“What does our respectful job mean if we are sidelined with nobody greeting us or talking to us? When will our school buildings improve their grade from just a chicken coop? Here is buried the remains of a teacher, who died of starvation after living on a salary that runs out in only one day.”
These are lines from his poem read by a noted educator and a former rector of Jakarta Teachers Training Institute, Winarno Surachmad. Unfortunately they were read in the presence of Josef Kalla, the Vice President, at the 60th anniversary celebration of the Indonesian Teachers Association (PGRI) held yesterday in Solo.
And JK took umbrage.
Kalla said he understood that teachers were not paid well enough, but maintained that such an expression of pessimism was unnecessary.
“I know our school buildings are not that luxurious, but I’m convinced they are not like chicken coops. I know your salary is low, but it will not run out in just a day,” Kalla said. “If we all work hard, our economy will improve and everybody will be well-paid.”
Prior to his departure back to Jakarta later in the day, Kalla said the poetry was offending. “Teachers form the nation’s soul and character. If you mock the nation, who will respect it? This country needs high spirits to develop,” Kalla explained.
High spirits and low salaries are an unbalanced distortion. Where is the dedication if teachers have to take secondary jobs to support their families?
Kalla is, of course, a millionaire from his business interests. New entrants to the teaching profession earn less than Rp.1 million ($100) a month.
Teachers with small take-home pay have no spare money to buy good books to increase their relevant knowledge. Many do not even have enough money to subscribe to newspapers.
Some teachers are lucky enough to have regular obyekan (incidental money-making projects) at schools during office hours. While others have to do side jobs after work.
But not many teachers are willing to become ojek (motorcycle taxi) drivers or sellers of lottery tickets. Most use their spare time to choose safer more “socially acceptable” jobs such as private tutoring.
In urban areas, as elsewhere, there is a drift towards a guiltless, indeed self-righteous, middle-class acceptance of the superiority of private education. So-called National Plus schools have mushroomed here in Jakarta. The majority seem to have a profit motive as their raison d’être with only notional regard towards educational excellence.
It’s hard being a parent having to select the best school for our kids. I venture that it’s even harder being a caring professional teacher.
It’s surely time for SBY and his government to recognise their responsibility towards the future well-being of Indonesia (and his own legacy) by agreeing to implement the constitutionally obligated 20% of the budget towards education. Take a leaf out of the Jakarta administration by implementing a living allowance ~ an extra Rp.1 million per month this year, to be doubled next year.
Offer teacher upgrading courses, both skills and subject based, with incentives for dedication to the job. The extra pay and recognition can only make the profession more rewarding.
Happier teachers will make happier students. And one less worry for we parents.
MEMO TO SBY
Put Kalla in detention and make him write 100 lines.
I must respect teachers.