This is what Indonesia needs in the future. I am sorry, but the world doesn’t need children who are good at memorizing” – Nadiem Makarim, Indonesian Minister of Education and Culture.

The new Indonesian Minister of Education and Culture, Nadiem Makarim, recently made headlines when he announced his controversial four educational policy programs, “Merdeka Belajar” or “Freedom of Learning”. One of the policies is the termination of the national exam in 2021. The national exam will be replaced by the Assessment of Minimum Competency and Survey of Character (literacy, numeracy, and character education strengthening). The tests are for students in the middle grades (fourth grade for elementary, eighth grade for junior high school and eleventh grade for senior high school). However, this test score can’t be used for a school entrance test. Nadiem, who is also a Harvard graduate, plans to revise learning material, zone system for school and standardized national school examination. 

Regarding his bold policy in eliminating national exam, the Minister receives many comments, some doubt his plan, and some applaud him. The most asked question is how to measure students’ competency without a national exam? 

First, we should look at the concept of “Freedom of Learning”, which is to liberate education institutions and encourage children to be innovative and promote creative thinking. In his meeting with the House of Representative (DPR), the Minister said “This is what Indonesia needs in the future. I am sorry, but the world doesn’t need children who are good at memorizing”. Finally! this is the statement that I have always wanted to hear from someone who has the power to change the Indonesian education policy. 

Why do I agree with his statement?

First, I support original thinking. I notice that the education system in Indonesia often puts pressure on students to give the “textbook answers”. When I was a student in Indonesia, I felt it was hard to write my own ideas. The exam questions did not give me space to explore my thoughts and express my opinions. Students would get a higher grade by memorizing answers from textbooks. On the contrary, when I studied in Manchester, to prepare for an exam, I had to analyze all reading materials and came up with my own ideas and wrote my thoughts on the existing theories. It allowed me to be creative and innovative. It made me think out of the box. I felt valued and challenged at the same time. I believe critical thinking is needed to deal effectively with a dynamic environment. 

Second, I am a firm believer in characters lead to success. Building character is as pivotal as mastering literacy and numeracy skills. Having good morals like empathy, tolerance, compassion, generosity combined with academic skills will create phenomenal future leaders. It should be noted that good morals should not be based on a certain religion because that will not create an inclusive environment. Teachers should use a holistic approach involving social and emotional learning. When students learn how to collaborate with others, how to respect differences, how to be fair, how to control their anger, school bullying can be prevented. School should be a safe place for children to learn and interact with each other. In the Japanese education system, one of their educational goals is to teach manners before knowledge, where children will focus on developing positive mannerisms and will not have any exam until the fourth grade. We could argue that could be one of the reasons why the Japanese are polite and intelligent. 

Third, I think that years of learning could not be fairly assessed in a few days of exam. It is a common misperception that one should study to pass an exam while the exam may not really measure the learning. Therefore, the learning process could be shallow and not meaningful for students. To stimulate deep learning, students must understand the holistic purpose of learning. I would like to see more opportunities for students to serve the community to practice what they have learned. In Finland, school is the center of the community and students play an active role where they set their own target and assess themselves. 

Overall, I agree that education should stimulate students to be innovative leaders with a sense of groundedness. The nation needs leaders who are intelligent, critical thinkers, wise, and have confidence without making anyone feeling inferior. I would like to see Indonesians come together to support the new policy and give constructive feedback. Most of the time, “change is hard because we focus on what we must give up, instead of what we would gain.”