A Particular Kind of Education

What is the purpose of education? Is it to push students to know as much about the world as they possibly can? Is it for them to build upon the discoveries unearthed by our predecessors? Or is it primarily concerned with urging the best and brightest to dig up brand new revelations by themselves? All of these guesses are quite accurate, as they cover partial aspects for why education is a necessity for each and every member of humanity. But they are, in my personal opinion, not the primary motivation for why we learn. The attribute I’m alluding to, is most commonly known as ‘curiosity’.

A desire which conjures up an obsession with finding out as much as we can about the world around us, by whatever means available. It may not strictly be directed at the natural or social sciences, but it is unquestionable that all of us have at one point in our lives, desperately wanted to know about something. Regardless of our personal motivations, our penchant for learning has granted us the capacity to develop as individuals and as a species. Our brains have collectively given us abilities far beyond those bestowed by claws, fangs, tentacles, et cetera. It is rather puzzling then, to witness certain institutions actively strive to hamper what is arguably the most powerful tool we have at our disposal. I am of course referring to education systems.

Educational institutions, from kindergartens to universities supposedly have the goal of encouraging their pupils to learn. In the sense of broadening the interests of students, assisting them in their quest to understand, to discover, and find joy in sating their curiosity. Yet in most cases, at least in Indonesia, this is not what happens by any stretch of the imagination.
Instead of hypothesizing, experimenting, or even simply observing, Indonesian students are implored to memorize and obey authorities without question. And startlingly, at least for myself, there is a political motivation behind the two teaching practices, one I will discuss later in the text.

But first, I ask you dear reader, to imagine a group of pupils that are currently in a biology classroom. Do they discuss theories or perform experiments—ones that aren’t directed step by step by the teacher? Nope. What is likely to happen is a bunch of students sitting silently at their desks jotting down notes, while the educator preaches of material treated as dogma. If one of these learners muster up the courage to trigger a debate about the accuracy of the subject at hand, he would in all likelihood be treated as nuisance to the class, both by his peers and mentor. An implication that the students should all simply memorize the topics presented instead of questioning them, should they wish to get a passing grade. This scenario may sound plausible on the middle-school or even high-school levels, but sadly its plausibility reaches beyond those early stages of education. Instances akin to this hypothetical scene also plays out in universities.

In well-respected Indonesian universities, the likes of the University of Indonesia for instance, certain lecturers are equally intolerant of student behavior that deviates from the pre-planned curriculum. I learned from a source that in a Philosophy of Politics class, none of the pupils are allowed to question the information presented to them. In a philosophy class! A subject birthed by questions, critiques, and debates! I find it difficult to conjure up a more explicit exhibit of how overvalued memorization is, and how insignificant actual learning is perceived by Indonesia’s education system. A problem which, surprisingly, segues into the issue of obedience without question.

The social critic and political activist Noam Chomsky made a noteworthy statement regarding education systems,

“…let’s have a mass education system, but of a particular kind, one that inculcates obedience, subordination, acceptance of authority, acceptance of doctrine. One that doesn’t raise too many questions.”

What Chomsky meant is that quintessentially, education systems have a purpose outside of teaching. We have seen so far that arguing with established curriculum is a pointless exercise that is often treated with hostility. It would be reasonable to make an assumption that the rigidity of educational institutions stems from laziness, conservatism, or other equally feasible reasons. But what Chomsky proposes is that behind the inflexible characteristic of academies, lies a political motive.

Let us turn back to the remark, “[An education system] that doesn’t raise too many questions.” Why build an establishment which actively discourages inquiries, especially when the establishment should be encouraging students to inquire. It’s a method that is both ironic and convoluted. However, that is not to say that the technique is pointless and ineffective.

Why are students dissuaded from putting forward questions? The answer involves the concept of indoctrination; inducing peoples’ inquisitiveness into a state of unconsciousness, by providing them with information that cannot and must never be disputed. This intellectual comatose is instilled early on through Indonesia’s education system, by way of forbidding students from challenging the information forcibly embedded into their minds.

The process takes many years, and could potentially never end, but the student then increasingly becomes more and more obedient. They would rather not elicit a debate for fear of chastisement either from their equals or superiors. Answers to questions are chosen not for their accuracy, but because others—especially authority figures—decided that the answers are correct, despite arguments to the contrary. The effect of the Indonesian education system is essentially the transforming and conditioning of students into becoming gullible pawns. Through the lens of realist politics, a voter-base consisting of the unquestioning and the compliant, is a goldmine for securing power.

When the majority of a population accepts the decisions of the ruling class, then they have turned into nothing more than servants of the powerful. Repressing peoples’ urges to call into question the actions of a society’s elites equates to allowing them to conduct themselves in whatever way they see fit. Even if their behavior actively harms the interests of the many and benefit only their coterie. The government is then run not by the people for the people, but by the powerful and for the powerful. This state of affairs is a standard in Indonesia.

The Indonesian people must take action to reform the current education system. Not only due to its failure in evoking the curiosity of students, but primarily because of how it is used for engendering compliance with the status quo, and misplaced trust in the words of the unethical yet powerful.

A nation must not be run by those who seek only to satisfy their own cravings. As such a nation would amount to a playground for those who managed to come into power. While those who are less fortunate, would be forced to stay at the peripheries, with their needs largely ignored. In spite of how the weak are mistreated, they are still content to remain at the beck and call of the elites. How could they not? They have, since their childhoods after all, been taught that to obey is good and to disobey is bad. Thus, the necessity to rebuild Indonesia’s education system.


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