2B or not 2B?

That is the question —
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?
William Shakespeare (Hamlet)

Our Kid who will be sitting the SMA national exam today, tomorrow and Wednesday, and will therefore be coming to the end of a dozen years of suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous schooling. It is certain that he has enough pencils to fill in rows of circles marked A, B, C and D, because that is all he’s been doing during the current school year.

He hasn’t learnt anything new because everything has been geared to reinforcing the sets of knowledge inculcated by his teachers in the past school years in order to maximise his grades.

Taken from umpteen practice tests, teachers use these for assessment purposes and we parents are handed computer printouts which give percentages of each tested subject.

That Our Kid has a stash of 2B pencils is but one indication of how well schooled he has become, much like the performing monkeys, the tethered topeng monyet now banned by Jokowi from Jakarta’s streets. The most creative part of his ‘education’ has been in working out the intentions of the test setters in writing the questions.

Because he’s on the cusp of being free to leave the family nest, and Our Kid becomes Our Lad, my immediate role is to teach him how to fly in safety. There’s a big wide world to explore, and I want him to go where he will and where the wind blows him with his mind’s eye wide open. We can but wish him a good life, full of curiosity, creativity and communality.
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From my standpoint as a both a teacher and a parent I have often – too often – posted here criticisms of what I came to call the ujian monyet. I hope that this is my final rant against anti-standardised tests, but suspect it won’t be.

I’d be happy to leave the subject to others.

We need to stop thinking of our brains as filing cabinets, and treat them more like the creative, indulgent creatures that they are.
– Tristan Verboven, editor in chief of The Class Struggle.

The entire schooling system with its emphasis on assessment and marking is geared towards the end result: the grade rather than the content, and this inevitability led to a feeling I would have been better off going home to study independently.
– Harry Cunningham, currently studying English at Loughborough University in the UK.

Therry says that “the education system in [Indonesia] has taught us all to do things as told. There is too much time spent copying down and memorising useless facts, [but] not to do things because we are passionate about it; or because we want to know how and why things work.

We are never taught to think, to solve problems, to question, to wonder, to challenge and to argue [against] what is already there.

In the USA, teachers are banding together to boycott standardised tests. Manycan no longer implement policies that seek to transform the broad promises of public education into a narrow obsession with the ranking and sorting of children.”
See FairTest for similar campaigns.

The goal needs to shift from one of making a system that teaches children a curriculum more efficiently to one of making the system more effective by inspiring lifelong learning in students, so that they are able to have full and productive lives in a rapidly shifting economy.
Steve Denning

If we first teach children how to learn, they will not only learn the ‘basics’ but more and in much greater depth.
– Tony Buzan, inventor of mind maps

Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything learned in school.
– Albert Einstein

Image of the Week – 101 (Bridget Riley)

No painter, dead or alive, has ever made us more aware of our eyes than Bridget Riley.
– Robert Melville, 1971

Bridget Riley is now 83, and has been part of my life since I first encountered her op-art in the mid-sixties.

Earlier this month a mural has been ‘unveiled’ in the trauma unit on the 10th floor of St. Mary’s hospital in Paddington, London.

She said: “It reminds patients that theirs is a transitory state, that they are there to recover and rejoin life – that life goes on, and life is outside, and they feel reassured.”

Some 27 years ago, she painted the corridors on the 8th and 9th floors.

If I were a patient in the hospital, which she herself has been, my impression might well be that it’s a bloody (no pun intended) long way to the exit.

To be fair, that everything is painted by hand – no rulers, masking tape or mechanical means are used when actually applying the paints – gives rise to a feeling of some awe.

I might some day be a patient, but I doubt I’d ever have the patience to undertake such a project

John H. McGlynn – Lontar Foundation

If the word of God had come down to the Indonesian archipelago, this is where it would have remained.”
- John H. McGlynn, Co-founder and Chairman of Lontar Foundation

For much of the world, Indonesia is an exotic country next to Bali, and Java is where coffee comes from. It’s viewed as a land of smiles, of gamelan, spices, volcanoes, komodo dragons, and photogenic rice terraces.

It’s also seen in the international media as a country of natural and manmade disasters: tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, plane crashes, deforestation and occasional terrorism.

There are few foreigners who make the effort to dig deeper, to discover what makes Indonesia tick. One Jakarta expat who has, and has also done more than most of us to make Indonesia tick, is John McGlynn.

