There have been higher concerns about providing adequate learning circumstances for gifted students in Indonesia. The Department of National Education has provided a legal regulation allowing schools to provide acceleration opportunities for gifted students. In section 5, article 4 of National Education System Act of 2003 it is stated that any citizen who has special talent and intelligence should get special education. Section 12, article 1 states that every learner in any grade level has the right to … (b) obtain educational services based upon their interest, talent, and ability; … (f) finish their grade based on how fast they could learn. The time they need to finish their study should not incompatible with the regulation (Depdiknas, 2003 p. 160). Quite surprisingly, in response to that regulation, many schools compete each others to open acceleration class. Acceleration class program is now becoming a trend in Indonesian primary and secondary schools (Kamdi, 2004).
In the area of gifted education, acceleration is a fashionable term. Toth (1999) identifies acceleration into the following definitions: ‘early admission, grade skipping, advancing to a higher grade of a specific subject area, early graduation, or concurrent enrolment in college’. Some other options of acceleration are continuous progress, content acceleration, testing out of course requirements, advanced course in school breaks or after hours, correspondence courses, advanced placement courses, dual enrolment, specially designed credit courses, and radical acceleration (Columbia, 1995). A lot of schools around the world choose and consider acceleration program as an appropriate way to fulfil the gifted children needs (Belcastro, 1998; Lambert, 2005; Toth, 1999). A survey in Iowa Public School districts in 1997 shows that 63.7 per cent public schools implement (moderate and radical) acceleration program for gifted students (Belcastro, 1998).
This essay would like to limit the meaning of acceleration class and ability grouping of Indonesian schools. When compared to Toth’s definition of acceleration, the acceleration program in Indonesian schools is not simply facilitating gifted children to accelerate. It is actually the combination between acceleration and ability grouping. Toth (1999) himself views acceleration and ability grouping as different strategies for meeting gifted children’s needs.
Kamdi (2004) states that acceleration program in Indonesia is only the different form of “excellent class program”(direct translation of program kelas unggulan, which is almost similar to ability grouping), which was introduced by the government previously in 1994, with an additional advantage: an opportunity to speed up. That is why the program is called “acceleration class program”, not acceleration program.
Acceleration class program in Indonesian schools, according to Akbar and Hawadi (2002), is generally in the form of grade skipping, where children could complete their study less than the normal time, which then leads into an early graduation and admission to higher educational level. Even though the regulation enables students to accelerate individually and in a particular subject, there is no evidence that schools give opportunity to students to speed up individually or in a certain subject (Akbar & Hawadi, 2002; Sawali, 2002).
The regulation requires schools to use multiple ways in selecting the gifted children. The methods of determining the students’ giftedness, based on the information book published by the Department of National Education, could be in the following ways: a) Academic records, students who have outstanding academic records might enter the acceleration class b) Students who get IQ test score of 140 or more, and c) Subjective information: self nomination, peers nomination, teachers nomination, parents nomination d) Not in sick condition because of an acute disease e) Approval from the parents and the students themselves (Depdiknas, 2006). However, most of Indonesian schools only use IQ test in grouping the students. The groups is, consequently, not subject but generic based grouping, where any children who are considered to have high intelligence is grouped in a class without regarding in what area they are strong (Kamdi, 2004; Sawali, 2002).
The question appearing from this condition is: Should schools in Indonesia separate gifted and not-gifted children with acceleration class programs? The proposition of this essay is that schools in Indonesia need to separate gifted and not gifted into regular and acceleration classes because gifted and not-gifted children have different needs. This essay is going to examine the proposition by involving community of inquiry that presents arguments for and against it, considering the evidences, and moral reasoning consisting of principles, agreements, virtuous and end consequences considerations within psychology, curriculum, and economic paradigms.
Different arguments involving approval and objection of acceleration class program under psychological paradigm are contested. Besides presenting evidence(s), moral implications involving principles, agreements, virtuous, and end consequences consideration are also used.
