The Learning of Science at Indonesian Junior High School Bends: Current Practices, Bold Challenges, and Future Trends 2

(A Report on Science Learning at Indonesian Junior High Schools; written and submitted as a requirement to qualify for the Training Course on Research and Development conducted by SEAMEO Regional Centre for QITEP in Science, Programmes Year 2012, June 19-28, 2012, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia by our partner science teacher, Wiwi Marwiyah, S.Pd, M.Si of our partner junior high school; writing supervised by one NEB)

1. Introduction

A. Brief History of Science Learning in Indonesia

The learning of science in the past was concentrated on students’ having to acquire what they needed to know based on science experts’ belief as reflected in the textbooks used for that matter. This learning practice follows what is known as ‘absolutism paradigm.’ It can simply be taken to mean that students absolutely don’t know anything prior to learning, so that they need to be provided with all they need to know. This is about all they need to learn. They don’t need to question. They don’t need to be inquisitive. They just need to know, understand, and memorize all the concepts and general knowledge in and of the subject taught. Everything has been fixed top-down (read: centralized). In the 1975 and 1994 curricula, for example, we can find these formulations: curricular objectives, instructional objectives, subject matter, sub-subject matter, grade, semester, learning resources, and learning materials. The teacher just has to set the specific objectives, plan the learning activities, and teach the lesson in the class equipped with the prepared textbook.

B. The Aims of Past Science Learning

The said science learning paradigm and practice required students to just come to school, sit in class, hear, listen, take notes, study the notes again at home, and memorize all this to face due tests and obtain ‘good’ scores. I single-quoted the adjective good to kind of say that the scores students get don’t necessarily well-reflect students’ real knowledge and competence given so many possible factors from outside students making it possible. Tests administered assess only what students have supposedly well-memorized and understood. I believe many of you and us now science teachers experienced learning science a long time ago this very way. It looks like this way the said science learning was deliberately aimed at students’ following what the teacher had taught. They were given no room to question, let alone challenge the teacher. They were not allowed to think for themselves and find alternatives. They were meant to be passive. They were made to regard the teacher’s viewpoint to be the only truth.

C. Expected Outcomes of Past Science Learning

The said learning of science was then expected to produce students who knew, understood, and memorized a lot of concepts and general knowledge in and of science, without jeopardizing the image of the teacher who was considered to know everything and therefore regarded as the only source of knowledge and truth. This put students in a position where they only received what the teacher taught them. They couldn’t construct their own belief and knowledge. If they did, it would be regarded as not valid and would get bad scores. Knowledge at this stage was teacher-given, not student-constructed. Students were denied of being entities who are actually very much capable of thinking and constructing what they want and need to believe for themselves regardless of what the teacher has to say and offer to them. Eventually this practice had to meet its doom’s day as students were taken more in learning processes due to a different paradigm adopted. And so ‘constructivism paradigm’, which facilitates students to do their own thinking and construct their own knowledge, finds its way; but its implementation is not without problems.

2. Current Status And Structure of Science Learning

A. Current Status of Science Learning

Following the said ‘constructivism paradigm’, as opposed to ‘absolutism paradigm’, with student-centeredness in mind, students are now seen as individuals who already bring with them schemata on things they will learn. They know something already. They may know this from what they have learned previously, what they have read by themselves, or what they have experienced in their own life related to it. As such, they may have their own thinking and viewpoint about it, which the teacher has to encourage, listen to, welcome, respect, even accept as (alternative) truth because knowledge of science is often, if not always, empirical. Science learning strategies are therefore a process in which students are facilitated to boost their thinking skills to the fullest extent possible in order to gain knowledge and obtain competence also skills in science. This learning can be carried out utilizing such various approaches as inquiry learning, contextual learning, or mastery learning. Learning activities should be coupled with critical and creative thinking so as to enable students to develop their own ideas and make up their own mind about things and phenomena covered in science. It can further be enhanced using available modern learning aids such as computers to produce learning media in the form of slides, certain educational programs, or educational softwares. Marwiyah (2011 and 2012) conducted classroom action researches (CARs) to show respectively the importance of critical thinking in students’ learning and the use of computer-based media to accelerate learning and comprehension.