Although we have friends in common, we hadn’t previously met nor had I visited the Lontar Foundation’s centre in a backstreet of Pejompongan, Central Jakarta. From the outside, it is a modern looking house, but once inside I was impressed by the comfortable decor: dark wooden floors creaked, several alcoves were lined with full but tidy wooden book shelves, and there were enough comfy rattan chairs to provide the familiarity of a well-run library. I was impressed too by the large oil paintings which couldn’t readily be categorised as ‘Indonesian art’, but added to the ambiance.

The purpose of our meeting was to discuss Lontar which is noted for its translations into English of Indonesian ‘literature’, an often capitalised word which, as a non-academic, I viewed with some trepidation. I was taught to analyse ‘classic novels’ rather than to consider the stories and the background circumstances of the writing. However, John defines ‘literature’, in the broadest sense of the word, “as ranging from research reports, academic treatises, and patent schemes all the way up to film-scripts, comic novels, and poetry.”

John first came here in 1976 to study Indonesian, which he did first in Malang and later in Jakarta, at the University of Indonesia. In 1978 he returned to the the USA to complete his university studies, gaining a Masters Degree in Indonesian Literature at the University of Michigan in 1981. Thereafter he returned to Indonesia and it was while working as a freelance translator that he, along with Indonesian writers Sapardi Djoko Damono, Goenawan Mohamad, Subagio Sastrowardoyo and Umar Kayam decided to found Lontar in 1987.

Lontar is primarily John’s ‘baby’. As Pak Goenawan has said, “John works single-mindedly for our purpose: to bring Indonesian literary expressions to the world.”

Even for a polyglot, that’s no easy matter. The lingua franca during the Dutch colonial era was Malay, the language developed throughout the region by traders over a thousand years. It was originally written in an Indic script and then, after the coming of Islam to the archipelago, in an Arabic-based script called Jawi.

Then in 1901 the Dutch linguist Charles van Ophuijsen introduced a more systematic spelling system, one that conformed with Dutch spelling practices. In 1947, after the revolution of Indonesian independence, this spelling system was replaced with the Ejaan Yang Disempurnakan (Improved Spelling). The EYD system thus represents the third orthographic change.

Indonesian grew with Javanese, spoken by the majority, and other regional languages added to the complexity. It was not until 1972 that the EYD system was agreed with Malaysia, which had English and its own regional languages contributing to the mix, and hence Soeharto became Suharto, and Djakarta became …

——————-fr. Wikipedia

All this was largely irrelevant to most Indonesians, the large percentage of whom could not read or write. In rural Indonesia and urban kampungs the fantasy worlds of such Hindu classics as the Ramayana and Mahabarata stories were related by a visiting dalang (puppet master) who relayed their moral values, and during Soeharto’s Orde Baru often inserted his political messages.

In 1870, some of the Dutch-founded schools opened the doors for bumiputera (native Indonesians), albeit a privileged few. Moreover, it was not until 1950 that a six year programme of compulsory elementary schooling was introduced to newly independent Indonesia.

Hence, when Soeharto assumed power in 1966 the literacy rate was c.50%. The adoption of “The Functional Literacy Program”, which ran from 1966 to 1979 and was followed by other programmes, raised the literacy rate for adults to c.83% and for children to c.90% in 1998, the year Suharto (was) stood down. However, their aim was for economic, productive reasons rather than for freedom of thought.

By contrast, writing, especially fiction, offers the context of ‘place’ and, in John’s words, “the better books have real people in them” and can therefore be subversive: much of Indonesian literature has the nationalist struggle as the historical background. Post-independence, with the bureaucracy and military at their disposal, Presidents Soekarno and Soeharto imprisoned and exiled writers. The dawn of reformasi in 1998 and the growth of the internet and other communications technology has seen many more Indonesians speaking out via text messages, blogs, social media and novels.

However, what John wrote in an essay Silenced Voices, Muted Expressions for an anthology of ‘New Writing From Indonesia’: Indonesian Literature Today published by the University of Hawai’i in 2000, still holds true today.

He wrote: “Having grown up under constraints of freedom of expression and inquiry, an entire generation has been traumatized into becoming a society of silence and avoidance. Not until today’s young people have unlearned the ways of repression and a new generation has been educated to respect and defend its right to freedom of expression will true openness and democracy come to Indonesia.”