Gifted and not gifted children have different needs, talents, and academic capacity that, if it is not managed properly, will lead into psychological problems (Moore, 2005; NAGC, 2005). Moore (2005) in reporting Kingore’s (2001) and Richert’s (1997) study notes some behavioural problems of gifted children as the consequence of placing them at the same class with average students, such as ‘boredom with level-grade curriculum, inappropriate behavioural outburst or reactions, sloppy work, demanding of their parents’ and teacher’s attention, demanding of other students, inconsiderate of others needs/wants, and difficulty transitioning from one subject to the next during the school day’. National Association of Gifted Children of United State of America also declares that gifted children may suffer boredom from repetitious learning in heterogenous class (NAGC, 2005). Lambert (2005), furthermore, argues that gifted students may experience frustration, completely disinterested and drop out when they are not properly treated. Such behavioural problems, thereabouts, have become the main reasons for Indonesian schools to implement acceleration class program (Kamdi, 2004; Sawali, 2002).
On the contrary, a research done by Field et al. (1998) show an evidence that gifted children do not always have social behavioural problems in the class. The research found that
‘Gifted children perceived themselves as being more intimate with friends, assuming fewer family responsibilities, and taking more risks (both sports- and danger-related risks). Contrary to the literature suggesting delays in the social development of gifted students, these data indicates that gifted students may socially precocious when compared with non gifted peers’.
Leman (2006), then, argues that ‘there is not a lot of wisdom in pushing kids ahead, even kids who are gifted’. Leman believes that rather than pushing children through acceleration program, it is wiser for parents to be involved more deeply in teaching the children.
However, it is very important for Indonesian educators to understand the concept of giftedness before implementing the acceleration class program since the meaning of giftedness changes over time. For a long time giftedness has relied on nature assumption that gifted is born, not made (Dai & Coleman, 2005). At another moment gifted children are considered as fast learners who usually get high IQ scores (Columbia, 1995). Those meanings may still be appropriate to be the underlying principle of the Indonesian acceleration class, which is typically based upon IQ tests.
However nowadays, giftedness is not only about nature but also nurture (Dai & Coleman, 2005). It has more complex meanings and involves numerous number of attributes that IQ test alone could not comprehensively identify it (Columbia, 1995; Lambert, 2005). Rather than only using IQ and other standardised tests, teachers may have to see other evidences such as portfolios, group projects, performance-based assessments, or a summation of work displayed over time (Lambert, 2005). Moreover, Gardner (as cited in Columbia, 1995 p. 6), in the theory of multiple intelligence, identifies seven areas of capabilities ‘i.e. linguistics; logical-mathematical; spatial; bodily, kinaesthetic; musical; interpersonal intelligence; and intrapersonal intelligence’. This theory makes it clearly possible for a student to be gifted in only one or more particular areas.
When in principle, gifted children should be provided an appropriate learning situation to meet their unique needs, Indonesian teachers’ decision to engage them into acceleration class is actually in agreement with this principle. However, virtuous teachers do not only group gifted children based on a single test (e.g. IQ test). They must also research comprehensively their “individual giftedness” through longer and careful processes, and use more than one tool.
IQ test result alone may group them into another heterogonous class with more complex problems; e.g. children that are gifted in mathematics but bad in language are mixed with bad mathematics but good language children. Consequently, they may suffer from more stressful situation than if they are grouped with not gifted peers. It is better if teachers always communicate with the children and their families about any problems that may happen during their study. This continuous mutual interaction will bring a good agreement between them to solve the problems.
Under the curriculum paradigm, some opinions about alternatives of curriculum used in teaching the gifted students in acceleration program are discussed. Evidence consideration and moral reasoning involving principles, agreements, virtuous and consequences, considerations are also used.
Toth (1999) recommends curriculum compacting to help gifted children meet their academic needs. In reporting Renzulli’s (1994) study, Toth states that ‘curriculum compacting is the modification or streamlining of the curriculum for those students who have demonstrated mastery of the curriculum content or who clearly have the potential to cover material in a fraction of the times their peers require’. Curriculum compacting is easy to implement in any grade level (Toth, 1999 p. 12). Toth’s recommendation implies that schools do not need to make new curriculum to fulfil the need of gifted children.
