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As an Indonesian citizen who recently completed studies in a graduate school

of education, I frequently ask myself, what is the problem with Indonesia's


The question is based on the following assumptions. First, that Indonesia's

education has a problem and second, that something has to be done to fix that

I find it problematic to come up with a clear-cut list of multi-layered problems in

Indonesia's education. It's even more problematic when those who ask these
questions decide the answers, which include low teacher quality (the easiest to
blame), a poorly crafted curriculum (the easiest to criticize), a lack of equal
infrastructure (we all know how enormous Indonesia is, thank you) and the
unsatisfactory performance of the Education and Culture Ministry.

Further, many of those who ask the questions even presuppose solutions like:
Let's drill the teachers even harder, lets blame the curriculum even more and
propose a new curriculum,' 'Why don't we bully the ministry even more?' or
everyone's favourite, 'Let’s internationalize our education’, whatever that even

Yet, our problem lies even deeper than these suggestions.

To define what is wrong with our national education is to define first what we
need education for. Only after that will we know what it means for us and we
can prescribe further actions to take.

Human capital theorists say education is meant to prepare students to be

economically independent and participate in their society's economic
development. The students are capital and education is a means to add more
value to that capital.

The final products are individuals ready for the workforce. The expected impact
of such products is that they become capable of economically fulfilling their
needs and supporting their country.

In short, education is an economic investment.

Then there are the idealists, or the romanticists, for whom education is about
giving students all the opportunities they need to discover their true passions
and to empower them to achieve those passions. This theory presupposes that
every individual has a sacred dream to achieve.

Education, hence, is the tool that facilitates self-discovery. The final products
are the persistent dream-pursuers.

The expected results are achieving the dream and gaining genuine happiness.
As Paulo Coelho said, 'the whole universe will conspire to help those dreamers
seek their dreams.'

The rise of radical religious groups suggest that education is a process of

transferring moral or religious values from superior beings who supposedly
know better to those who know less. The students are blank vessels
inexperienced beings. The superior beings pour content into the minds of these
vessels and, voila, we have people with good moral and religious devotion.

These enlightened people are expected to contribute to the rise of a holy

country where heaven reigns on Earth. Next we have the definition of the human
rights activists: education is to train the students to be aware of each other'€™s
rights and to be able to take action to defend such rights. From passive, silent
or oppressed students, education transforms them and empowers them to be
active. In the final form are students who are aware, ready and brave enough
to guard each other'€™s rights. The expected result is a community in which
members coexist peacefully in tolerance.

The list of educational definitions could go on. But at the very core, education
is simply to enable students to grow with critical thinking. In our context, it is
crucial that education provides children with the tools to develop critical minds.
So, what does it mean? Students with critical thinking are aware of both their
choices and their consequences. Some might prioritize financial crises in their
family and thus seek practical training to be able to work.

Some might not have troubles financially or do not think about it so much and
prioritize their passions. They are critically aware of their actions and try to be
prepared for the difficulties ahead.

These students dare to dream high, but also to rationally evaluate their dreams.
Students with critical thinking do not take for granted what people preach to
them. They might study the theology of a religion and eventually devote
themselves fully, but never because someone else indoctrinates them.

They do not easily buy the narrow interpretations of religion that condemn other
followers, that discriminate the other gender or that promote violence.

Such students are aware of their own rights and responsibilities. They
understand that other people also have such rights and do not shout for respect
while stepping on others. They are aware of the world they live in with its
political, economic and social issues. They let this awareness become a basis
for their action too, as they desire to transform themselves as well as the world
they live in for the better.

A generation of young and active individuals with critical minds to better address
the diverse issues in our country is what Indonesia truly needs.

Here the students themselves will decide what education is for them personally,
releasing them from any boxes. The students become free individuals who are
critical of themselves as well as of others.

The expected impacts are unlimited, but for the better. Education is never about
teachers trying to shape these students based on our teachers' standards and

True education trusts the students to decide by themselves. We, as teachers,

are just there to assist them whenever they need support.

Furthermore, teachers are there to create a safe learning space full of

opportunities, experiences and challenges. This is what education is for and
what education should be for. The answer to the question of what is wrong with
our education is simple: it is wrong when it does not let the students grow with
critical thinking.