YOHANES SURYA

Indonesia,

The development of Indonesia depends heavily on math and science-based professions, but young people’s interest in both subjects is dramatically lacking. Yohanes Surya is a physicist encouraging a generation of students to excel in science and math, and pursue professions drawing on these skills to help Indonesia progress as a nation. He encourages not only students, but teachers, as they hold the key to nurturing the nation’s budding scientists. Ultimately, he seeks to achieve a societal reformation in science/math education; from a feeling of dread of these feared subjects, to an attitude of how science/math is embraced by many/all in their day-to-day activities.

This profile below was prepared when Yohanes Surya was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.

INTRODUCTION

The development of Indonesia depends heavily on math and science-based professions, but young people’s interest in both subjects is dramatically lacking. Yohanes Surya is a physicist encouraging a generation of students to excel in science and math, and pursue professions drawing on these skills to help Indonesia progress as a nation. He encourages not only students, but teachers, as they hold the key to nurturing the nation’s budding scientists. Ultimately, he seeks to achieve a societal reformation in science/math education; from a feeling of dread of these feared subjects, to an attitude of how science/math is embraced by many/all in their day-to-day activities.




THE NEW IDEA

Yohanes is replacing a teaching method based on rote memorization with one that explores science through a logical framework, making the study of physics and math fun and interesting for young people. By engaging students and requiring them to figure out and understand the theory behind what they learn, his new educational methodology fosters critical thinking skills students need to be successful professionals.

The primary means by which Yohanes is achieving this goal is through the organization he established: Surya Institute. He uses his organization to endorse new teaching materials he has developed and to train teachers across Indonesia in more effective methods of teaching physics. Instructors are supported by new materials and follow-up meetings, and are encouraged to spread what they learn to their peers. The Institute currently has forty core trainers and has already trained thousands of teachers, but it can hardly keep up with demand. Yohanes has garnered so much public attention that local governments, teachers’ colleges, and teachers throughout Indonesia are clamoring to learn his methods.

Yohanes first drew public attention by training a champion Indonesian physics team in the international Physics Olympics, and has since capitalized on that momentum to bring science to the forefront of students’ interest in particular, but also to the public, through national physics/science/math competitions, science camps, science fairs, introducing science working together with entertainment parks, comics, and popular science articles. Through this work and his tireless efforts to endorse more effective teaching methods, he hopes to change the education system and eventually the nation’s mindset in ways that will ultimately help his country progress.




THE PROBLEM

In Indonesia and much of the world, science and math are taught through rote memorization of abstract principles in textbooks. Students are not encouraged to explore concepts analytically, use problem-solving skills, or develop critical thinking. As a result, young people’s science and math competencies lack substance, and satisfaction in these subjects wanes. In addition, since many kids fail science and math courses to begin with, widespread dread of both subjects is quite prevalent among students. This all results in creating a generation of young people that lack the confidence they need to pursue higher education degrees in math and science-related fields such as engineering, thus decreasing the number of professionals in technology and science. These fields are critical to Indonesia’s growth, and thus this poses a particularly serious problem in a rapidly developing country.

The disincentives students feel towards pursuing study in math and science is furthered by a lack of quality of instructors. A study conducted by the Indonesian Ministry of Education found that most teachers’ mastery of science and math only exceeds their students’ by a small margin. Though in recent years the Ministry of Education has decentralized, allowing teachers more freedom in developing their own curriculums, they are simply not prepared to teach using more effective alternative methods. In fact, science and math teachers do not know how to integrate basic scientific concepts with practical, useful applications that relate students’ lives, ultimately resulting in exacerbating their students’ disinterest.




THE STRATEGY

Yohanes has taken on a multifaceted approach to increasing the appeal and popularity of math and science among young Indonesian students. His strategy includes building on the attention he drew training a champion Indonesian team for the International Physics Olympiad, as well as publishing science-based popular comics and articles related to current news in daily newspapers. Furthermore, Yohanes has developed a new teaching methodology, complete with innovative and engaging teaching materials, that he is spreading to schools across the country through teacher trainings, public seminars and campaigns.

