Teachers Are Transformers, Not Technicians

The Jakarta Post, page 7

By Setiono Sugiharto (Lecturer in the English Department, School of Education and Language, Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta).

It is axiomatic to say that efforts to boost national education quality cannot be separated from the role teachers play in translating the lofty ideals of educational objectives in classrooms. It is thus not surprising that government mandated programs like teacher training programs (known locally as PLPG) and teacher competence tests have hitherto been at the core of the national agenda.

Despite these well-intentioned programs, no significant progress has been made regarding the overall performance quality of teachers.

While it is true that the programs help augment their incomes (especially for those who pass the certification program), the quality of their professionalism as teachers remains a cause of concern (Kompas, Nov. 21).

For this reason, one can surmise that neither program has either a direct or indirect bearing on the government’s assiduous efforts to enhance quality education.

One plausible explanation for this is the technocratic nature of both programs. This means pedagogical directives offered in the programs are always determined in a topdown fashion, rather than from the ground up.

Teachers, therefore, should view themselves as what Henry Giroux calls “transformative intellectuals” — the ones who have the right to voice their own beliefs about a set of pedagogical values and knowledge and to oppose the values and knowledge unilaterally passed on to them. They are intellectuals who have the authority to instill their values and knowledge into their students so they become responsible, critical citizens.

As intellectuals, they are not passive recipients of knowledge, but are instead free beings who can experiment with their own methods of teaching and their own learning materials for students without necessarily succumbing to rigid curricular procedures.

It seems that educational reform should not be restricted to improving teachers’ technical expertise through training and competence assessment for the sake of obtaining teaching certification. Such educational programs have reduced the role of teachers to be that of mere flaccid recipients of professional knowledge and they have denied the significance of teachers being intellectual beings.

Overhauling the educational system clearly necessitates a shift of perspective from teachers as mere skilled technicians to teachers as transformative intellectuals. Yet, this can only be viable if we have the political will to re-contextualize the classroom not only as a site of intellectual exchange, but also as a place for both political and ideological struggles.

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