Decline of The Schools and The Rise of Learning Webs

Paper presented at ICETA-4, February 23rd 2013, UNIPAdhibuana, Surabaya


The school walls are collapsing against the waves of the internet which disrupts all games, including education. Universal public education can never be achieved by the school system which was designed, conceived and structured for a different age in the past. A well-crafted curriculum in schools can never be effective to improve education. Both schools and teachers are to adapt themselves for the new landscape or otherwise perished because of irrelevance. A deschooling agenda through a flexible learning webs as proposed by Illich 40 years ago are increasingly feasible, doable, promising, and attractive for Indonesia’s future public education to ensure a demographical bonus in the next 20-40 years.



Recently, the Ministry of Education and Culture (MoEC) has launched a new policy initiative for a new curriculum in 2013. It was claimed to be a major improvement to the former Kurikulum Tingkat Satuan Pendidikan (KTSP) 2006, and also a direct response to the poor results of Indonesian pupils performance in the most recent Programme in International Student Assessment (PISA), Trends in International Math and Science Studies (TIMSS), and Programme in International Reading and Literacy Study (PIRLS). Indonesian pupils performed badly in maths, science, and reading. Most of them are not well-equipped with the skills needed in the 21st century such as critical and higher order thinking.

This is the most recent MoEC attempts to improve Indonesian education by engineering a new, “improved” curriculum. It seems that every new minister of MoEC has the habit of making a new curriculum policy in the hope to improve education. There is in Indonesia a notorious saying “Ganti Mentri Ganti Kurikulum” meaning “New Minister New Curriculum”. This short paper will show that this most recent attempt, like the previous ones, will be doomed to fail to deliver good public education, espescially in the waves of the internet.

Every country on earth are now reforming their public education. The problem is they are doing it by doing what they have done in the past (Robinson, 2010). They want to prepare their children for the future by doing what they have done in the past through the school system. During the last few decades, it becomes increasingly evident that the school system has benefitted only for some. A few has done wonderfully, but many have not, even marginalised.

Engineering a new curriculum is based on the strong believe in the school system. In other words, the curriculum policy is derived from a school paradigm. This paper will argue that the school paradigm is now obsolete, and even a “cleverly crafted curriculum by experts right at the top in Jakarta” will not help deliver the needed public education to ensure a demographical bonus in the next 20-40 years.

Learning : Essence of Education

Education is substantially more of learning issue than schooling, or even teaching. With the internet becoming ubiquitous, learning will require less schooling. If learning is a process of making sense of experiences and practices, learning as a cycle is basically composed of four basic activities that do not necessitate school to happen.

The first is reading as information acquisition (this includes seeing and listening). The second is experiencing or practicing as a means to prove information that have been acquisited. The third is writing as a means of innovating to what have been experienced or practiced. The fourth is speaking as a means to communicate of the innovation to other members of the community. Through this learning cycle, practices are continuously improved, and better tradition emerges.

What we need now is therefore not a larger and much more resource-absorbing school system with improved standards. On the contrary, what we actually need is a deschooling agenda in which learning opportunities are made much more accessible for the general public to flexibly benefit from.

The School System

As Robinson has stated (2010), the school system was clearly a revolutionary idea to educate the public at the beginning of the industrial revolution in the 17-18th century England. The school system was aimed primarily to prepare the young from working class families to labour in factories. When it was introduced in the East India (Indonesia during the Dutch colonization) in the late 19th century, the school system was established to recruit clerks to work for the colonial Dutch.

The school is organised using a production line, batch processes, and standardization mentality. Pupils are grouped according to their ages. Subjects (science, maths, literature, arts and phisical education) are taught independently in classes. Pupils undergo a designed learning process called curriculum.

There was no school system before the 19th century Indonesia. There were only pesantrens that provides diversed aspects of islamic teachings in a non-formal or informal settings. The pesantren was more “organic” than a school system in that santri works during the days, and learns in the afternoon. There was no clear-cut separation between the pesantren and its surrounding community.

In Europe and the USA, university tradition was older than the school system. They focused more on liberal arts (Rosyid, 2011). Both Oxford and Cambridge preceded the school system in England. Harvard is now entering its 400 years. Al Azhar in Egypt is now about a millenia of age. Peoples practically educated themselves informally at home and learnt certain vocational skills through informal internship before a very few of them managed to be admitted into university. The rich few might go to Jesuit schools to learn academically in theology, philosophy, arts or maths.

There was a time when no school system existed but the society was not necessarily less educated compared to a “schooled” society which we proudly call as modern. The long tendency of schools to radically monopolize education has made our society suffered a certain level of school addiction. This is ethically unacceptable.

Good public education can never be achieved through a school system (Illich, 1971). Illich even postulated that public education will benefit from a deschooling agenda : less schooling will lead to more education available for the general public to benefit from. Empirical evidence in a modern Indonesia at least proves Illich’s postulates.

