Address, Saturday, September 27, 2014   


SPEAKER:  John Michael Gorrindo   MA, Music and Professional Educator


We are here to congratulate, pray for, and encourage Poltek’s graduates as they enter into the world of adulthood, and hopefully, meaningful work.  We are also here to help these young people who are the embodiment of their nation’s future to understand the rapidly changing world in which they live, and how best to adapt life-long learning into their lifestyles as this is what will be necessary to steadily improve their lives.  Potential improvement will increasingly be closely tied into Indonesia’s ability to both participate and compete within both the ASEAN region and the greater international community. Part of this picture is demonstrated in the understanding of just how influential internationalized criteria have become in assessing educational achievement in this globalized world.


To illustrate this, allow me to begin by quoting the Secretary-General of OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) the umbrella organization for PISA (Program for International School Assessment):

“More and more countries are looking beyond their own borders for evidence of the most successful and efficient policies and practices. Indeed, in a global economy, success is no longer measured against national standards alone, but against the best-performing and most rapidly improving education systems. Over the past decade, the OECD Program for International Student Assessment, PISA, has become the world’s premier yardstick for evaluating the quality, equity, and efficiency of school systems. But the evidence base that PISA has produced goes well beyond statistical benchmarking. By identifying the characteristics of high-performing education systems PISA allows governments and educators to identify effective policies that they can then adapt to their local contexts.”


Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

Preface Statement to:

PISA 2012 Test Results in Focus

What 15 Year Olds Know and What They Can Do With What They Know


This introductory remark helps us put into focus just where international educators find their assessment benchmarks to measure the skill base and cognitive thinking abilities of fifteen year old high school students.

PISA, the Program for International School Assessment, is a program administered by the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development).  One of PISA’s activities is to perform cross-country comparisons of the educational and cognitive thinking skills of fifteen year olds across the world.  This is done primarily through standardized testing.

The results of these standardized tests are compiled and published periodically.  What’s important about these results is that by in large they are taken seriously by the international educational community, including Indonesia’s.

PISA has 34 member countries and 31 partner countries that participate in its assessment programs.  Indonesia is a partner country.  The PISA 2012 Results have been published and they are the latest information we have in comparing Indonesia’s assessment against those of the other sixty-four participant countries.

In the vital academic categories of mathematics, reading, and science, Indonesia was ranked next to last in assessment scores- 64th out of 65.  There are some two hundred countries in the world, and given Indonesia competes in PISA against mainly developed countries, one can estimate that this country’s educational achievement for secondary schools falls somewhere around the median on a broader world standard.  But when pitted against the best in the world, Indonesia is far behind.

How far behind is this low ranking?  The average difference between Indonesia and the top scorer, Shanghai-China, is about 250 points, which is approximately six grade levels.  This means that a fifteen-year old Indonesian demonstrates cognitive skills on par with a nine-year old from Shanghai.

This may sound shocking, but not surprising.  Indonesia has been playing catch-up with education since its independence in 1945, and given the very substantial rise in the most basic skills such as functional literacy (now at around 93%), we can say that Indonesia, a so-called developing country, is emerging from a near non-existence of a public school system seventy years ago and high illiteracy into a country where most children not only have access to education, can read and write, but also attain skills allowing them entrance into high school.  We must laud this marked progress, but put it into sobering perspective.

The glass is at once half full and half empty.


Amongst the more developed countries of the ASEAN and East Asian communities, economic and educational competition is fierce.   Clearly the economic giants of Asia believe a highly educated populace is key to economic success internationally. Shanghai-China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Chinese-Taipei, Korea, Macao-China, and Japan ranked in order first through seventh out of all 65 in the PISA standings.  The miraculous society of Vietnam, a country reduced to a shell as a victim of civil war and foreign intervention just forty years ago, was 17th, pulling rank ahead of countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Austria, and Denmark.

The term “Asian Tiger” certainly befits the educational prowess of especially East Asia societies, and the top seven countries happen to include some of Indonesia’s biggest trade partners (Japan, China, Singapore, and Korea).