There is also the need to foster a love of reading in early childhood which John believes should start at home. However, although I think that schools have a greater role to play, many parents and teachers still have the mindset inculcated during Suharto’s régime, and only those who are enlightened, rather than blinkered with prejudices or self-interest, will encourage the freedom of thought engendered by easy access to fiction.

Good writing comes from wide reading, and access to it. So one of Lontar’s goals is “to stimulate the further development of Indonesian literature.”

In addition to its library of printed materials containing more than 3,000 books and other texts related to Indonesian literature, the foundation maintains a digital library [which] provides preservation and access to materials produced and gathered by the foundation over its 20+ year history including:
– videos from the Indonesian Writers Series, Indonesian Performance Traditions, and Wayang Kulit/Shadow Puppet Theater Series
– audio interviews and recordings with Indonesian authors and witnesses from significant events in Indonesian history.
– archival photographs of traditional manuscripts, colonial-era postcards, and historical images from the New Order to the present.

Frankfurt Book Fair 2015

John says that the aim of Lontar is to “promote knowledge of Indonesia through its literature”, and it is natural that he is a member of the ‘Indonesian National Committee for Preparing Indonesia as Guest of Honour in Frankfurt – 2015’.

The first Frankfurt Book Fair was held soon after Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable type printing press in around 1439. Revived in 1949, it is now the world’s largest and most prestigious book fair. Since 1986 a country, or region, has been chosen as ‘Guest of Honour’.

However, with several government ministries and a large number of departments involved, as well as the Goethe Institut, Lontar and others, he thinks preparations should have been started earlier than the end of last year, if only to have a larger range of books at Frankfurt.

Over the years, John has worked with more than 100 translators and is well aware of the time required to produce a literary translation that “is both felicitous to the original text and appealing to the target audience”. However, a worrisome fact is that of those 100 translators “no more than a dozen are both truly fluent both in Indonesian and English.”

John further notes that “for the rest, a heavy dose of editing is usually required.”

However, some good news has recently been received: the Ministry of Education and Culture has established a translation funding program, the ‘I-Lit (Indonesian Literature in Translation) Program

For those who like to carry many books on their travels, the Kindle is ideal, John says, but we both agreed that with such devices something is lost. Printed books are shared, and one can learn a lot about folk by browsing their shelves of well-thumbed books.

Lontar books are available in Indonesia at Periplus bookstores, in Bali at Ganesha bookstores, and abroad through Amazon as print-on-demand paperbacks. They are also available as e-books through Book Cyclone.

Lontar website.
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First published in the Indonesia Expat magazine (Issue 115 – 8.4.14)

Image of the Week – 100 (Bergen)


This photo was taken by Graham Taylor for the Guardian.

I’ve never been to Scandinavia, but this photo offers a sense of community which small towns in northern, wintery, climes engender.

If you can’t get on with your neighbours here, you’ve got serious problems.

Greeks bearing gifts?

A current online poll of voters’ choices.

There is a stark choice facing electors next week: to vote or not to vote?

Such is the disenchantment with the current batch of elected legislators that it’s quite possible that in the elections for the national legislature to be held next Wednesday turnout will be lower than the 70.99% of electors who exercised their right to choose in 2009.

And if they do vote, there’s a fairly stark choice: to continue with the ‘same old-same old’ or to to pin their faith in the unknown. Because I remain an unashamed optimist, I know which party’s presidential candidate would get my vote, but then I don’t have one.

However, Our Kid does now he’s legally an adult having turned 17 – my, how time fles! I’ve emphasised to him that he has a responsibility to choose candidates who will best represent his interests and those of the community at large. After all, Indonesia can now claim to be the third largest democracy in the world, after India and the USA.

Unfortunately, if democracy is a system of government by the people for the people, Indonesia’s nascent version has proven to be, in Winston Churchill‘s words, “the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.

Suharto’s old guard élite still cling to the vestiges of their power, a topic I’ve already commented on. Akbar Tandjung is the one person in this photo who hasn’t declared himself as a candidate for the presidency. However, he’s now said that he’s prepared, if nominated, to be the vice president, and he may well have the backing of the yellow-jacketed Golkar Party who don’t want their nominee, the Abominable Bakrie to be their presidential nominee, even though they’re stuck with him.

