First students to sit ‘free learning’ university entry exam

This month, Indonesia’s state universities open for the registration of new students, the first cohort to take the new, revamped national university admission test called SNBT, the Indonesian acronym for ‘test-based national selection’, which is intended to move away from rote learning and improve university access for less-advantaged pupils.

Anindito Aditomo, head of Indonesia’s Agency for Standardisation, Curriculum and Assessment in Education under the Ministry of Education and Culture, said the new admission test, which will be held for the first time in May, is part of the “free learning” principle of the current curriculum. Students are free to learn what they want without being confined by their previous education.

“The new selection test measures not what test-takers have learned and memorised; instead it mainly assesses their understanding of what they have learned and memorised,” Aditomo said on 10 January in Jakarta, marking the opening of the national university registration.

The SNBT replaces the previous National Admission Selection for State Universities (SNMPTN) which focused on academic or subject knowledge. The new exam does away with subject exams and focuses instead on reasoning, mathematics and literacy in the national language of Bahasa Indonesia and in English.

Apart from the new SNBT, which will be the basis of entry for around 30% of total seats in state universities, students still have two other ways to access state universities. Another 20% can enter via the SNBP, or Achievement-Based National Selection, based on their school performance and scores.

Around 50% enter universities via the Jalur Mandiri, which literally means ‘autonomous channel’, conducted by individual state universities with their own test standards.

Reasoning and critical thinking

The Education and Culture Ministry announced the new admission test on its Instagram account on 14 October 2022.

“In order to improve reasoning capability and critical thinking among students, from 2023 the national selection of state university students will no longer be [via] the academic test [but] instead via a cognitive potential test, mathematical logic and literacy in Bahasa Indonesia and English,” it stated.

Asriyanti (one name), head of the ministry’s Center for Educational Assessment, said the four skills – reasoning, mathematics, literacy and foreign language – were the foundation for acquiring scientific knowledge in any field. “A student can become an expert in technology only if he or she is good in mathematics and communication,” she told local media. “Now students are not only required to read a lot. [But] they should read critically,” she added.

The ministry has said the exam is intended to encourage students to learn more widely and comprehensively. It measures the individual’s cognitive and reasoning potential and capacity to learn new things, then to go deeper into selected subjects at the university stage.

The Director-General of Higher Education Nizam Nizam said on the ministry’s (Dikbudristek) web page that the new test aims “to connect the dynamic transformation that has already taken place at lower education levels with higher education”.

“This is a development of the free learning principle,” he asserted, adding that the new test encourages prospective university students to hone problem-solving abilities, rather than memorise theories, data and information.

More inclusive

Notably, the new admission test gives test-takers an equal opportunity to enter universities and is not dependent on their previous educational background and basic knowledge, particularly those who might be hindered by less knowledge in particular subjects.

Subject-based tests are known to hinder disadvantaged pupils from less developed areas with poor educational facilities.

Similar to Scholastic Aptitude Tests or SATs, the new admissions exam is a standardised test which measures basic critical thinking, reading, mathematics and writing skills. Most Indonesian colleges and universities already request SAT score results from applicants.

But not everyone welcomed the move away from subject-specific testing. Sukardiman (one name), director of education at the Surabaya-based Airlangga University, said the new test ignores the social science-natural science division that enables students to choose study fields that suit them.

“In higher education, specialisation is important. The SNBT makes the specialism insignificant,” Sukardiman told University World News.

A wider range of students

Dr Ramdany (one name), a senior lecturer at the Jakarta-based Muhammadiyah Economic High School, sees it differently, saying the new test provides more opportunity to widen the range of higher education aspirants. “Specialisation is important, but ‘free’ education is more [important],” he told University World News.

“Those who enrol in a highly competitive programme will face tough tests in line with their study field. I think if they fail after two semesters they have to leave. This is a sort of natural selection,” Ramdany said. “But if they succeed, then they can be assured that they have the ability to pursue what they are trying to achieve in their study,” he added.

Nowadays it is not enough to be smart, he added. “Education is about reasoning, a good mentality, integrity and commitment to one’s own values. We will be left behind if we adopt education that only deals with intelligence. Technology has now been able to transfer human intelligence to robots and computers,” Ramdany said. But “personality, integrity and character cannot be transferred to machines and computers,” he added.