Educational achievement is a leading indicator of just how competitive a society is in terms of modern globalized economies. But education is but a small part of the OECD’s concerns, as this supra-national organization is a standard bearer of free market values as has helped shape and define the mission and goals of globalization over the past quarter century.  The OECD is but one of many supra-national organizations that transcend national borders all of whom aim to influence the directions in which nation states move in becoming more integrated members in a globalized world. No matter the size and developmental status of any country, their ruling governments are under pressure to meet and exceed international standards whether it be political, economic, scientific, technological, medical, educational, or cultural.

The supra-nationals apply pressure on nation states from above, as it were. OECD falls in rank with the others, such as the United Nations (UN), the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the G-7, the G-20, and Multi-National Corporations (MNC), all of whom expend considerable time and energy attempting to influence and shape the decision-making and policies of countries around the globe, mainly in the name of promoting free markets and free trade agreements.

A “globalized world” is one in which nation states “look beyond their own borders for evidence of the most successful and efficient policies and practices” as I quoted from the lead-in statement by OECD’s Secretary-General.

I am not here to champion PISA, standardized testing, nor globalization.  But I have the responsibility to help the graduates of Poltek to understand the realities of working within the confines of an increasingly globalized economy and how the quality of their education will perhaps be the greatest predictor of just what potentials they will be able to realize.


I have been asked to address the ways in which post-secondary institutions of vocational education here in Indonesia can better serve their students and prepare them to compete within the ASEAN region for better jobs and standards of living.  How, indeed, when Indonesia ranks so far behind in education?

In order to do this, one must look at the entire scope of Indonesia’s educational system with special attention given to TK and SD levels and ages.

Having served as a volunteer teacher in both Sekolah Dasar Negri in Sulawesi Selatan and SMK I in Tahuna; as well as currently serving in my fourth year teaching at Manado International School, I am acquainted with the teaching methods, types of curriculum, and cultural attitudes of both administrators, teachers, parents, and students as practiced here in Indonesia.  Based on this experience over the past decade of living in Indonesia, I make the following observations:

Certainly hiring more highly educated and trained teachers, improving facilities, updating curriculum, providing more easily available scholarships, and partnering with business and government in more efficient and meaningful ways will help vocational education realize its full potential, but the real challenge facing Indonesia lies in offering quality education to all kindergarten and primary school students- especially those disadvantaged.

According to most analyses, the urgent priority for change and improvement must begin with the youngest and most disadvantage of students.  We can talk about learning styles that best suit children- be they visual, auditory, kinetic, verbal, logical, social, and solitary.  We can talk about mind or thinking styles, too- predispositions for the abstract, concrete, sequential, and random.  A full complement of learning styles can be adapted, retrofitted, and otherwise structured into existing teaching methodologies and curriculums of vocational programs without having to rebuild a curriculum from scratch. 

But there is growing and already abundant evidence that if certain cognitive skills are not learned at the appropriate time, there is little chance of full attainment of those skills, even with remediation, and no matter how they are taught.  Associated with this is the “skill multiplier effect”, which posits that an unbroken chain of time-appropriate learning is the best if only way to secure a full and successful realization of cognitive development. Skill abilities multiply across time-sensitive learning periods as defined by age groupings. 

For instance, most people are aware of the fact that foreign languages are most easily learned at young ages.  Children who learn a language well before the age of twelve can speak with relatively no accent.  And in terms of skill multiplying, a fourth and fifth language comes easier to the learner after learning the second and third.  Many Europeans can speak half-a-dozen languages, and this is substantial proof of the supposition that there exists such a thing as skill multiplying. Educational systems must respond to the notion that there exists critical and sensitive periods in the development of a child when specific cognitive skills must be learned.

Vocational programs here in Indonesia are not designed to take poorly equipped high school graduates- many of whom were not given proper cognitive learning in lower school- and force-feed them skills in a desperate attempt to bridge the gap.  Playing fast-track catch-up is statistically a losing proposition.