B. Structure of Science Learning

The standards of competences of subjects covered in junior high school science in accordance with KTSP (Educational Unit-Suited Curriculum) (2007: 99) that I take to make up the structure of science learning include process skills or scientific methods (doing observation using appropriate tools, conducting experiments following required procedures, recording experiment and measurement results in appropriate tables and graphs, draw conclusions and communicate them orally and writtenly suited to the obtained proofs); bio-diversity, classification of various living things based on their characteristics, ways of preservation, interdependence of living things in their ecosystem; system of organs in humans and living thing sustainability, matter particles, various forms and characteristics also realization of substance; changes and uses of substance; force, power, energy, vibration, wave, optics, electricity, magnetism; solar system and the process occurring in it. It would of course be best if these competences can be achieved through the traditional classroom-based learning activities. But it looks like this is too much to ask. The process should extend far outside the classroom confine with students having to do things more on their own. This gives a rise to this so-called ‘the learning of science as a process’ rather than as a product. Students are made to be involved in experiments doing various things to understand the works of (mother) nature and all its elements, after which they are expected to be able to make their very own conclusions. This can be done individually, in groups, or in a science club devised specially for the purpose.

3. Major Issues, Challenges, And Future Directions

A. Major Issues

The major issues surrounding the learning of science at my junior high school probably typical of others too are as follows:

– There is still a big number of students each class has. Although this may not hamper class management in general, it may affect the due attention that has to be paid to every individual student. This is especially so as not all students are really equal with regards to attention span, interest in science topics, learning strategies and styles, etc., all of which have to be accommodated. Group work may certainly solve this problem. But then it has to be ensured that everybody participates. Otherwise, only some students can benefit from this activity. The same thing goes with discussion, simulation, and the likes.

– There still persists to exist the dichotomy between and what students WANT TO and NEED TO learn in science (if we talk about interest, needs, appropriateness, and context) and what they HAVE TO learn in it (if we consider the curriculum, contents, multiple-choice (MC) tests, and MC test items). The two don’t necessarily embrace each other. In fact, they may as well contradict each other. While science learning can be made to be fun with all that students can do happily in class and in the classroom (this constitutes ‘fun learning’), at the end of the day they are burdened with having to know, understand, and memorize all the still-important concepts and general knowledge of the subject later for sure to be tested (this makes up ‘serious learning’). Though striking a balance between the two can be attempted, the end result would often be less than satisfactory. Apparently Keeping things balanced don’t really work in some respect. It’s like we have to choose one extreme between 2 given choices.

– Psychologically speaking, Indonesian students can be said not to enjoy their learning. So Indonesian students don’t like their science learning. Sometimes in fact I’d theorize that we here have more of ‘living-earning society’ than ‘life-learning society.’ The former suggests that our people still struggle more to be able to survive and live, having to do things that really earn or make money. The latter implies a society that believes more in learning to live better in many more other ways than just having to have (a lot of) money for the purpose. As such, doing anything that doesn’t earn or make money is valued less and even considered a waste of time. The same applies to science learning for students. They make themselves not enjoy their science learning as it doesn’t directly yield results that mean something financial.

– Students as part of Indonesian people at large make up more of what’s called ‘speech community’ than ‘literate society.’ The first refers to any group of people who like to speak for the sake of socializing; the second means any group who embraces equally all speaking, listening, reading, and writing for the purpose of living. As such, in between science learning, more students can be seen enjoying themselves speaking and socializing rather than being quiet, reading, analyzing, and writing, at least blogging about science. Even texting, twittering, facebooking, and the likes are only to enhance the said speaking and socializing.

– Students fail to appreciate (read: celebrate) little things in science that they do and little achievements in science that they make, all of which can actually boost their spirit to do more and achieve higher. The science club that they have goes unattended; writings in science that they make, though go posted on the school wall bulletin, go unnoticed, unread, and therefore uncommented; experiments in science and their results go unrecorded; academic and scientific writing in science goes untried. All of these activities should actually mark the true nature of school as a place of academic excellence in science—in this case.

