In this episode of the RISE Podcast, Dr Shintia Revina, Deputy Team Lead of the RISE Indonesia country research team and a researcher at SMERU in Jakarta, speaks with Yue-Yi Hwa (RISE Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government). During the episode, they discuss insights and issues emerging from RISE Indonesia’s growing body of research about the teaching profession. Points of discussion include gaps between policy expectations and reality, constraints from entrenched political priorities and institutional structures, and the benefits and challenges of conducting research using reflective diary entries by novice teachers.
Shintia Revina is the Deputy Team Leader for the RISE Indonesia team based at the SMERU Research Institute. She holds a doctorate in mathematics education from the University of Hong Kong, a master’s degree in mathematics education from Freudenthal Institute Utrecht University, and an undergraduate degree in mathematics education from State University of Jakarta (UNJ). She is currently working on the impact of pre-service teacher training programmes on the quality of teacher candidates and how the programme contributes to student learning improvement, specialising in teacher education and curriculum and instruction.
More information at: https://smeru.or.id/en/content/shintia-revina.
RISE is funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office; Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Programme is implemented through a partnership between Oxford Policy Management and the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. The Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford supports the production of the RISE Podcast.
Hello, and welcome to the RISE podcast series, where we aim to explore the stories behind education, research and practice as part of the multi-country Research on Improving Systems of Education and funded by UK Aid, Australian Aid, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.Yue-Yi Hwa, Host:
Hello, and welcome to the RISE podcast. My name is Yue-Yi Hwa, and I'm a Research Fellow at RISE focusing on teachers and management. And today I'm speaking with Shintia Revina, who is the Deputy Team Lead of the RISE Indonesia Country Research Team, as well as a researcher at the SMERU Research Institute in Jakarta. We talk about studies that the RISE Indonesia team have done about the teaching profession in Indonesia. And among the things we discuss are just how complex and entrenched some of these issues are and the cut across the different phases of the teacher career cycle, different stakeholders, different perceptions of what a good teacher is different government departments that hold authority, or teachers and their work. And we also get into just how important it is for research projects to delve into these complexities in the hope of moving the needle by deepening shared understandings of what exactly the problems and challenges are. Hello, Shintia, thank you so much for joining us.Shintia Revina, Guest:
Hi, Yue-Yi.Yue-Yi Hwa, Host:
Hi, it's great to have you here. Now, you and the rest of the team, you've been working on studies covering a lot of different aspects of the teaching profession. So and you've also been a school teacher, and a lecturer in pre service teacher training in Indonesia yourself. So you've experienced a lot of the stuff on the ground. But I'm just curious about whether there have been any big or small insights or observations from doing these larger scale RISE Indonesia studies. Anything that either surprised you or that made you go, "Ahh, now this thing about teaching in Indonesia finally makes sense to me."Shintia Revina, Guest:
Yeah, thank you for these very interesting questions. First of all, without a doubt, I reflected frequently from the RISE Indonesia studies, especially those in which I am directly involved. You know that when you are undertaking a study, from reviewing the literature, preparing the instruments, collecting the data and writing the whole thing, you instinctively reflect on your own experiences along the process, right. And for instance, our political economy study of teacher recruitment, made me understand why our hiring practices are a mess. And why our system is not recreating highly skilled teachers. And although this problem has been widely recognised for so many years, it has not been addressed properly. And in our paper, we show that there are at least three factors behind this struggle. And first is that our public school teacher recruitment process, is part of the general civil servant recruitment. So basically, we use the same tools to shortlist teachers, administrators or other professions in government agencies, and there is no mechanism in the hiring process to ensure that our public school teachers can teach effectively. And based on experience as a teacher in a private school in Jakarta, this practice is very different from what happened in private schools. During my time, the recruitment in the private school was rigorous, and schools would only keep effective teachers and stop reassigning the low performing teachers. Um, yeah. Second, the division of authority for teacher recruitment, among different ministries, and between our central and local government is far from cohesive and the situation affects the number of teachers recruited in our public schools in one year, or in a certain period, because the number is not based on the actual number of teachers needed at the school. Instead, it is based on how much budget our central government have in that year to hire Civil Service Officers, including teachers. So the opening of teaching position then does not match with the school needs. Schools are always in need of teachers. And these new teachers with good qualifications might not want to wait for the opening, right? Because the schedule is unknown to the public. We