I am concerned however about one group which, having been told not to interfere, could be trying to exert undue influence on the results of the election, not by fraud but by determining the party political platforms.

All adult citizens, age 17 or older, are eligible to vote except active members of the military and the police, convicts serving a sentence of five years or more, persons suffering from mental disorders, and persons deprived of voting rights by an irrevocable verdict of a court of justice. Married juveniles are legally adults and allowed to vote.

President Gen (ret) Suharto ensured a tame legislature by reserving a number of seats for the military/police faction. It wasn’t until the 2004 election, with the police and military now separate bodies, that all seats were elected.

It could be argued that TNI (Indonesian armed forces) have never readjusted from their pre-eminent dwifungsi role when the greatest threat to Indonesia’s integrity was deemed by Suharto to be internal rather than external. Criminal actions by active personnel involving the public are still tried in military tribunals rather than civil courts.

Although TNI commander Gen. Moeldoko has repeatedly claimed that that his institution will remain neutral in the elections, once military personnel have retired they are quite properly permitted to enter the political sphere.

Hence the Post notes that 41 “influential retired generals” are shaping up the strategies of all ten parties, and that another article suggests that a former general (or Gen. Moeldoko) may be nominated as Jokowi’s vice president (because they are “loyal” to Sukarno’s daughter former President Megawati). A footnote in the same article notes that a week ago “hundreds of retired military officers declared their support of Gerinda chief patron Prabowo Subianto, a former commando of Kopassus.

Among those pledging support is Lt. Gen (ret.) Yunus Yosfiah – a former Kopassus captaing during Indonesia’s 1975 invasion of East Timor.”

Because Indonesia is now the world’s third largest democracy – a system of government by the people for the people – I’ve no objection to any of that, and I’ll defend their right to express their opinions, however much I dislike them.

But then, can a leopard change its spots? Is there a place in a democracy for a leader with a military mindset from the dictatorial past determining a possible undemocratic future?

Prabowo has set himself up as being on the side of farmers and fishermen low down on the nations economic totem pole by talking of a ‘people’s economy‘ .

His former boss, Gen. (ret) Wiranto, has been bankrolled by Hary Tanoesoedibjo, owner of MNC Global whose satellite TV service I subscribe to. Programmes are regularly interrupted by adverts for the People’s Conscience Party (Hanura), which harbors many Soeharto loyalists and family members, will propose the pair should it succeed in passing the threshold [25% of the votes] for proposing presidential candidates.

The ads show the pair smiling with fishermen and farmers, which is hardly original because Prabowo has been doing the same for at least a couple of years.

It should also be noted that PDI-P, the party of Jokowi, has as its platform a commiment to defend wong cilik, a Javanese term for the poor and disadvantaged.

A recent survey by Charta Politika (CP) shows that, apart from Golkar, voters choose figures rather than parties.

CP director Yunarto Wijaya said, “This finding indicates a symptom of what is called ‘idol democracy’ wherein political parties tend to merely serve as fan-club organizers that build a cult of personality around certain figures to lure more voters.”

Indeed, and voters need to beware of Greeks bearing gifts.*

Who’s going to win a lucrative seat here next week?

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* Do not trust anyone who offers to do something nice for you, when they’ve done something bad to others.
Friend Martin Jenkins has a ‘satirical guide’ to the political party leaders and presidential candidates here.

Image of the Week – 99 (Prabawo)

Today's image is pure theatre. It shows the former son-in-law of the dethroned dictator Suharto, Prabowo Subianto, prancing in front of a half-filled Bung Karno stadium last Sunday.

Man of the poor and down-trodden is how he's portrayed himself recently, but he came across as the very model of a modern major-general, although Il Duce, the fascist Italian dictator who was lynched by the populace at the end of World War 2 comes readily to mind.
And that was my comment when I first saw the article in Monday's Jakarta Post. The same photo, and a few others can also be seen in Tempo, but it's the Post which has stirred up a lively two-sided debate.

This photo shows that the stadium was far from full, and that pleases me. One of the over 100 comments under the Post article suggests that Gerindra (Great Indonesia Movement Party) "spent more than Rp.1 billion to hire 1000 participants per 1 legislative candidate." That's Rp. 1 million each, a vastly increased sum compared to what other political parties pay to harness 'supporters' for their election rallies.