I have used the term “cognitive skills” several times, and now need to define them.  Cognition is the set of all mental abilities and processes related to both acquisition and creation of knowledge.  These abilities include: Attention, memory, working memory, judgment and evaluation, reasoning, computation, problem solving, decision making, comprehension, and language production. Cognition is by humans conscious and unconscious, concrete or abstract, as well as intuitive (like knowledge of a language) and conceptual (like a model of a language). Cognitive processes use existing knowledge and generate new knowledge.

Keep in mind that superior cognitive skills mean that a learner has the ability to teach themselves, and this, in my opinion, should be the primary goal of education.

The PISA results show Indonesia to be weak in the cognitive domain- reading, science, and mathematics. But now for some good news. Non-cognitive skills are also important, and in my observation and experience, this is where Indonesians score significantly higher.  Non-cognitive, or so-called affective skills include: Perseverance, motivation, time preference, risk aversion, self-esteem, and self-control.  Add to this interpersonal and intrapersonal skills.

The obvious truth is that a high functioning individual needs a healthy complement of both cognitive and affective skills to improve their socioeconomic status in life. 


How can educators at all levels in Indonesian society help promote a drive and commitment towards improving cognitive skills?  First and foremost, Indonesia must fundamentally change its aversion to reading.  It must become not only a literate society, but a reading society.  Incentives do not abound in this regard. Access to good libraries is less than poor; bookstores are few in number and found only in downtown urban areas; books are terribly expensive. Relatively few people even read a newspaper on a consistent basis.

A tenet I firmly believe in is that all learning begins and ends at home. Parents and grandparents pass on to their children and grandchildren their own values about education and reading.   For most children, these values take on greater influence than those promoted by schools, per se.  And sadly, I must say, of all the homes I have ever visited in Indonesia over the past ten years, only a small handful have ever had a bookcase with books on display.  If children grow up without books, or the need for books, they will never value reading, nor learn how to read well nor learn from books.

I understand just why this is. Economics plays a part as books are costly. Also, Indonesians thrive on sociability.  Social exchange is the primary way in which people share and learn.  Indonesians more commonly entertain, console, and teach each other through social means.  It has been passed down like this for generations. Given the choice, most Indonesians would far prefer to learn in the company of others as opposed to alone with a book.  Many jobs don’t require the study of books, and people learn most necessary life skills in Indonesia through mimetics- copying others’ behavior. Memes are the cultural counterparts of genes.

But in terms of finding a good job that requires high cognitive skills and technical expertise, there must take place a paradigm shift for the current generation. In the fields of engineering and high technology and really all professional fields as updated to the twenty-first century, mimetics and socialized learning are not enough. Professional practitioners in any sophisticated, high income field must have spent long hours throughout their student years learning how to make decisions based on calculation, reasoning, evaluation, and problem solving.  This study is naturally mediated by books and by language- both verbal, written and coded (mathematics and computer programming).  Some of this requires working and reading alone. There must be a balance between social and solitary learning if only for practicality’s sake.


Foreign language skills are vital to successful study.  In order to better learn and compete-especially if books remain difficult and expensive to obtain in this country- Indonesians should increasingly turn to the internet as a source of educational information.  Thousands of books and documents on all imaginable subjects are available for free download on the internet, but a huge percentage are printed in English.  This is just one more reason why the learning of English has become paramount. Even in Japan- a nation exceedingly proud of its culture- Honda corporation recently ordered that in that in the future all their board meetings will be held in English.


The internet has already proliferated across Indonesia but its preferred use is not educational, but social.  Social media is all the rage.  The second greatest number of facebook users worldwide are from Indonesia and this year Twitter is establishing offices in Jakarta. Because social media is so well-entrenched, there is a significant infrastructure in place for general access to the internet, and for that reason, the future looks bright for the internet’s educational use, if only users would kindle that desire and better learn the English language.

According to this line of reasoning, Indonesians are being forced to learn a foreign language- one more complex than their own and too often taught by teachers whose English skills are sub-par. Cultural hegemony is what it must feel like to many.  On the other hand, Indonesians, and especially those younger than thirty, have readily adopted cultural artifacts from the west, especially in terms of music, fashion, film, lifestyle, and political and economic models. 

