Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Indonesians always celebrate National Education Day on May 2nd every year. What we know about the day is that students have the flag ceremony, many educational institutions have seminars on education, and then the mass-media have special columns or programs focusing on education. Not only that, some private sectors make special offers for teachers to buy their products: books, computers, and even motorcycles.

In the waves of consumerism and pragmatism, we almost forget that on that day we commemorate the birthday of a national hero: Raden Mas Suwardi Surjaningrat. He was born on May 2nd, 1889 in Yogyakarta.

Raden Mas Suwardi Surjaningrat or Ki Hajar Dewantara—his more popular name—was a great educator as well as a great politician. Along with Douwes Dekker and Cipto Mangunkusumo, he founded Indische Partij, the first party that explicitly stated the Indonesian Independence from the Dutch colonialism as its goal.

His article, Als ik eens Nederlander was (If I were a Dutchman), which satirically criticized the Dutch colonialism in Indonesia, cost him his freedom. He was exiled to Nederland in 1914.

Ki Hajar Dewantara had a deep concern on the education of kaum bumiputra (the indigenous Indonesian people). As part of his political struggle for Indonesian independence, he founded Taman Siswa (Students’ Garden), a school that educated Indonesian by equipping them with nationalistic and humanistic views. His famous motto was Ing Ngarso Sung Tuladha; Ing Madya Mbangun Karsa; Tutwuri Handayani (Give them examples when you are in front; encourage them when you are in the middle; support them when you are at the back).

His philosophy on education reflected by the motto is still relevant now. Even new approaches and theories on education are in line with the motto that suggests the main roles of a teacher: a model, a motivator, and a supporter.

Do teachers and educators in Indonesia still have the spirit of Ki Hajar Dewantara? This question is difficult to answer. We just keep complaining that Indonesian education is one of the worse in the world. Even the reformation on the educational system seemed to have no clear direction.

Education, which has become an important instrument in building the nation and in struggling for independence, now is degrading to just become an investment that might yield profit in the future. The controversial Government Regulation Draft on the National Standard Education—which will soon be issued—suggests that education is viewed as an economic instrument.
In the explanation of chapter 16 verse (1) it is mentioned that “pendidikan formal mandiri merupakan jalur pendidikan formal yang diperuntukkan bagi warga negara yang mampu baik secara akademik maupun secara finansial, dan memandang pendidikan sebagai investasi untuk masa depan” (“the independent formal education is a formal education that is meant for citizens who are academically and financially able, and who regard education as an investment for the future.”) (Kompas April 26).

Investing money for education is not wrong, especially for those who are rich and able. How about those who are poor and mediocre? The government have a solution by putting them in the standard formal education which is meant for citizens who are academically and financially less able. It is also meant to be a safety net for those who fail to compete in the independent formal education.

Ki Hajar Dewantara would have cried to see that the educational system that he has built now is becoming an instrument of the new colonialism. It does not make people free from dependency and it does not unite people as a nation. The education system in his mind is the one that is based on the preferential option for the poor, not for the rich. He has educated bumiputra—the coolies for the colonialists.

Ki Hajar Dewantara has focused on educating Indonesian for independence. Not only independent from the Dutch colonialism but also from any type of oppressions. Thus, education viewed by Ki Hajar Dewantara is the one that will bring freedom to all people. Education is viewed as an instrument for building the nation’s character—as always repeated by Soekarno, his friend. In this case, education will result the pride and self-confidence as a nation, change the coolie nation into independent nation.

Nationalism is probability too much in the era of globalization and internationalization. However, to have a better vision of education for the nation, we have to revitalize what Ki Hajar Dewantara has thought. He has been a real guru for the nation and he has been proud of being a teacher.

Now, are teachers still proud of their profession? Have they fervently become a model, a motivator, and a supporter of the students? Have they pushed students to be thorough independent human beings?

It is time for all Indonesian teachers and educators to continue the never-finish job in educating the nation by revitalizing of what Ki Hajar Dewantara has started.

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