.e., institutional culture – has changed and this might be more difficult to fix.

We can’t take this analogy too far: After all, we don’t necessarily want the institutional culture to go back to before the New Order (especially since I don’t really know what that is). The point, however, is that changes need to go beyond improving teachers’ and school administrators’ technical skills.

The current thinking in education policy has been to try to push for education decentralization – through the so-called ‘school-based management’ policy. On paper, this would allow classroom innovations to bloom. But it won’t be that simple. To quote Bjork: “…[Education decentralization] demands fundamental changes in the way public employees think and act, and in the government’s position vis-à-vis society. At its core, decentralization represents a push for democratization” (p. 9). Indeed.

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