But then, there are few hard facts about Prabowo. He is widely castigated for his perceived role in the May '98 riots, and an alleged coup attempted shortly after Habibie succeeded Suharto. Yet, as others have pointed out, he may have been a fall guy, possibly set up by the USA – a chilling article.

After all, all the army units were under the ultimate control of another smiling, singing general: Wiranto, another current presidential candidate.

Disappearances and torture of students, of labour activists, of 'terrorists' in East Timor (now labelled 'freedom fighters' following the new nation's independence and name change to Timor Leste).

All these, and more, can be added to the catalogue of human rights abuses perpetrated pre-reformasi by the armed forces under the command of desk-bound Wiranto, and the commander of the dreaded KOPASSUS (Special Forces Command) lead by Prabowo.

It must be noted here that last Sunday KontraS (The Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence) held a press conference to publically state that neither Wiranto and Prabowo are on their 'clean list'. (in bhs Indonesia)

It is not my intention here to categorically state who did what, when and/or why: I'll leave that to historians and others more academically inclined than I. However, there is one particular incident in Prabowo's career which directly tainted my view of him.

One Saturday morning in 1996 (or 7), I was conducting Cambridge University English oral tests at the British Council. One candidate for the highest level (near native speaker fluency) was Henry Fournier, the (then former?) head of Indonesia's branch of the International Red Cross (ICRC.)

From January 8th to May 15th, Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM), the liberation movement of Irian Jaya (now West Papua) took 26 people hostage. 15 were soon released, leaving 11 hostages, four Britons, five Indonesians and two Netherlanders.

The ICRC acted as a neutral humanitarian intermediary between the parties concerned as well as providing humanitarian assistance. When the leader of the hostage-takers, Kelly Kwalik, refused to budge from his demand that Irian Jaya should be granted independence, the ICRC could no longer act as intermediary, but could continue their humanitarian assistance.

The next day, the Indonesian army, under the command of Prabowo, moved in and rescued all but two of the hostages. These two, both Indonesians, were killed by local villagers as a reprisal for the killing of many of their menfolk by Prabowo's forces during the 'operational exercise'.

However, a key question remains, one that Monsieur Fournier expressed to me: did the white helicopter Prabowo's forces use have a red cross painted on it? The ICRC report was published in 1999.

There can be no doubt that the military forces that took action on 9 May 1996 in Ngesselema made perfidious use of the ICRC's role in the affair (i.e. the white helicopter). They may also have misused the emblem, though this has not been definitely proved.

You can see Prabowo, and hear from former hostages, Kelly Kwalik, Henry Fournier and the head of the ICRC in Geneva, and others, including local villagers, in this BBC investigatory documentary broadcast in 1999. It's on YouTube in three parts: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
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There is much more that can be written about Prabowo.
For example:
1. His business interests and ethics e.g. PT Nusantara v Churchill
2. His attitude towards workers (whose interests his political party now purports to represent.)
- In 2004, PT Kiani Kertas, a pulp and paper company in East Kalimantan part-owned by Prabowo, had to suspend production (again) for six months. (Did the workers go unpaid?)
- In 2005, PT Kiani Kertas was reported to be using his dreaded Kopassus trioops to provide 'security'.
- In August 2006, PT Kiani Kerta began a campaign of intimidation against the trade union federation of Forestry and Agriculture workers (HUKATAN-KSBSI). …………………………………………………………………………
As much and as often as he uses his western education to portray himself in articulate articles and letters to the media, it doesn't change my opinion of Prabowo.

He must never be entrusted with the presidency of a country which is slowly learning how to be truly independent from its colonial past. He was and, as proved by the photo above, still is, part of it.

Furthermore, much like his erstwhile mentor and father (in law) figure Suharto, would he use the presidency to line his own pockets?
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Contrasting fortunes … an essay by Grace Ong worth reading.

Image of the Week – 98 (Election Erection)

fr. @yatespj

With election fever taking hold in Indonesia, is this pemimpin* pimping his daughter for votes?

Neat!
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* pemimpin = leader
Putra asli kampung Bugis = a real Bugis man. The Bugis, in south-west Sulawesi are famed as seafarers. It has been suggested that because of their habit of raiding European ships on the way to and from the Spice Islands (the Moluccas) sailors were warned to ‘beware of the Bugis men’.Hence British children were warned to behave “or the bogeyman will get you” while American children had the ‘boogeyman’.

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