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Christian schools and the current trends

Posted on January 4th, 2008 by Ishak S. Wonohadidjojo, Ed. D.

There was an interesting fact published in “Businessweek - Indonesia”, December 5, 2007. Raffles Education Corp., a Singapore-based educational services provider, was listed as the second in the table of 100 best Small & Medium Scale Enterprises of 2007 after Ajisen (China) HoldingsHong—a Shanghai-based Japanese noodle chain restaurant. Raffles Education booked US$ 58.8 million sale in 2006 with $ 21.1 million net profit and 68.7% ROI (Return on Investment). Its average profit in the last three years is 72.7% with a market value of $ 1,584.1 million.

Another report says that Raffles Education bought 20% of Oriental Century Ltd.’s shares in December 2006. Oriental Century is also an educational services provider that was started in 1994 in China by Wang Yuean. It entered Singapore market in June 2006 and it has tripled in values by the time Raffles bought the shares. Raffles Education also recently acquired a 38 percent stake in EasyCall International Ltd., which runs undergraduate degree programs in China.

In 1993, China announced its intention to open up the education industry. It was only in September 2003 that China promulgated a new law, allowing non-state schools to operate. Today, the economics of high quality education services in China are quite compelling. The revenue from two students can pay the wages of one teacher. (Andy Mukherjee, “Private schools roar back to life in China”, Jakarta Post, March 14, 2007).

Privatization, industrialization, and corporatist education

While in China it’s started in 2003, the delivery of education in Indonesia has long been operated by private educational institutions in partnership with the government. In fact, all Christian schools were funded by private organizations that usually owned by Churches or Christian groups. They have become significant partners of the Indonesian government in educational field. When these Christian schools were started—a few of them were founded as early as a century ago—it was begun with the biblical mandate to educate and to disciple the young generation. In some cases, the schools were initiated by the passion to fulfill the Great Commission and are part of the strategy called mission triangle: starting a hospital, a school, and a church. Therefore, they have chosen the non-profit form of incorporation under the Indonesian law.

In the nineties, with the increasing cost of running a school and funding a good educational program, educational institutions realized that they need fresh fund in order to survive. That was also the time when people did not satisfy with the quality of education provided by government and private schools in comparison with schools abroad. Then, the national-plus school movement was born as a self-effort in providing a better education using a significant amount of fund or capital. Some of the national-plus schools were newly started during this decade and the others were modification of the long existing ‘traditional’ Christian schools. Today, its association has at least 60 official members and there are more schools declare themselves as national-plus schools, some of them are Christian. Many of these schools are privately owned by individuals or families and connected to their business corporations. They developed a new paradigm that sees a good education must be a noble industry, a service industry that follows industrial principles but preserves its ethical humanitarian mandate and responsibility. (“Industrialisasi atau Komersialisasi Pendidikan”, Johannes Oentoro, KOMPAS, 06 September 2006).

In July 3, 2007, the President of Republic Indonesia signed two presidential decrees (PerPres No. 76 & 77 – 2007) as the guidelines of the investment bylaw (UU No. 25 Tahun 2007 tentang Penanaman Modal). These regulations consider elementary, secondary, tertiary, and non-formal education as industries that allow foreign investment up to 49% ownership. This year, the government of Indonesia also promotes CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) to encourage business corporations to design and fund projects that touch the life of the people. One of the target fields is education. There are more corporations fund educational programs or institutions and as the return, they expect the students are trained to be their employees in their core beliefs and value systems. While many of these corporations doing this because they sincerely want to contribute improving the quality of life of Indonesian people, others may do so for more practical and economical reasons. Dewi Susanti, in her article “The rise of privately funded education” (Jakarta Post, December 1, 2007), reminds us of another result of corporate funded educational institutions. She says that some corporatist educational institutes have the tendency to form and deliver mainstream educational content only to those who can afford their “services”. This will polarize even more the already divided social economical classes of Indonesian society. Dewi’s warning reminds me of the unintentional public image projected by some Christian schools. The image shows that Christian schools are expensive schools. Another warning, quoting Naomi Klein in “No Logo” (2000), is about academic integrity that tends to be compromised to the practical and commercial goals of the funding corporations.

Today’s dominating value: Commodities

Jack O. Balswick and Judith K. Balswickin The Family: A Christian Perspective on Contemporary Home (2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1999.) states that the major challenge for today’s families is modernity. They analyze modernity using a framework that views the changes in terms of commodities, community, communication, and consciousness. The dilemma is the dominance of commodities that drags the families’ focus around economic values and “commodification” of social life. They coined the term “commodification” and define it as a process toward making commodity as the ultimate measure of all aspects of human life.

Commodification doesn’t only happen within the life of the families but it has influenced Christian schools in Indonesia in some ways. First, we can identify it through the way community sees the measure of the quality of a school and how the schools are influenced by that view. Today’s parents value buildings, facilities, and high-tech equipments as the indicators of a good school. There is also a notion that schools with high tuition rates are elite schools and the other with low or affordable tuition rates are “cheap” school. As the result, many Christian schools prefer to invest their fund into new buildings and facilities than into professional development programs for their teachers and administrators. Furthermore, they associate commodities with the school quality and God’s blessings. Once, a Christian school board member honestly told me that building and facilities are more visible than the teachers’ developed competency. What parents can see is more attractive than the educational quality of the faculty itself. He says that the new building, with all its first class facilities, is the sign of God’s blessings upon them.