Similar to the above line of reasoning, Indonesian schools use similar curriculum to both accelerated and regular class. In order to accommodate the gifted children’s needs in acceleration, the Department of National Education allows schools to make modification to the national curriculum. The modification could be in these forms:
a) Time allocation is modified based on how fast the gifted students learn.
b) Teachers chose and skip materials within national and local curriculum.
c) Providing teaching and learning tools that support the fast pace of gifted children in learning.
d) Providing different learning situation.
e) Modifying classroom management that enables gifted students to learn in many ways: in pairs, individually, or in groups (Depdiknas, 2006).
Milner and Ford (2005), in contrast, argues that because the classes are different, the curriculum must be different. Gifted children need different curriculum not only because they are fast learner, but they are also learning differently (Tolan, 1990). Gifted children are those who are advanced in one or some areas. Some of them are very bright students but, at the same time, have learning problems, such as attention deficit disorders, learning disabilities, Asperger’s syndrome, deafness and so on (Tomlinson, 2005). Therefore, ‘because gifted learners vary considerably as a population, there is no single formula or template for curriculum and instruction that will serve all of them well’ (Tomlinson, 2005 p. 160). VanTassel-Baska and Stambaugh (2005 p. 212) emphasize that ‘In the current state of education, gifted students and other special populations may be sorely neglected … Differentiation of curriculum for gifted learning is a critical aspect of such planning’.
Betts (2004) suggests three levels of curriculum and instruction. Level one is called prescribed curriculum and instruction, which provides basic knowledge and skills for all children. The level of challenge and complexity in this level of curriculum are not appropriate for gifted children. Level two is teacher-differentiated curriculum, which includes advanced instruction and concept of differentiation and designed to meet the need of gifted children. In this level, the curriculum is developed by the teachers. Level three is learner-differentiated curriculum, where ‘the content area is selected by learners’ and it facilitates individual and self-directed learning processes. The attention is not only focused on cognitive, but also emotional and social development. Within these levels, there are two types of movement. The first is teachers’ movement from ‘dispenser of knowledge to facilitator of the learning process’. The second is students movement on the scale of learning from ‘the role of student to the role of learner’ (Betts, 2004).
The arguments of using either similar – with modification, or different curriculum seems all sensible and applicable. Since both options need teachers’ extra skills to modify or to create different curriculum, deeper attention to the teachers’ competence on curriculum development is needed. Failures in implementing acceleration program may come from the lack of teachers’ competences in the area of curriculum and instruction. As an evidence, Van Tassel-Baska’s and Stambaugh’s study (2005) notes some curriculum matters that teachers have is becoming the barriers in implementing the differentiation programs, including acceleration. They state teachers might be deficient in subject matter knowledge, classroom management skills, time management, administrative support, relevant pedagogical skills, and even knowledge of modifying curriculum.
Therefore, examined from moral reasoning, agreement between all stockholders of acceleration class program is the most critical in either modifying or developing the curriculum within acceleration program. The agreement should involve teachers, head teachers, expert of education and psychology, and most importantly, the students through, for example, continuous learning needs analyses. Without this agreement teachers might be trapped to use their instinct, which consequently, might bring bad impact to the students. Considering some problems previously stated by Van Tassel-Baska and Stambaugh, training should also be given to teachers. Without sufficient training, teachers may face difficulty in modifying or developing the curriculum that, again, will bring bad consequences to the students.
When in principle it is correct to provide different curriculum for the gifted students because they are different from not gifted ones, then in principle, both modifying and developing new curriculum are correct. Therefore, teachers or schools that provide different curriculum through either modifying or developing new one are virtuous. Virtuous teachers understand their students’ needs and always find a way to fulfil their needs.
The simple key question to begin the discussion in economic paradigm is whether or not acceleration class program provides more economical education. In this paradigm, different assumptions are contested; evidences of both opinions are also presented. The essay also uses moral reasoning within this economic paradigm.
Kamdi (2004) states that acceleration class program in Indonesian schools is so expensive that the class is popularly known as an executive class. Some evidences show that acceleration classes cost more expensively than regular ones. In SMA N 78 Jakarta (Senior secondary school 78 Jakarta), according to Mustar (2006), each student should pay 24 million Rupiah every year compared to regular students who pay only 250 thousands Rupiah monthly. However, each student sitting in acceleration class is provided with one computer with access to the internet. They are taught by teachers who have international certificate of teaching. This differentiation makes acceleration class highly more expensive than that of regular class.