The cultural implications here are clear.  The preferential use of the internet by Indonesians is a core example of just what cultural values from the globalized world Indonesia most resonates with.  Western and globalized values are more or less synonymous, especially in terms of lifestyle choices in addition to economic models based on capitalist free market systems of trade.  In short, Indonesians love to be entertained by a globalized world, but not educated by it.


What other uses are offered by the internet? For example, as college tuition becomes increasingly expensive in the United States, there exists a growing availability of online courses that in most cases are less expensive than attending college or even free of charge.  This is especially is helpful for those disabled, otherwise home bound, or living in remote areas. As internet availability continues to grow in Indonesia, this would be a fruitful avenue of educational outreach for certain vocational programs such as information technology and accounting.  The ministry of education in Pusat Jakarta should mobilize such a project and involve the expertise from select vocational schools from all over the archipelago. Online curriculum should be produced by Indonesians, for Indonesians, and ideally available in both English and Bahasa Indonesia.

Free access to computers, the internet, and instructional use of the internet should be developed across the archipelago so as to serve all Indonesians, including the many millions living on far flung islands isolated from the mainstreams of educational resources. 

But without better than average reading skills in addition to a solid background in well-developed cognitive skills, modern educational outreach such as online course offerings would fail.  Again, quality program and instruction must be manifest from the very earliest ages to insure such a skill base.


Given these conditions, what can vocational educational institutions do to improve things?  In The short answer it that they must partner with both government and the private sector. But here is a list of concrete suggestions:


It is good that there are so many privatized vocational education institutions such as Poltek in this country, and that the Indonesian government helps such schools develop their programs through financial supports of various kinds. But there should be special funds made available solely for the teaching of English, and funds made available for hiring qualified teachers who are native speas.  Ideally this would be the case for all levels of schooling throughout the system.  English should be taught universally and more time allocated per week to its instruction. Japan, Korea, Singapore, and China have embraced this approach for decades and have funded the hiring of thousands of English native speakers.

Eligibility requirements for foreign nationals seeking teaching positions teaching English are now under review, and Imigrasi, Kanwil, Tenaga Kerja, and DikNas should complete that review, put the new rules and regulations into place, and implement the changes as quickly as possible. These new rules need to be fair and transparent and give incentive to foreigners to apply.  Moreover, a streamlined process should be put into place that encourages and makes simple the whole process of getting permission to live and work in Indonesia.




Availability of instructional resources- especially as commonly available at a good library- is amongst the biggest deficits facing educational institutions in Indonesia. 

Looking at the bigger picture: As a rule, only large cities operate public libraries. Often, these libraries only allow patrons who reside within the city itself to check out books.  Outlying desas and kota kota kecil are often barred from full library use and are left with next to no reading resources. 

Most schools- whatever the level- have poorly stocked libraries as well.

One thing that vocational institutions can do most immediately- at at minimal comparative cost- is to build both English and Bahasa Indonesian libraries by downloading free books and related technical and educational books from the internet. Each school should hire an instructional resource specialist who is responsible for organizing and developing a program to download free books appropriate to a school’s curricular program and for the photocopying of those books that will be stored in a library and made available for students.  The ministry of education should provide funds to help pay for this, especially in terms of printing materials for distribution to students.

City and regional governments should do the same.


Teaching faculties are in constant need of professional development.  Many teachers in Indonesia are both underqualified and underpaid- especially in a subject such as English language instruction- and government funded programs should be implemented to both teach teachers how better to teach and improve upon their knowledge of their degreed subjects.  This should not be considered a short term catch-up solution but a on-going professional requirement for all professional educators, year-in, year-out.  In turn, a salary schedule tied to          job evaluation and professional development credits should be put into place to give incentive to teachers to make a long-term commitment to professional improvement.

The same should be required of educational administrators.

