Saturday, May 19, 2007

Final exams testing time for students, govt

Wednesday, April 18, 2007
The Jakarta Post, Padang, Semarang, Yogyakarta

The government continues to face criticism from all directions for maintaining central control of the final exam for school leavers, while hundreds of students are forced to sit the three-day test, beginning Tuesday, in less than perfect surroundings.

In addition, Education Minister Bambang Sudibyo said the government will raise the pass grade from 4.25 for junior and high school students to at least 7.00 by 2008.

And all this while some students in flooded, earthquake-damaged or disadvantaged areas have been forced to halve their pre-exam contact hours because their schools have been relocated into makeshift tents.

The central government was accused by teachers, parents and activists in a joint statement Tuesday of betraying the national education system's spirit, demanding the process be returned to individual schools' authority.

Several organizations, including the Indonesian Corruption Watch, the Indonesian Consumers Foundation, the Alliance of Parents for the Transparency of Educational Funds and the Tangerang Teachers Union, accused the government of breaking principles stipulated in the 2003 National Education System Law.

The diversity of the current curriculum as well as the government's evaluation process have come under particular attack.

Lody Paat, coordinator of the Coalition for Independent Education, said although the exam was intended to increase the quality of education provided, the government had failed to control the process.

Farous Bahar, coordinator of the Tangerang Teachers Union, accused the government of replacing a teacher's role in the examination process and of "turning the exam into a psychological terror for teachers, students and parents".

"How can we regard the exam as an instrument to increase the quality of education, if the system has become a terror for many people?" Farous asked.

But while the red-tape squabble continues unabated, students across the archipelago are doing their best to simply pass the exam -- despite the shocking conditions around them.

Iqbal Sahilman is a third year student at MAN Kotobaru Islamic high school in Padangpanjang regency, West Sumatra.

He says he's one of the lucky ones because he was able to sit his exam in a sturdy makeshift classroom rather than the tent his school has been relocated to.

Iqbal's school and surrounding area was devastated in March this year by an earthquake, leaving eight of 27 classrooms destroyed and seven others badly damaged.

The remaining 12 classrooms were not enough to accommodate 371 students sitting the national exam so the school set up eight makeshift classrooms and a tent.

"When we're studying in the tent, it's hot and hard to concentrate," Iqbal said.

Iqbal's friend, Fajriati Fatimah, found the makeshift classrooms better than the tent.

"When we (sat for the practice test) our papers (flew away with) the wind."

Fajriati said she was worried she might fail the test this week because she could not prepare properly.

"We did not have enough time to study because three hours of school time was cut from our (regular) six-hour day," she said.

Other students have pressed on despite poor conditions and illness.

Dian Lukitasari sat her test from the hospital where she is being treated for dengue fever and typhus.

The student of SMAN 11 high school in Semarang, Central Java, took her test in her room at Ketileng hospital, where she has been since Saturday.

"After consulting the doctor, I (was told I) could take the test," she said.

In other parts of the country, including Timika in Papua and Surabaya in East Java, students sat the exam without incident.

But in Palembang, South Sumatra, the exam was allegedly used by the local mayor as part of his campaign for a 2008 re-election.

Palembang's mayor, Eddy Santana Putra, left inside the student's examination papers his campaign message along with a photo of himself.

Other concerns facing educational groups nationally include the government's decision to send students who fail this year's test back to school in 2008. They were previously allowed to re-sit the exam.

Thousands of students failed the exam last year when it had a pass grade of 4.25 -- so teachers are also concerned this year's required pass grade of 5.00 will see these numbers climb.

Education Minister Sudibyo said repeat exams would only be conducted for students who missed the test due to illness. (02)

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