An Overview of the Practices of ECE in Indonesia

The practices of education in Indonesia have undergone a transformation from the New-Order government (1965-1998) to post- New-Order governments (1998-present). The alteration is marked by a shift from centralization to decentralization (Amirrachman, 2012). Education in Indonesia during the New-Order government was characterized by top-down policies whereby the government imposed a centralized curriculum on all schools. In addition to the establishment of a centralized curriculum, the government also used schooling as an apparatus to disseminate the state ideology, called PANCASILA. PANCASILA consists of the following five principles: belief in the one and only God; a just and civilized humanity; the unity of Indonesia; democracy; and social justice for all people of Indonesia.

These values also influenced the way in which the state constructed children and childhood. The New-Order government reinforced the policy that “the state assumes that its inhabitants are not necessarily born as good citizens; children must be taught and socialized by the state to become good citizens” (Parker, 1992, p. 42). Schooling was obviously treated as a means to teach children and to fulfill the objective of the state. Amid this, children were constructed as subordinate to adults—passive recipients of values instilled by adults (Parker, 1992; Wyness, 2006).

In the Indonesian education system, male teachers are addressed as bapak and female teachers are addressed as ibu, the same titles that children call their parents at home. Historically, this was initially used as an attempt to fight Dutch colonialism. It was Ki Hadjar Dewantara, a pioneer in the field of education in Indonesia, who established Taman Siswa, a Javanese educational movement during Dutch colonialization in Indonesia in 1922. Initially, during colonialism in Indonesia, there was a distinction used between the forms of address for Dutch teachers and for Javanese teachers. Dutch teachers were called Meneer, Mevrow, and Joffrow, while Javanese teachers were addressed as Mas Behi, Den Behi, and Ndoro. All terms are only confined to people from high status or royal family. Furthermore, Dewantara believed that such distinctions reflected inequality and thus he proposed the use of more equal terms such as “bapak” and “ibu” (Shiraishi, 1997). While initially the term “bapak” and “ibu” were used to challenge inequality, this was then appropriated by the New-Order government in order to preserve their status quo by designing schooling like a family structure. Since parents were constructed to have uncontested power in Indonesian society, the label of bapak and ibu in the classroom indicates the idea that teachers, too, could go unchallenged and hence children were supposed to follow their orders (1996).

With the downfall of the New-Order government, the value of PANCASILA was questioned and contested (Amirrachman, 2012). Education was no longer centralized. In the post-New-Order government, several new education laws were produced. Law number 20/2003, government regulation number 19/2005, and the latest government regulation number 32/ 2013 provide space for decentralization by allowing each school to develop its own local curricu- lum—a curriculum that is based on local diversity (DIKTI, n.d.).

ECE in Indonesia also experienced these changes. In the New- Order government, ECE institutions were mostly operated by local organizations, both governmental and nongovernmental. In the post-New-Order era, a growing number of ECE institutions are operated by market-driven preschool programs, local nongovernmental organization (NGO) activists and government programs (Newberry, 2010). Among the market-driven school programs, many are franchised from global international programs such as High Scope, Tumble Tots, Beyond Centre and Circle Time (BCCT), and others. These new types of schooling adopt a curriculum that is heavily influenced by the child-centered approach. The child-centered approach is supposedly the opposite of the approach that took place in the New-Order regime. Within the child-centered approach, children are constructed as active individuals who undergo certain stages of development (Piaget, 1971).

Child-centered ideology has actually existed in Indonesia since Dutch colonialization. Again, if we look at Dewantara’s school, Taman Siswa, it was indeed influenced by the child-centered approach of Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner (Newberry, 2010). Its website, however, mentioned that Taman Siswa was in fact informed by Vygotsky’s constructivist approach since it encourages adults’ participation and assistance in children’s learning (Takwin, 2007). Despite the existence of a child-centered ideology since the Dutch colonial era, the market-driven preschool programs have made a child-centered ideology more pervasive and visible. The development of child- centered schools in Indonesia is now flourishing.

Within the Indonesian Ministry of Education’s regulation number 58/2009 (permendiknas 58/2009), child-centered discourse is perpetuated. The regulation states five basic principles of ECE: first, ECE should consist of developmentally appropriate practices; second, it should promote child centeredness; third, its approach should be holistic; fourth, physical activity should be conducted integrally as it covers all aspects of children’s development; and the last, learning activities should be play-based in nature. While the child-centered approach appears to be harmless and seems to provide a more humanistic and democratic perspective in its perceptions of young children, feminist poststructuralists have argued that it is actually controlling young children in a very subtle way (Adriany, 2013; Burman, 2008a; MacNaughton, 2000, 2005; Walkerdine, 1998). Child-centered discourse has inevitably become a regime of truth by becoming the only lens through which to understand children’s behavior and development. It promotes one version of childhood—a mostly Western, middle-class version of childhood—while at the same time constructing a differing version of childhood as “other” (Burman, 2008b; Macnaughton, 2005; Walkerdine, 1998).

As mentioned above, the implementation of a child-centered approach in Indonesia is currently perpetuated by global corporate enterprises (Newberry, 2010). Since these programs are mostly imported as franchises, the fee for the preschools that purchase the programs is highly expensive.

The penetration of global preschool programs into the ECE system in Indonesia might perpetuate the argument that the child-centered discourse indeed favors Western children and raises the issue of the extent to which a postcolonial legacy is sustained in Indonesia’s educational system. With all the complexity surrounding the practice of ECE in Indonesia, one could identify a shift in the way in which childhood is constructed in Indonesia. While in the New-Order government a child was constructed as a passive recipient, subordinate to adults, whose main duty was to become a good citizen, in the post-New-Order government, there is a new child in the making—a child who is an active, middle-class individual, a global child in a new democratic Indonesia.

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