In Purwokerto, Central Java, as reported by Eviyanti (2006) from Pikiran Rakyat newspaper, junior secondary school students who sit in acceleration classes should pay their enrolment fee 10 to 12 million Rupiah, while those who go to regular class only pay 2 to 4 million Rupiah. The schools take more money from accelerated students because the program is purely funded by the parents. The government does not provide any subsidy to the class (Mustar, 2006).
In this situation, the parents are virtuous by spending larger number of money for their children. The schools are also virtuous for better facilities, curriculum and quality of teaching and learning they provide. However, schools may be trapped into commercial purposes. Therefore, it would be better if there is a harmony agreement between schools, parents, and the government. The government gives subsidies for the acceleration classes so that parents do not need spend too much money and the schools are still able to provide better quality of education.
Without the government support, the policy of acceleration class program may be biased. It gives benefit only for wealthy students but brings bad consequence to gifted children coming from poor families, due to lack of financial support, although they deserve to accept it. When based on section 31 of 1945 Indonesian Constitution every Indonesian citizen has right to get education, then, the governments decision not to subsidise acceleration class is wrong and, therefore, against this constitution principle.
Benbow, in his study in 1992 (cited in Toth, 1999, p. 7), on the contrary, states that ‘acceleration is an option with little or no financial impact; it is relatively easy to implement and greatly benefits some highly advanced students… because classrooms, materials, and teachers are already in the place’. From this statement, acceleration program, with or without ability grouping, in other part of the world is not expensive. It also implies in order to be more economical, teaching and learning sources like classrooms, materials, and teachers should be ready to support acceleration program so that schools do not need to provide different type of sources.
Another reason is because students need shorter time to graduate from school through grade skipping (Toth, 1999). While other students spend three years to graduate, accelerated students may only need two years. The money they spend also depends on the time they use to study. The shorter students go to school, the more economical they will be.
As an evidence, Georgia is a state that instructs schools to implement acceleration program because it is the most economical option to meet gifted children needs (Dugan, 2007). The position paper about acceleration of National Association of Gifted Children, an association in United State of America, also affirms that acceleration could be a successful strategy for students coming from low income families (NAGC, 2005).
Benbow’s study and the above evidences actually gives an important implication to the Indonesian acceleration program that if all schools in Indonesia could prepare acceleration class with this rationale, both rich and poor gifted students would get good consequence from this program. However, Indonesian schools’ decision to provide different classrooms, materials, and teachers indicate that those components are not ready yet to support gifted education. Therefore, further agreement between schools and government to build strong foundation – like good classrooms, materials, and teachers, is essential so that the program could bring benefits to both rich and poor gifted students.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Based on the examination of the three paradigms, the proposition stating that Indonesian schools need to separate gifted and not gifted, basically, is accepted. However, whether or not they are separated physically into regular and “acceleration class” is becoming a different matter. The following dots provide further explanation:
1) The psychology paradigm implies that, other than implementing “acceleration class program”, the schools need to see other alternatives of acceleration, such as content or subject acceleration, advanced courses, after school or school’s break school and others. Implementing acceleration class program alone, which could completely separate same age groups into different classes, might give worse psychological impact to the students.
2) Curriculum paradigm implies that Indonesian schools may choose to modify existing national or local curriculum, or develop new curriculum that best fit the needs of gifted children. However, teachers’ or educators’ readiness to make modification or new curriculum should have special attention. Evidences, as reported by Van Tassel-Baska’s and Stambaugh’s study (2005), show that failures in implementing gifted education program may come from the lack of teachers competence in curriculum area.
3) Viewed from economic paradigm, Indonesian schools need to evaluate the acceleration class program because it costs extremely expensive. There are actually a lot of ways the schools can take to make it more economical, such as government supports, source preparation, and again, implementing other types of acceleration. Schools should also be careful not to be trapped into commercial motivation pitfall.
Finally, this essay does not suggest Indonesian schools to eliminate the acceleration class program. It recommends that the schools need to evaluate the acceleration class program so that it could run properly based on the real needs of gifted children, becomes more economical and give less psychological impact to the gifted children. The schools may also need to see other types of acceleration. This essay also suggests the teachers to always improve their ability in curriculum development and modification, and instruction.
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