don't really know when it will open or whether this year we will have the hiring of the teacher. And then many of these teachers then choose to teach at good private schools or even find other professions, than teaching. And in our teacher diary study, some teachers even left teaching because they were so frustrated with the civil servant recruitment process. Yes, you can imagine that. And I said there are three. Now, the last, the effective hiring process in Indonesia is locked in, by the, by the interests of many parties, including politician ministries, like you said, teachers associations, and even school principals. So a more effective teacher recruitment process, other than civil servants scheme has never been an option in our country. So these people even suggest that our contract teachers who are recruited informally, should be automatically promoted to the civil servant status, or permanently hired without going through any selection process. You can imagine the civil servant recruitment process is flawed. And now there's no selection process at all. So then, at the end, I can say, and now I understand why our teaching profession is like this.Yue-Yi Hwa, Host:
Oh, man, and it's given how complex the situation is from what you've just laid out, I guess it's no surprise that it took this wide range of studies of different perspectives, to understand that which is very different from what I guess a teacher in a classroom or a teacher trying to navigate the process would would be able to see. So and this all points to your team at SMERU. You've been using a wide range of research methods in this teacher studies, right? You mentioned the teacher diary study, and also the political economy analysis. And I know for say the teacher recruitment study used a lot of interviews and archival documents, but the team have also done, you know, randomised control trials and quasi experimental work to understanding these teacher dynamics as well. So I mean, at RISE, and me personally, we're all big fans of using lots of different research methods and interdisciplinary work. So what are some of the common themes or observations that have been emerging across these different studies and different methods?Shintia Revina, Guest:
Yeah, well, among some of the common themes that have been emerging across different studies and different methods are the teacher professional learning, and the issue of informal recruitment of contract teacher and their irregular low paid remuneration. So on the teacher professional learning, we have three studies discussing the issue. They are a mixed method study on the impact of pre service teacher professional education on teaching effectiveness, and then a qualitative study on teacher professional development, and a study using the problem driven iterative adaptation, the PDIA approach to establish demand drive and TPD system in Jakarta province. So another theme is the issue of informal recruitment of contract teachers. And there are also three studies in RISE Indonesia that investigated this issue from different angles, using different methods. So there are teacher recruitment study, which is the political economy analysis to examine among others. Why the undesirable situation of contract teachers persist, and a study in a city in West Sumatra province that uses also the PDIA approach to design contract teacher selection tools, and the policy diffusion study, which uses both quantitative and qualitative methods to understand the factors driving the adoption of contract teacher allowance policy in many districts in Indonesia. So far, we have only got results from the political economy study, while the other two studies are still ongoing. But I believe that as you say, the other studies will complement the results obtained from our political economy analysis for sure.Yue-Yi Hwa, Host:
I will be excited to see what comes out of that. And I think that we're also because the contract teacher issue also came up a bit in some of the Kiat Guru data, right, which is the performance piece study and I've been looking at reanalyzing some of the qualitative data on this with the team and the dynamic that comes up that some contract teachers, certain types aren't eligible for the bonus that performance pays based on. So they're like, why should we care about this new evaluation thing because it's not going to affect us either way. So it's interesting how this issue just cuts across so many different aspects of the system, which I guess of course, we would expect if we were being good systems thinking people, and considering the full range of interactions. But it's just fascinating to me, at least to see this play out. So clearly, across these different studies that your team are using with different methods.Shintia Revina, Guest:
Yeah, hopefully, when the results are out, we can discuss more about how the different studies can contribute to the new knowledge on the topic.Yue-Yi Hwa, Host:
I will look forward to that. At RISE, we often talk about how low learning levels in education systems are often cyclical. So for example, if parents haven't mastered foundational literacy and numeracy, then it's harder for them to support their children in learning to master how to read and count. But in the teacher diaries study that you all did have novice teachers, where you gave teachers different prompts at different times to reflect and write about, you encountered another really interesting aspect of these low learning cycles. Can you tell us a bit about this?Shintia Revina, Guest:
Yeah, I'm always excited actually, to talk about the teacher diaries study.Yue-Yi Hwa, Host:
And I'm always excited to hear about it.Shintia Revina, Guest:
