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by Jennie S. Bev

Karl Marx might have called them “the bourgeois” and “the proletariat”. Adam Smith might have called them “the capitalist” and “the laborer." Seth Godin might have called them “the linchpin” and “the cog." Well, not exactly like that, but sort of. 

Observing the education system and schools in Indonesia, it is interesting to note that classes of students and graduates are so obvious. By “classes” here, I refer to social and economic classes — and sometimes, intellectual. 

While national plus schools are proud to offer bilingual and, even, trilingual curricula, elementary public schools are currently being reformed to teach the Indonesian language only. Among national plus and private schools, a varying degree of non-academic reputation is obvious, as some schools are more “elite” than others, mostly due to the social, economic and sometimes political status of the parents of the students. 

Human beings are rank-conscious creatures, just like other mammals. And some institutions reinforce ranks more actively than others, like schools.

It is actually quite mind-boggling since schools are supposed to make people realize that all human beings are equal and that we can achieve whatever we set our minds to. Yet, every school is different in its rank within the constellation of similar schools. And in schools, students are introduced to ranks — or “classes” — for the first time in their lives.

Every student has his or her rank within a class based on academic performance, which later can be ranked within the school, and eventually among peer schools in a region. And those who go to schools with “superior” internationally-acclaimed curricula have an upper hand from the beginning. Because those who rank high in a class in such a school are likely to rank much higher in comparison to other students from schools with “inferior” curricula.

We cannot take for granted or underestimate a school, its curriculum and the culture of learning that the parents and the students bring to the school. Yes, the parents and the students, not the teachers. While teachers are an important element in the success (or failure) of a student’s learning process, the parents determine the standard of learning. The intensity of learning is set at home.

In the United States, public schools from kindergarten to high school levels are funded by property taxes and the city. Since a student must go to school in the district in which he or she resides, it provides an equal opportunity for kids of parents of various professions and economic capacities to learn in the same school, as long as they live in the same city or town. 

This means that whether a student’s parents are high-ranking CEOs or maids of the CEOs, they can go to the same school. Still, no school is completely equal.

If your family resides in Cupertino, for instance, where Apple’s headquarters are located, you are likely sending your children to schools within the Fremont Union High district, among which is Monte Vista High School that ranks 16th in the country. William Faria Elementary of Cupertino Union district tops the rankings in the state. 

These schools are top ranked in the state and the country because the parents of the students are likely highly educated and work in the vicinity, which is located in an international information technology hub. The learning atmosphere at home rubs off on the students. Thus, the quality of the schools in the US is largely determined by the learning culture of families who reside in the city or town where a school is located.

In Indonesia, private schools, for instance, already set their “niche target market” based on tuition fees, which selectively predetermine the parents’ financial capacity. Financial capacity may or may not reflect one’s learning culture. It is, however, a more valid indication of one’s purchasing power. 

Thus, with the wide divergences in curricula, potential academic achievement and financial power between students who go to “elite” private schools and “regular” public schools in Indonesia, we might see two sets of graduates as outputs. The first set comprises those with strong language skills and international mindsets, ready to compete internationally. The second set comprises those with mediocre skills and somewhat lower self esteem than the first set.

In classes, we learn first-hand about classes. The world is unequal, but fairness is something we can strive for. If we make ourselves indispensable through our unique skills, creativity, innovation and independence, it doesn’t matter which school you went to. Because what you know is more important than where you studied. This, I know for sure.[]

The Jakarta Post, January 8, 2012

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