– Speaking of attitudes, students still see science as a subject of just concepts, terms, and general knowledge to know, understand, and memorize especially for the sake of doing well in tests. They don’t perceive science as a subject that will open their eyes to see, understand, and conclude how (mother) nature works, how they can make use of it, and how they can still sustain its being and works, still, etc.

B. Bold Challenges

The bold challenges that I know I face in my science class that I think other science teachers share too—given the said issues—are:

– I have to deal with whatever I have to face in my science class one way or another: managing my big class giving every student a possible equal opportunity to express themselves; raising various topics so as to arouse their interest; and varying learning activities so as to accommodate different learning strategies and styles.

–  I will compromise my science teaching in such a way that I teach my students what I know I NEED TO and HAVE TO teach but take also into account what they say they NEED TO and WANT TO learn. This way I will not jeopardize their learning in that they can enjoy their learning while acquiring all that they need to know to do well in their tests; I can later accommodate more of what they WANT TO learn outside the class in their science club, projects, or extracurricular activities.

– I will instill in students’ mind the idea that science learning is enjoyment. It doesn’t come with financial gains; it comes with the good feeling of accomplishing something no matter how small and the appreciation of it. When they enjoy what they learn and learn what they enjoy, it’s living their life as students at its best. Financial benefits will only later follow.

– I will encourage my students to value speaking for socializing less but rate being quiet, reading, thinking, thinking critically, analyzing, questioning, concluding in science, etc. more. I will tell them to text, tweet, and facebook less but to write or blog to express their thinking, ideas, and opinions more.

– I will motivate my students to appreciate (read: celebrate) their works and accomplishments in science no matter how small, post them on the school wall bulletin, write articles on them, post them in their blogs, send them to science contests, or even have them published or recognized by others.

– I will change my students’ mind about science being only a bunch of concepts, terms, and general knowledge in science; I will tell them that science is all about enjoying finding how (mother) nature works, how they can benefit from it, and how they can help it sustain, still.

C. Future Directions of Science Learning

The future paths of science learning are not so much of where it will go for certain as of where I think it should go based on the said bold challenges I forwarded. I picture on my mind that in the future science learning shall be more experiment-based in favor of this hands-on learning. This will be possible as more and more tools and devices necessary will come their way to help aid this kind of experiential learning. Students shall uncover more concepts, rules of nature, and general knowledge that they construct by themselves from the proofs and evidence collected. Learning assessment shall be more portfolio-based. This portfolio will document experiments, their results, etc. Multiple-choice tests shall perhaps be around but shall be weighted less as far as scoring students’ works is concerned. This way students shall truly be appraised not for what they know, understand, and memorize, but for what they do, contribute, and produce. THIS is science learning at its very best.


Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan (1975). Kurikulum 1975.

Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan (1994). Kurikulum 1994.

Departemen Pendidikan dan kebudayaan (2007). KTSP 2007.

Marwiyah, W. (2011). Penggunaan Media Berbasis Komputer dalam Meningkatkan Pemahaman Siswa pada Konsep Struktur dan Fungsi Jaringan Tubuh Tumbuhan Mata Pelajaran IPA (Penelitian Tindakan Kelas pada Siswa Kelas VIII-B Semester Genap Tahun Pelajaran 2011-2012 di SMP Negeri 2 Padalarang Kabupaten Bandung Barat).

Marwiyah, W. (2012). Penggunaan Model Pembelajaran Cooperative Learning Tipe Think-Pair-Square untuk Meningkatkan Kemampuan Berfikir Kritis Siswa pada Materi Pengelolaan Lingkungan Mata Pelajaran IPA (Penelitian Tindakan Kelas pada Siswa Kelas VII-D Semester Genap Tahun pelajaran 2011-2012 di SMP Negeri 2 Padalarang Bandung Barat).

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