Not only because the data is rich, but the process of collecting the data itself has also given us many lessons. So after the first few diaries were collected, the study team discussed whether we should take a different approach, or use different types of instruction when asking the novice teachers to write their diaries on a certain issue, because we think that we get very little from their writing. And later, after we collected more of their writings, we reflected on ourselves that as a student, we were not really equipped with adequate reflective skills, or excellent writing skills. So when we grow up, and now when we are working, as a researcher, we obtain the skills from institutions outside of schools. And we then think our novice teachers low quality of writing, and they're inability to make deep reflections may indicate the failure of our schools and our education system more broadly, you know, and then it is what we often call in RISE Indonesia schooling, but not learning. And you can imagine these teachers with low literacy level will teach literacy skills to their future students. In our case, they are primary school students. And it is an issue that our teacher education has not recognised this low learning cycle, and then this low learning cycle continues, right? Even in one, yeah, even in one of our preliminary reports on pre service teacher study, we found that only 12% of our sample teachers think (this is their perception) that the professional education programme they participated, the one year programme, equip them with adequate skills to facilitate students literacy learning, so only 12% of them. Usually the self report, nature of the survey, reported something that is the number is bigger than the actual, right. So you can imagine when there are only 12% of the teachers think that they have the skills, and they admitted that they had not mastered this foundational skill, let alone teaching it to their future students.Yue-Yi Hwa, Host:
I'm curious also about whether over the course of the teacher diary study because it ran for what is it 10 years? So have have there been, have you seen improvements in maybe the richness or the or the depth of insight in the diary entries over time as they've continued to work with you?Shintia Revina, Guest:
Yeah, actually, the improvement is not that significant. But we overcame this issue by having fun interview after each of the diary written by the teachers. And this phone interview functioned not only to clarify their thoughts on the diaries, which we often find to little information in there, but also, the interview can be kind of transition, to give them idea on what kind of topic we will discuss in the next diary. And I think this kind of practice really helpful for the teachers, especially because again, because of their low literacy, and they kind of feel more comfortable to talk offer their thinking after this interview, rather than write it up on a diary or journal.Yue-Yi Hwa, Host:
That makes sense to me also because my experience in Malaysia as well is that often written things feel very formal. And as you're saying, if you spent your whole school career being told that "Oh, the way you write a good formal thing is you find a template of someone who's done it before," whether it's a formal letter or the piece of project work that your seniors two years before I did, and then you kind of just copy it and modify it in a formal way for your own purposes. So the phone call feels quite different. And this is a bit of a tangent, but this is also reminding me of something that Lant Pritchett said about the Mindspark computer adaptive learning programmes in India, where he said that maybe he thinks one reason why Mindspark is effective, and I'm completely paraphrasing here and I might be slightly off, is that he said that, because teachers in India are so used to being expected to teach classroom lessons that follow the curriculum regardless of where children actually are. So it's hard to get teachers and parents to agree that teachers should actually teach to the children's learning levels, whereas a computer programme is a completely different kind of model. So there are no preconceptions about what the computer programme should do. So it's completely fine if the computer programme just suits the kids learning level, even if the kid is maybe two grade levels behind in math, or where the curriculum should be. I know, that's a bit of a stretch, but it's it just struck me as interesting parallel between different modes, having different norms of behaviour attached to them, and how that also affects people's thinking processes and expectations in education.Shintia Revina, Guest:
Yeah, the the situation that you describe in India is quite similar to ours. So yeah, I really can relate to what you just said about the, you know, the teachers following curriculum rather than the students learning level.Yue-Yi Hwa, Host:
So the studies that you co-authored on in-service teacher training and on teacher recruitment in Indonesia, they clearly show two types of complexity that tend to make it really difficult to reform teacher policy. So specifically, there was the fact that there are many competing expectations placed on teachers. I mean, we were just talking about expectation that teachers follow the curriculum. And some of these competing expectations don't have anything to do with actually teacher quality or student learning. And the second type of complexity that makes it hard to reform teacher policy is that the teaching profession is regulated by several different government authorities, like you were saying right at the beginning. So to what extent, in your experience, do people within the education system in Indonesia itself, do they recognise these issues to be problems?Shintia Revina, Guest:
I think I would like to start with a story. So back in 2019, we have this event called the RISE update, where we shared our research results to the general audience. So among those invited were representatives of the Teacher Association, and I was presenting and I opened with teacher quality issue from the latest result of the teacher competence test. And after I finished my session, there was a man from the Teacher Association, who objected my statement. He mainly blamed the tools used in the tests, which we all know are not flawless. Okay, they're flawed, but still give us some insights into our teacher performance. And this test only covered items to measure teacher pedagogical and content knowledge. While According to him, it should also include sections that measure teacher personality and socio-competence. In other words, he thought that lowly skilled teachers in terms of pedagogical and content knowledge are acceptable, as long as these teachers have good personality, and can adapt socially to the school environment. And whenever the team and I talk to teachers, school principals, school supervisors, or local education agency officers, they show some kind of agreement with what the man from the Teacher Association argued. So you can imagine that, and from this story, and this reality, struck me that many people in the system do not recognise this problem of lowly skilled teachers. And if student learning outcome is poor, it is because students or parents are not trying hard enough. The issues of teacher certification makes the situation worse. And teachers with certificates are called professional teachers. So they think they're highly skilled teachers professionally, when in fact they are not. And many people in the system also suggested to our government to upgrade this lowly skilled contract teachers to be automatically promoted to permanent civil servant position, like I mentioned in the beginning. So according to them, our contract teachers have taught under temporary arrangement for many years, which shows their loyalty to the country and they deserve this promotion without taking additional tests. So, to your first question, my answer is that yes, the problem is there. But then to your second question. Unfortunately, not so many people really recognise that as a problem. And then, what I think are the possible strategies to overcome these issues is that the first step that we can do is to revise our current teacher professional standards to make them more measurable, so that we can then use these standards to distinguish effective from ineffective teachers. And this would also allow us to agree on the indicators of what is a good teacher, what is a highly skilled teachers and this standard can also be used as a guidance for recruiting and developing our teachers. Because, if you have a look at our current standards, you can read Bahasa Indonesia. But the current standards stated that teacher competence very broadly, that a teacher should master four competencies, namely pedagogical, professional, socio and personality competence. To me, not only the definition of each of these competencies is fake, but they are also detached from student learning. The standard also ignores the fact that levels of competence exists. So for example, the standard set competence goals without explicitly defining what competence means or differentiating between basic intermediate or advanced competence level for teachers at different stages of their career. There's only one level of competence, a teacher must meet this basic minimum level. But most teachers in fact, are below this basic minimum level. So without the existence of good standards, it is not surprising that our people cannot really recognise what matters and what not in a teacher.Yue-Yi Hwa, Host:
Yeah, no, I completely agree. I think if I remember correctly, but I might be several years out of date in Malaysia, where I'm from, the standards you need to pass to be a permanent civil service teacher also include things like a physical fitness test, which is fair enough, I guess from a health point of view, but also like a test of your patriotism, of some sort. And but of course, it's from what you were saying it's clear that these issues are just so complex and so deep seated in both good ways and bad ones, right. And I think one tension that we talk a lot about, among those of us at the RISE Directorate is that to a very large extent, then, it's legitimate to have competing goals, because education plays such a big role in society, it's completely legitimate and good and right that people on the system want teachers to socialise the children to a certain values, certain dispositions. But then, like you were saying, when those priorities become defined in very specific and narrow ways, maybe around certain types of personality, and when they overshadow the learning goals, then that becomes a problem. Because the kind of world we live in today, if a kid spent six years in school and can't read and write and do math, after those six years, then the system has really failed the child because they'll struggle so much more than just navigating the world. And I think I definitely really appreciate that. Just the level of I think, richness and awareness of context that all these Indonesia CRT studies have about teachers, really allows us to get into some of these deep issues, which is great. And also, I think another really cool thing about the research that you've been doing about teachers is that it doesn't just sit in working papers and journal articles, but the fact that there are so many discussions and like advice about how to improve research impact, how to communicate your research to the public. And you and the team have really been acting on that, because for the past couple of years, you've been writing about teacher research and teacher policy for the Conversation, which is a platform that helps researchers to communicate their research publicly in a non-jargony way that gets carried in newspapers and other journalistic outlets. And recently, we saw, we were excited to see that the Education and Youth Editor of the Conversation Indonesia chose you and your SMERU colleagues as his favourite writers for 2020. So I would love to hear any anecdotes you have maybe about the challenges, or the benefits of translating your really big and complex research projects into this brief column, publicly friendly format.Shintia Revina, Guest:
Yeah, actually, I thank the SMERU communications team and editors who helped us a lot during the writing process. And thanks to my senior at SMERU, Syaikhu Usman, he encouraged us all like the young researchers to extract our research into smaller publishable materials. Like he told us once that policymakers or their staffs often have little interest to read your long policy papers. Or even when you are ready, translated into policy brief, they're still too formal for them. So according to him, one strategy that we can do to reach these policymakers and their staff, and to be noticed is through this online platform such as the Conversation. This is definitely true in Indonesia, where people have low interest in reading complex text, but very much interested in social media and online readings. And most importantly, the strategy works for us. And so our works are getting noticed and appreciated like you said. And also the articles are in Bahasa Indonesia, our national language, this gives access to people who do not read English to our works, the Working Papers, since our working papers are all in English and in Indonesia. Many people still prefer to read things in Bahasa Indonesia. And maybe I have one challenge during this process. I had no previous experience in writing popular articles like in the Conversation format, and to me, it has its own art, and is quite different from writing policy papers or journal articles, of course. So for my first article, the editorial team of the Conversation, they gave me many notes and deleted many of my lines. Then I learned their editing style, more casual way of writing, and discussed with our in-house editor at SMERU, about the feedback I've received from the conversation. And I think after that I can write more effectively after two or three publications. But the first two publications, I really got my lines deleted, like a lot.Yue-Yi Hwa, Host:
Well, that's that's still very impressive progress if it just took two or three. And I think what you were saying, both about making it accessible and about the importance of writing in Bahasa Indonesia reminded me of something. I heard a Taiwanese academic say, when you're speaking at University of Malaya, she said that traditionally, people based in Taiwanese universities communicate their research to the public a lot, both through newspaper articles and books written in the local language. But then when international university rankings became a bigger and bigger thing, then the pressure was in for them to write in English, in international journals instead which, as you are seeing people who actually can change policy rarely have the time, even if they have the inclination to read these things. So that's, that's really encouraging to hear that you and your SMERU colleagues have found a good outlet for that. And it sounds like a supportive editorial team at the Conversation who share share that vision of making research accessible. That's also a good challenge for the rest of us at RISE to think about how we're communicating our research. And I have one last question for you. So what is one thing that you wish other people knew about the education system in Indonesia? Okay,Shintia Revina, Guest:
Thank you, Yue-Yi. I think I will keep this short. Like the Indonesian Ministry of Education claims to have implemented many programmes, right, to improve our education since the decentralisation, 20 years ago, decentralisation started 20 years ago. While it is true that, yes, we have increased access to compulsory education. But the PISA and IFLS study suggests zero improvement in our student learning over the years. So the main problem here is more fundamental than simply replacing our old programmes with new programmes. So the government, our government must first address the root problem, the system wide inconsistencies, in order for new programmes to be effective. Otherwise, the new programmes or new reforms would be unproductive as in previous years. And that's exactly what we are doing here in RISE, right? We study about the education system level, root cause root problems so we can identify how we should do in the future.Yue-Yi Hwa, Host:
So thank you for that. very thoughtful, and also very hopeful observations. Shintia, and thank you so much for joining me today. It's been such a pleasure. And I've learned so much and have a lot to take away and mull over now.Shintia Revina, Guest:
So Yue-Yi, I think for the closing statement, I would like to say that your question, make me think, and the whole team think again, about what we have been doing. And in RISE Indonesia, and I think in RISE, more globally, that's what we exactly are doing here. In Indonesia, at least, we work with the Ministry of Education, and with our local governments to provide evidence on the root problems that have caused bigger problems. So hopefully in the future, Indonesia can have more impactful programmes that can address learning crisis issues in our education by using our research as evidence to move forward.Yue-Yi Hwa, Host:
That's great. I certainly hope so too.RISE Programme:
Thank you for listening to our podcast today. And if you liked it, be sure to check out our research at riseprogramme.org or follow us on social media at RISE Programme. You can find links to the research mentioned and other worksheets under the description for this podcast episode. The RISE podcast is brought to you by the research on improving systems of education RISE Programme through support from the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.