In 1993, Yohanes first attracted public attention to physics, a field lacking broad appeal, by training a champion team for the International Physics Olympiad. This earned important media coverage and brought physics into the spotlight, while also enabling Yohanes to garner the support and attention of the Ministry of Education. By 2000, he had successfully convinced the government to launch an Indonesian National Science Olympiad, through which he started a chain of vibrant science clubs in schools throughout the country. This program helped Yohanes boost student confidence, proving that even kids from remote areas can excel, and win international competitions.

In the course of training Indonesian delegates for the International Olympiad, Yohanes was disturbed by how ill-prepared his students were due mainly to the inadequate math and science education they received in primary school. His training sessions gave him the opportunity to develop new teaching methodologies and materials to address this problem, and in 2006, he established the Surya Institute to reform the Indonesian education system, particularly in math and science. Today, the Institute has twelve staff and forty core teacher-trainers, including professors and Olympiad alumni. Yohanes continues developing and refining teaching material and methodology as well as producing books and multi-media that harness students’ critical-thinking skills in such a way that makes science and math fun and easy, using real-life demonstrations and engaging students in the learning process.

Teachers are integral to providing good educations, and the purpose of Yohanes’ training program is to enable teachers to develop their own methods, drawing on Surya Institute’s resources for support. The Institute trains teachers across Indonesia in sessions sponsored by the national government, local governments, COs, teaching schools, companies, and in some cases by fees paid by teachers themselves. As a way of assuring teacher accountability, Surya Institute also familiarizes groups of students at the teachers’ schools with its methodology, calling on young people to demand that their math and science education is easy-to-understand and enjoyable.

Yohanes’ methodology is becoming so well-known that growing demand from schools and local governments has allowed him to develop a revenue stream for the Institute by hosting private training sessions for which he charges fees to teachers sent by private schools. Yohanes also has a targeted effort to spread his methodology to particularly remote, rural regions of Indonesia, sending his forty teacher-trainers to host sessions in over a hundred regencies across the breadth of Indonesia, encompassing regions in Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and Papua, as well as many small islands in eastern Indonesia.

Yohanes’ work is supported through partnerships with the Department of Education, the Ministry of State Enterprises, the Australian Education Center, the Department of Religious Affairs, and by oil companies such as Chevron, BP and more. Surya Institute has been trusted by regional governments—including the Papua and Aceh—and schools alike to develop their science and math education. Yohanes emphasizes the importance of empowering these schools and regional education administrations, recognizing the need for autonomy in an era of government decentralization and newfound democracy.

With science and math education reform in mind for the whole nation, currently Yohanes is intent on establishing a teachers’ institute by 2010, focusing on Math and Science. He hopes to be able to educate 1000 new teachers/year from all over Indonesia, particularly those in dire need of empowering their own community with local teachers, and not totally dependent on teachers from outside their region. At the same time, Surya Institute is also inviting various corporations intent on supporting the institute’s mission, through a program called “Companies for Teachers”, an ambitious program to train 22,500 teachers across Indonesia in a 4 to 5 year period to be able to teach Math and Science in a fun, easy and enjoyable manner.

Indonesia’s international success in the Physics Olympiad has led to increased demand for Surya Institute trainings in other countries, including Mongolia, Malaysia and Singapore. For now, Yohanes is concentrating on Indonesia, but he expects to begin international expansion within the next several years. In the meantime, Yohanes has not stopped with training Indonesia’s brightest to excel in Physics Olympiads, and encourages students to participate in various other international competitions and events, such as International Zhautykov Olympiad, International Conference of Young Scientist, Asian Science Entrepreneurship Competition, Global Entrepreneurship Competition, Asian Science Olympiad for Primary Schools, Asian Science Camp, and more.




THE PERSON

Yohanes was raised in a humble Chinese Indonesian family that values diligence, hard work and persistence. Inspired by a memorable high school teacher, he earned a scholarship to study physics at the University of Indonesia. After graduating and teaching for two years, he was awarded another scholarship to pursue his PhD studies at the College of William and Mary in the United States. After receiving his doctorate, Yohanes began a promising career as a nuclear physics researcher at TJNEF. Ultimately, though, it was his desire to encourage the study of science and prove that his home country could excel in the international arena that led him to quit his job and return home.

In 1994, Yohanes established a system to manage and train Indonesians to participate in the International Physics Olympiad, and also started the International Junior Science Competition for middle school students and the Asian Physics Olympiad for university students in Asia. His hard work and tireless effort has made him as a well-known figure in the field of education in Indonesia.




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