The school, espescially public schools as a nation-wide franchised education provider, has imposed a radical monopoly – to use Illich’s phrase- in the education market. It even takes away education from families at home. Families become increasingly dependent on schools to educate their children. The strategic mistake of schools are their strong tendencies to send messages and to pretend that they are the only place for education. Poor children who cannot afford to go to schools lost their self-respects thinking that they are not educated.

Kurikulum 2013

The newly proposed curriculum as a whole is a peak sign of schoolism currently idolized by the MoEC. Combined with standardized test policy of National Exam (Ujian Nasional), this schoolism idolatery cannot be worse. The MoEC consistently claimed that the new curriculum is a major and much better shift from the existing KTSP.

Upon a closer observation, the Kur2013, however, is potentially recentralizing education sector, weakening school-based management and the role of teachers as professional, and worst of all, worsening the distrust by MoEC to teachers. Even the public discourse of the Kur2013 has effectively buried more fundamental education problems in Indonesia : significant teachers’ incompetence, and poor education governance. The process of the curriculum policy itself is a clear proof of poor governance : supply-driven, demand-insensitive, and central executive-heavy.

Changing curriculum and rising standards to improve education are powerful myths of the 20th century, if not misleading illusions. Upon a critical analysis, Kur2013 is actually nothing more than a tight diet receipt for a daily lunch in nearby warung. Kur2013 strongly assumes that by taking the diet faithfully, children from small villages surrounding Merauke in Papua and from a very urbanised Malang in East Java will be equally healthy and productive. This is total nonsense.

Why? First, the cook at the warung may not be competent to process the receipted menu. Some of the ingredients may be difficult to find locally, or it can only be provided from Jakarta.

Second, the cook may behave erratically, with dirty hands and plates, and the eating table is messy. The cooking utensils may also be cracky to be used properly.

The third, the children may have taken much better mother-prepared breakfast before going to schools. At dinners, at birthday parties and at community gatherings they may take other much different menus. They may also take snacks while watching TV.

Normal pupils with average intelligence do not need well-designed curriculum. Not so intelligent and disadvantaged children may need them. A rigid, well-crafted curriculum somehow under estimates the sophistication of intelligent, highly adaptive children as a learning organism created by God as “the best creation”.

A much simpler and generic “4 sehat 5 sempurna” curriculum will therefore do the work : a not-so-well detailed and crafted curriculum will do no harm to public education. Ample opportunities for utilizing local resources and in-promptu innovations are encouraged. Even with lauzy teachers, well-fed, smart and healthy children will survive their lives. Poorly serviced lunch does not matter much for well-brekfasting children.

Learning webs

We have to take back education from the monopolizing schools. Once education is understood as schooling, it becomes scarce resources by definition. More schools will lead to less education.

With the internet becomes more and more available at affordable cost, learning through the webs becomes increasingly more feasible and doable. When Illich introduced a learning webs as alternative to the school system in early 1970-s, the internet was then not available if not unthinkable. His revolutionary idea was considered to be too difficult to implement at that time. Now, entering the second decade of the 21st century the situation has changed so much that a learning webs will potentially serve public education better than the school system.

A learning webs is a network of learning nodes in which schools are some of those nodes. Any individual and institutions (such as clinics, shops, workshops, cafes, radios, recording studios, trained mechanics, practicing engineer, etc.) may form other nodes in the webs. Every body can learn from the webs in a non-formal, or even informal settings. Learning programs are flexibly developed individually by a typical learner after a discussion with a suitable learning partner. If costs are incurred, a coupon is issued to be reimbursed and paid by a local education authority. A system of accreditation and sertification may be needed if requested by typical learners but are dealt with non-formally.

Concluding Remarks

The 200 years age school system will soon be resided by a rising internet-based learning webs. A learning society is clearly more feasible in a learning webs setting. Teachers are to adapt themselves in order to stay relevant. Ever-changing school curriculum is increasingly irrelevant to improving education, and if this implicate major resources from state funding, the policy can be judged a waste of tax payers money and therefore unaccountable. The cronical formalism in education enforced by the school system need to be limited if not terminated in the near future through deschooling. This will benefit future public education.


1. Illich, Ivan “Deschooling Society”. Harper and Row. 1971

2. Mullis, Ina VS, Martin, M.O, Fay, Pierre, and Drucker, K. “PIRLS 2011 International Results in Reading”, Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). 2012

3. Robinson, Sir Ken. “Changing Paradigms”. A lecture at the Royal Society of Arts. 2010

4. Rosyid, Daniel M. “Pendidikan Liberal Arts dalam Pendidikan Tinggi Teknologi”. Jurnal Edukasi, IAIN Sunan Kalijaga, 2011.

5. Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). IEA. 2011


Daniel M. Rosyid, Ph.D is a professor, Dept. Of Ocean Engineering ITS, Advisor to the East Java Education Board.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *