A. Mission triangle & Christian school
Christian schools in Indonesia was started for the first time in the 17th century by Dutch Presbyterian missionaries. It’s founded as a part of their mission strategy in touching Indonesian people’s life. The strategy was known as mission triangle, in which they started Christian school, Christian hospital, and the church in approximately the same time. Some of those schools and hospitals are still in their existence today.
”The Good Old Days”
Our history proves that the mission triangle was an effective strategy in starting and nurturing a new Christian community. For centuries, Indonesian Christian schools were known as high quality education institutions. Many national leaders, Christian and non-Christian, who hold strategic positions in this country today are graduates of these Christian schools. However, entering the end of 20th century (in the eighties), the quality and quantity of Christian schools were in the decline. My survey in the province of East Java (2002) indicates that we are loosing at least fifty percent of Christian schools and as I travel to the other provinces, people tell their “good old days” stories. It means that they are not in a condition as good as before. Another discovery shows that those remaining Christian schools in East Java can only accommodate twenty five percent of children from Christian families. The remaining seventy five percent are in the non-Christian schools. Lastly, but most surprising, is the fact that there were only around seventy percent of Christian schools teachers who are Christian, not counting the nominal Christians. Can we say that we are loosing our next generation of Indonesian Christian?
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 mandates Christian parents to educate their children in God’s word, first for survival of His people, and furthermore for a prosper existence (6:1-3). The Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 doesn’t talk only about spreading the Gospel, convert people, and baptize them into Christian faith community, but also emphasizes “teaching them to observe all things whatsoever Jesus commanded them”. Mission can’t be separated from Christian education process. Christian Education definitely is an integral part of Christian mission. The question is whether or not we can still use the same framework—the mission triangle—for our mission works in Indonesia today. The reality shows that many churches detached themselves from Christian schools since they see their schools as mere a burden. Should we formulate another mission framework? How about the future of our Christian schools? Should we sacrifice our next generation of Indonesian Christian? How many Indonesian church leaders asking these questions? How many of them see their church growth from this perspective?
B. ”Plus school movement”
Today we witness the mushrooming of so-called National-Plus schools. Many of them declare themselves as Christian schools. Are they? What “plus” do they offer?
National-Plus school trend was started in the early nineties. It was a self-effort to raise the quality of education in Indonesia. It’s started by a Christian group who wants academic excellence and stronger Christian spirituality in their school. They realized that they can’t expect too much from the government. We can see this trend also as a reaction toward what they call traditional schooling which is perceived as education that emphasizes memorization, passive learning, paper & pencil testing, and—over all—low quality education.
The Felt Needs
Comparing schooling in Indonesia to other countries, parents feel that they need the National-Plus schools. Bilingual or even tri-lingual education, active learning, multiple intelligences approach, creative teaching method, international or foreign curriculum, winning the school subjects Olympics or competitions are some of the terms they use to attract parents. When the felt needs met by the school advertisement, National-Plus schooling became a trend or movement. Another fact that emerged together with the National-Plus schooling movement is the developing number of schools that are owned by individual or family. During their development, these schools are facing challenges.
Its Challenges & Future
The first challenge is recruiting quality teachers. Teacher is a vital element to school quality. Since these National-Plus schools didn’t start with teacher empowerment program, which is a life-long investment in nature, they employed English speaking foreigners to teach in the classes. And since qualified English speaking teachers demand relatively high salary, they tend to hire anybody who can speak English without considering the person’s teaching credentials. Only the well funded schools can hire qualified teachers. Some international and national educators have frequently expressed their concern. One of them is Pieter Van Der Vienhart of Tilburg, Netherlands in his Jakarta Post article, The Myth Of National Plus Schools In RI (September 03, 2005). He tells, “English is being used to justify expensive schools without sufficient educational credentials and credibility. Some schools so significantly predicate themselves on the idea of English within the school that they simplistically employ people that can use the language but have absolutely no educational management skills or experience. One school claiming national plus status was reported to me as employing a man as its "Headmaster" simply on the basis that he could speak English. He had previously been employed in one of Jakarta’s many private English schools – and, it seems, one of the less reputable ones to boot.”
Choosing a curriculum is the second challenge. An educator who understands curriculum theory and development will not buy the idea of “international or imported curriculum”. Curriculum design should start from the localities or domestic situation of the children the school serves and projected toward their future. However, in many school advertisements in Indonesian media, the terminology still sells. To keep their promise, these schools chose any foreign curriculum material or so-called curriculum system that they see will meet their need. In many cases, the chosen curriculum was the only one they knew or the first one introduced to the decision makers. “It is abundantly clear to anyone that takes the time to look that there are some very good schools that genuinely can offer a number of "pluses" beyond what national schools generally are able to offer and this includes bilingual programs. These schools can truly be called national plus. But, in the current context, it would be wrong for us to uncritically accept the title "national plus" as a guarantor of either bilingual schooling or, for that matter, quality educational management and systems.” (Der Vienhart, September 03, 2005)
There are more challenges, but this is the last one I discuss in this article: equal access to a quality education. Foreign teachers, imported curriculum, high profile marketing programs, and excellent facilities are only few things out of many elements that make a school to be a National-Plus school. These elements imply a big investment. And to make the budget balance, or even to make a margin, the school must set a high tuition rate. Remembering the fact that many of these schools are personally owned by an individual or a family, the pressure of economic motivation is there to set the tuition fee as high as it’s possible. Then, access to National-Plus schools opens only to the children of the families on the tip of Indonesian socio-economical pyramid. Even if the school provides financial assistance for scholarships, I don’t thing that “ordinary” parents have enough confidence to send their children to a school that is perceived as an elite school and let them mingle with children from the rich families who study there. Besides, how many scholarship students a National-Plus school can accommodate? Another international educator, Eric E. Hallett, warned us about this situation (Most Indonesian Schools Struggling with Bilingual Education Issue - Jakarta Post, July 23, 2005). He says, “The cost to Indonesian society of isolating bilingual education in one resource-laden segment of the education market is too great. We need to also address the challenge of providing instruction in English to a broader range of students who attend less privileged, but equally important schools. Without this widening of our focus these schools are indeed going to find themselves once again unable to provide good educational value which will contribute to the ever increasing gap between socio-economic groups in Indonesia.”
Looking at the future of Indonesian Christian generation, Christian-Plus or so called International schools must face the challenges above and look for solutions. Some questions to ask: What plus or pluses do Christian-Plus schools offer? Do Christian-Plus schools continually empower Indonesian Christian teachers or just import them from other schools or other countries? Do Christian-Plus schools provide equal access to the mass? Do the owners or the board members of Christian-Plus schools really understand that they miss more than 70% Indonesian children who can’t afford to pay the currently set tuition and who will become potential serious social problems in the future? Do we really need a Christian-Plus school? What kind of Christian-Plus schools do we need for Indonesian children who come from Christian families?
C. Setting a direction: ACSI mission
Right after preaching in a Sunday service at Davao City sometime in the year 2000, a SIL missionary who was assigned at Papua, Alan Farlin, approached me and told me about Association of Christian School International (ACSI). I followed up the conversation through email communication with ACSI headquarters in Colorado Spring. A year later ACSI invited me to attend its conference in Davao city, to meet with Dr. Phillip Renicks – Vice President for International Ministries, and to give a presentation about Christian schooling in Indonesia. In November 2002, ACSI sent Steve Abelman – former Asia Director of ACSI - and his wife Kay to conduct some seminars in Surabaya and to observe some Christian schools. Finally, on 10 June 2003, ACSI was started officially in Indonesia.
Empowering Christian Schools: Combining The “School” & The “Christian” Aspects
ACSI’s vision is to empower Christian teachers and schools world wide to effectively prepare students for life. In doing this, our approach is combining the academic excellence (“School” aspect) with spiritual formation (“Christian” aspect). The goal of ACSI is to assist your school in producing graduates who think increasingly with the mind of Christ, who are prepared to live lives of reconciliation in a needy world, and who are well prepared in all academic disciplines.
One of the long nurtured Christian education myths is the idea of submitting the spiritual formation responsibility only to Christian Religion teacher. ACSI strongly encourages Christian schools to share the responsibility to all individuals (teachers, principal, cleaning staff, and even the security guards) in the school. This can be done through what we called biblical integration. Every body has the responsibility to integrate the Words of God in their educational interactions with the students. Of course, in many cases, Christian schools are forced to accept non-Christian educators because of the shortage of good Christian teachers. However, ACSI would like to challenge all Christian school leaders to develop a commitment toward the distinct aspect of a Christian school—Biblical Integration. In Indonesia, ACSI provides various programs that will help Christian educators and schools in implementing the biblical integration.
There are at least three ways of integrating the Biblical values in the school, i.e.
- Through the life of Christian educators
A good teacher brings his/ her life into the teaching. It is impossible to separate the instruction from the life of a teacher. A teacher life is the most influential power in the school that transforms students’ life. So, the spiritual formation of the students is depending to the kind of life their teachers have. Do the teachers have a life that is full with God’s word? Or do the teachers have the habit of fill up their life with junk media consumption?
- Through out curriculum
Another way of integrating the Bible is through out the curriculum. All subjects must bring the students to the higher level of knowing and experiencing God. Therefore, all subjects should integrate what the Bible teaches about the topic. Christian schools need to realize that there is no neutral curriculum or curriculum materials. A curriculum or curriculum material is always developed or written from a philosophy of education. It’s either Christian or non-Christian. It’s the reason for ACSI to see the importance of providing Biblical values integrated curriculum materials.
- Through school culture & policy
We can just the level of a school Christianess by its organizational culture and policy. Christian school leaders need to be careful in creating and nurturing its culture inside the school. They need also to be wise in developing the school policies so people know that Christ is the center. ACSI offers various trainings for Christian school leaders in doing it.
Calling For & Empowering Christian Educators: The Road Less Traveled
Becoming a Christian teacher is “the Road Less Traveled”. The best Christian young people have not seen teacher as a prospective profession that will guarantee their future. Of course the main consideration is the general idea about successful life. We need to continually encourage Christian young people to give their life into the ministry of Christian school teaching.
D. Finishing the fourth year
Many times, ACSI is seen as “new kid on the block”. Finishing its fourth year, ACSI has not done enough for Christian schools inIndonesia. However, I want to praise God for what He has done so far: Ebenezer—The LORD has helped us all the way! It is my dream to see Indonesian churches taking Christian schooling as their serious and strategic ministry of Christian mission and church growth. It will be a great joy to witness the graduates of Indonesian Christian schools making big impact and transform this country and beyond!