The influence of commodification, secondly, can be observed in the Christian schools’ marketing and advertisement. Educators in Christian schools perceive the number of the enrolled students as the measure whether or not a school is a “favorite” school. Therefore, they will do everything they can to increase the enrollment. The popular way of doing it is a marketing strategy that mainly uses advertisement media. And when they advertise the schools, they highlight some promises, such as “international or imported” curriculum, certain foreign standardized testing, and expatriate teachers, hoping that those elements will attract more parents and students. This way considers the parents and students as consumers and the relationship developed between the school and its

consumers is a business contractual relationship, while according to the fundamental values of education, parents are partners in building the next generation. The focus of such educational service is the satisfaction of the consumers and not the God’s will for every unique student in the school. In this case, the customers’ satisfaction frequently measured by a commoditized success they expect in the future of their children.

The last influence discussed in this article is the management style that recruits teachers by offering a better salary and benefits than what they are receiving. There are only few good and committed Christian teachers in Indonesia while teacher is a “road less traveled”—a less chosen profession. The increasing number of new Christian schools and the demand of innovating old Christian schools have made the recruitment and the maintaining teachers harder. This situation drives Christian schools to be more pragmatic to look for instant solution. Instead of investing in the life of envisioned Christian young people, many schools send out their head-hunter teams to attract Christian educators who are serving in other Christian schools. Two things happened as the result of this process. First, some Christian schools are struggling and dying because they are powerless in keeping their good teachers. Second is the high turnover of teachers. After some years, those teachers will move again to another “better” Christian schools because, “…my salary will be doubled there as I’m gaining the credential here but my load will be lighter!”—a teacher confessed. It’s true that God may want them to move to a better Christian school, however, we can never fully understand their deepest motivation in leaving their current schools.

Some questions to ponder

The trends explained above have put Christian schools in Indonesia in a difficult situation. It seems that their board members really need God’s wisdom in making day by day decisions and in setting the direction toward the future of the schools as God wants them to be. Following questions may help us responding to the challenge.

What is the ultimate goal of Christian schooling?

Answering this question, we must go back to the Bible. 1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us that the goal of whatever we do should be the glory of God. However, every student has his or her own unique way to achieve God’s glory using the talent they received from God (Matthew 25:13-30). Therefore, Christian schooling should maximize one’s unique potential in Christ in order for him or her to glorify God through whatever he or she’s called to do. It’s beyond a commoditized success—more than an economical return a student will get in the future. Christian schools must help parents to understand this and to let their children to accomplish God’s purpose for their life. The keywords are God’s talent, God’s will, and God’s glory.

What is the measure of a good Indonesian Christian school?

This is a question frequently asked by parents that is very difficult to answer. “International or imported” curriculum, certain foreign standardized testing, or expatriate teachers certainly attract today’s parents and can boost the quality of a school. However, in crafting a good Christian education program, a school should consider deliberately their students’ background; who are they and what kind of situation they will face in the rest of their life. From the point of view of the curriculum development theory, Christian schools in Indonesia should realize that only a low percentage of Indonesian students really need such imported elements even if their parents want them. So, we can judge the quality of a Christian school only twenty or thirty years from now, looking at how their students glorify God. For the mean time, a Christian school accreditation will help the schools to improve their quality.

What can be done by Christian schools in reaching out to the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid in Indonesia?

Poverty is one of the biggest challenges in Indonesia. And Christian schools, as a part of the ministry of the Indonesian Christian faith community, must try hard to touch the life of Indonesian children—as many as they can. That means providing educational access for majority of Indonesian children who belong to the poor families. Only through this way, we can create stability for the future of Indonesia. Some Christian school organizations have been moving toward this direction by providing three levels of school, i.e. an ‘expensive’ school, an ‘ordinary’ school, and a free or low-tuition school. It’s indeed a good progress! However, the number of children from poor families is far beyond the capacity of those Christian free or low-tuition schools. Indonesian Christian schools should try to do more. There might be also other ways of reaching out to the bottom of Indonesian socio-economic pyramid. It is an urgent missiological ministry since the dominating religion has been using this approach to extinct Christian influence from the life of Indonesian people.

How can we provide enough good committed Christian teachers to meet the need of Christian schools all over Indonesia?

The true Christian education requires good and committed Christian teachers in molding the next generation of Christian. Head-hunting approach is only a temporary solution for a Christian school in building their faculty. There should be more Christian young people giving their life to the field of Christian education. Pastors are the ones who have the best position and authority to envision and to challenge them through their pulpits. In addition, there must be more affordable Christian teacher colleges that can produce and distribute good and committed Christian teachers throughout Indonesia. These Christian colleges should encourage their students to serve Christian schools not only in big cities but also in small towns so that we don’t reduce the geographical coverage of Christian influence through Christian schools.





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