If good professional development programs are locally available, the Ministry of Education has a responsibility to help provide such programs.  They can come in the form of long distance teleconferencing in some cases, as the government has already invested money into such broadcast technology. I personally witnessed such technology at work in Tahuna in 2006 while serving as a volunteer teacher at SMK I.




Many post-secondary vocational schools offering certifications such as level d-3 are privately owned businesses.  The owner sometimes has an educational background, and sometimes does not.  Often the owners function as owner-operators. In either case, the creation of the educational program should be at least in part designed and reviewed by an educational professional expert in curriculum development, pedagogy and teaching methods. Academic programs should be ministered by academic vice-principals, held accountable to the owner, but vested with administrative decision-making powers.  There should be decentralization of decision making distributed to administrators, assuming they are qualified.

I am well aware that this is a controversial topic here in Indonesia due to the rather strict adherence to institutional hierarchy, but this is the model applied to educational institutions most of the developed world uses, and for good reason.


For those institutions that teach English: English language instruction often fails in Indonesia.  English as a Second Language (ESL) students require specialized instruction.  Too many English language programs in Indonesia are designed and taught as if they are meant for primary (native), not secondary language learners.  English language teachers- whether Indonesian or native English speaking should be required to trained according to ESL specialty programs such as TOEFL or TESOL (Test of English as a Foreign Language).  However much a partial solution to the greater challenges associated with English language instruction, it will offer some improvement.


One of the most successful vocational educational programs offered here in Indonesia- and one I have personally been involved with- is the SMK internship program.  As most of you know, most if not all SMK students are required to serve as interns within their field of studies.  Those studying tourism at SMK I, for example, are required to work in a hotel, travel agency, or airport. These internships many times lead to direct employment right out of high school.

The country of Indonesia- both public and private sector- needs to take this concept and its blueprint and apply it to all aspects of vocational education.  Government, private businesses and vocational schools must triangulate and make this happen in a big way.   It should be applied to all vocational programs, including high tech applications such as computer programming. 

Those students who attended school strictly with vocational placement in mind should be served in this way.  It will help provide manpower for business and industry and at a lower cost than business having to assume the burden of having to train their employers on their own.




In final and most importantly I want to appeal most directly to POLTEK’s graduating students to embrace the idea and lifestyle of lifelong learning.  I would extend that to the greater educational community as well and that continual promotion of this idea is as important as anything else that could be done.

Ultimately it is the responsibility of no single institution but every single individual to make a commitment to living a life that sees no end to learning new skills.  Consider it as you would as in meeting new people- a most natural thing. Life skills come in many forms.  Some skills will be new; other skills will be updated from the old.  In any case, keep alert for signs of what new skills you should be pursuing. 

Lifelong learning may have once been a choice, but it is becoming more a necessity to survive in a world that is rapidly changing. Certainly it is how I have lived my life and what has allowed me to survive and at times, thrive.  Lifelong learning is a lifestyle that is becoming commonplace on the planet.

Again the skill multiplying effect is important.  With a strong educational foundation you are in a position to more easily learn new skills, remain fresh and positive, and move to meet every new challenge.  Keep your mind alive and moving.  Do not sit on your laurels and let the mind atrophy.


In conclusion for today, I will now show how improved human resource development is vital to Indonesia’s position in the globalized round table of nations.

A globalized world means increasing interdependence of nations, and to share in the benefits of globalized free trade, Indonesia has had to find grounds for making trade deals.  Attracting foreign investment is another aspect of jump starting economic growth, and Indonesia has made foreign investment a priority in its foreign and economic policies. 

Indonesia has reaped great sums of royalties as associated with selling off its abundant natural resources; raw materials such as coal, nickel, aluminum, gold, natural gas, crude oil, and timber; but its underdeveloped manufacturing sector does not provide enough for the consumer base and the country must in turn buy expensive imports such as consumer electronics, motorcycles, and cars for what is at the moment a nearly insatiable need.  Consumerism has exploded in Indonesia. Indonesia’s infrastructure lacks refining capabilities, so its abundant crude oil must be sold abroad where it is refined and sold back to Indonesia.

In short, Indonesia’s position in the value-chain is near the bottom, and for that reason, easily loses ground in the import-export quota.  Even given the prediction by some that Indonesia will develop its agriculture to levels that will make it the breadbasket of Asia, an economy based on commodities and raw materials in not diversified enough to distribute wealth equitably across its populace and provide for all its citizens.

This is not a sustainable position for Indonesia to occupy- to only find a seat at the globalized table of free trade as long as it can provide raw materials and agricultural commodities such as palm oil.  It is not a diversified economic base for fair trading with developed countries.  The Indonesian government knows this, and is now holding foreign mining interests to pay significantly higher royalties for raw ore extraction and demanding that these interests under contract also smelt the ore here in Indonesia before export. 

This is a fair enough demand on Indonesia’s part, but increasing tariffs and fees on foreign investors will not be sustainable in the long term.  The answer lies in Human Resource Development (HRD), which as applies to infrastructure and high tech facility development is an ongoing crisis in Indonesia.  This leads us back to education.

Why is it, for example, Indonesia cannot train its own people to become engineers who can design and build refineries, railroads, ports, and smelters?  Why must Indonesia bypass opportunity after opportunity to train its own people to do the technical things that it pays companies from Japan, Korea, Australia, China, and the United States to do?

Now enter government responsibility.  Government contracts given to foreign companies to build, say, a railroad, should include terms that require those foreign companies to train upcoming Indonesian engineers to learn those same technical skills. Any major infrastructure project such as building a smelter or new port should employ interns and professional Indonesian engineers to insure a growing cadre of technical expertise in the country whose education includes on the job training.

A good case in point of how Indonesia loses when coming to a free market negotiation with a behemoth such as China. 

After the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the Cold War, Sino-Indonesian relations began to be normalized in 1990. In President SBY’s second term, the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) was signed.  Free trade in this case really meant free trade.  There were few set-aside quotas protectionist in nature.  Indonesian import tariffs were slashed to zero.

Partially due to sagging demand in Europe and the U.S. due to a lingering economic crises, cheap Chinese textiles, garments, and other goods flooded the Indonesian market and within a short period of time. Workers faced layoffs in local manufacturing.  The Indonesian government was forced to renegotiate ACFTA, and quotas were placed on nearly 300 import goods from China.

On the other hand, Indonesia’s economic policy in the past decade has been to turn the nation from an exporter of materials into a producer of higher-value manufacture goods. It will be a long process.

President SBY’s solid foreign policy credentials should continue to help Indonesia economically and hopefully educationally.  Indonesia is seen as a friend to almost all nations, and an enemy to none.  The Indonesian government is perceived as peacemaker, both regionally and internationally.  Indonesia has been a democratic role model for both Muslim nations and the rest of Asia. The past decade has seen a consolidation and institutionalization of decentralized democracy in Indonesia. Indonesia has hosted the annual Asia-Pacific forum on Democracy in Bali several times running.  The country has taken an active leadership role in ASEAN, helped persuade Myanmar to begin the transition towards becoming a democratic state after the Saffron Revolution in 2007, and after stepping down from the presidency, SBY will become Co-Chair for the United Nation’s Secretary General’s High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on Post-2015 Development (Millennium Development Goals).

We can surmise that Indonesia is well-placed in the “new world order” as defined by globalization as it has now gained entrance into the G-20.  Some predictions have Indonesia becoming a G-8 economy within the next twenty years.  Indonesia will no doubt learn how to better navigate the tricky waters of free trade as time goes on.

Indonesia’s record of economic growth during a concurrent period of worldwide recession has impressed and surprised many. If the country is to continue on this path, levels of achievement in reading, mathematics, and science will have to significantly improve.  Good jobs are hard to find all over the world, and only the best educated will be able to realize them.


I again extend all congratulations to the wonderful graduates here today. I also want to extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone present and especially to Director Noh for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts with all of you.  I have given great thought and devotion to understanding your country which has now become my home.  Indonesia has provided me a new chance at life and anything I can do to reciprocate is my desire and obligation.