Motivating students to become independent learners

Susan J. Natih ,  Contributor ,  Jakarta   |  Sun, 11/09/2008 11:05 AM  |  Supplement

For teachers, life’s unsung heroes and heroines, every day is a busy day and children’s assessment an ongoing and multi-faceted process which must seek, among other things, to provide valuable clues about how a child is learning and to enable each child to learn in the way that suits them best. Continue reading

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Why (not) international education?

A. Chaedar Alwasilah ,  Contributor ,  Bandung   |  Sun, 11/09/2008 11:05 AM  |  Supplement

Beginning 2009, the government is committed to spending 20 percent of the total state budget on education. The increase of the budget is expected to accelerate education programs and improve their quality. According to Law No 20/2003 on national education, regional governments, namely those at regency and city levels, have to establish schools of international standard.

The law has been responded to differently by government officials, schools and parents. The thorny question of what is meant by “international school” remains. As long as no government regulation is made to put the law into operation, there will be multiple and often conflicting interpretations, both conceptually and operationally.

There are at least three common interpretations. For some, international school means simply employing a foreign teacher or principal regardless of his or her academic background. This is based on the erroneous assumption that an expatriate is a MacGyver who has a smart brain to come up with a solution when under pressure.

For some, international school means using English as a medium of instruction. Some teachers — be they Indonesian or foreigners — use English bilingually with a varying degree of fluency.

Bilingual programs are then perceived as an indicator of quality education; hence fluency in English becomes a priority over everything else. Many schools at subdistrict or village levels have jumped on the bandwagon, promoting theirs as international schools as soon as they have a bilingual class.

Still for some, international school means fulfilling a set of criteria that are recognized internationally. Thus, the employment of expatriates is not mandatory, as the most important thing is institutional benchmarking. In big cities there are already such quality schools that have been in operation from long before the law was made.

In a democratic society everyone has a right to the best education possible. Many Indonesian parents send their children overseas for quality education, spending a lot of money that would be otherwise foreign exchange. Seen from this economic perspective, by sending children to international schools at home much of our foreign exchange is secured.

The establishment of quality international schools as mandated by the law is indeed a way out. Such establishment has been responded to positively by parents who are reluctant to send their children overseas for cultural reasons. They are worried that Western education will spoil their culture and especially religion. Evidently in big cities many branded international schools have been established by Muslim schools and foundations. Many educators worry that international schooling in the long run will ruin the national system of education, aimed to preserve the indigenous and cultural values long and deep-rooted in the soil of Indonesia. Too much dependence on English will result in negative effects as follows: (1) students will unlearn the national language(s) already acquired, and (2) students will develop the attitude that Indonesian is not a language of mathematics, science and technology.

The negative effect of Western education has been obvious among university professors. In my observation, many Indonesian lecturers with Western educational backgrounds are reluctant to publish in Indonesian and prefer to write in English and use English textbooks. They are responsible for instilling in college students that Indonesian is not appropriate for developing science and technology. In other words, Indonesian has been disempowered by intellectuals on campuses. The international school campaign will even worsen the situation.

The bottom line is that international schooling should not uproot nationalism. Korea, Japan and China — to mention just a few — have set good examples. They are proud of their national language as a language of science and technology. They are committed to educating their citizens through publications in the national language. The lesson learned is that we should develop quality education without marginalizing the national language. Fluency in English is a byproduct, not the end.

In the final analysis, the key word of discourse is not “international school” but “quality school.” What makes a school international is its quality, not the other way around. There are three prerequisites of quality schooling: academic rigor, high expectations and expert teachers.

Academic rigor suggests deliberate efforts to create environments conducive to teaching and learning. Schools utilize rich resources to facilitate creativity. The school management always asks, “What’s best for students?” and “What does research say?” High expectations imply that everybody desires the highest achievements possible. Students are provided with the opportunity to become the best that they can be.

Expert teachers are those who master the content knowledge, develop the lesson plan and manipulate the classroom management. Lesson planning is based on three principles: independent and collaborative, goal-oriented, and relevant learning. They develop rapport with students by building strong bonds and knowing individual students. The end result is a powerful learning environment that is focused on student learning.

The writer can be reached at: chaedar_alwasilah@upi.edu.

Individualizing English instruction at Islamic colleges

The Jakarta Post ,  Jakarta   |  Sat, 11/13/1999 7:00 AM  |  Opinion

BANDUNG (JP): For over 30 years, English teaching in the State Institutesfor Islamic Studies (IAIN) has been carried out differently. This is reflected by the different English curricula of IAIN Yogyakarta, IAIN Jakarta and similar colleges in Sumatra and Kalimantan. No wonder that their graduates vary greatly from one region to another.

Only recently have efforts to create a national curriculum been made. Last year the ministry of religious affairs under former minister Tarmizi Taher managed to publish Core Topics of the National Curriculum. The message was to make similar the vision and mission among Islamic institutesor universities regarding the teaching of English in the country. It statesthat the general objective is to build and develop oral and written communicative competence in the academic world or in daily life.

Such an objective sounds promising. However, a look at 44 topics offered in the curriculum suggests that its designer lacked a clear vision, or evenmight have lost direction. Roughly speaking, the curriculum just lists some44 topics of English grammar and 36 readings. What does it mean?

Once an old friend, a quite senior English lecturer at one IAIN, responded to a question on how he had implemented the new curriculum. “”Well, I just followed what the curriculum says. But I planned to teach grammar as much as possible until mid semester, and then, I would give them(the students) reading comprehension””, he said. He seemed to be unable to improvise in order to develop the curriculum so that teaching would be beneficial for both the lecturer and students. He not only broke the communicative teaching principles, but also misled the English for Special Purposes (ESP) mission.

It would not be surprising if the description of teaching English by the above lecturer is typical of others at Islamic higher education institutions.

Since the present curriculum lists little material in English grammar andnecessitates unclear reading programs, it raises burning issues in terms ofpedagogical perspectives. Firstly, the predominant grammar instruction in the entire program would bore the students and, ultimately, would not enhance them with several basic skills, such as understanding, translating,writing and speaking.

Secondly, the use of books, such as those by LG Alexander, for reading materials, the main handbook of the English department students, will likely deviate the objectives of English teaching at the Islamic higher education institutions.

Such students are not prepared to be English teachers in the future, rather, they are expected to deal with English literature, to communicate in English, and so forth.

Thirdly, the first and the second factors show that the teaching process is still far from the principles of integrated skills which have been promoted in the last 25 years.

Policy makers should be aware of the following observations:

* The instructional program at higher level is not a repetition of that in the secondary levels. Any instructional program should be up-to-date to capture students’ thoughts and imaginations. The program should be viewed as the development, cultivation and extension of the lower one.

* Reading programs should facilitate students to recognize their specificsubject areas. At State Institutes for Islamic Studies, some well known books of Muslim philosophers should be recommended.

* Vocabulary enrichment should be encouraged to achieve an appropriate level in which students are supposed to speak and write well.

Only then can English instruction at Islamic higher education institutions be realized, provided that all are open minded to changes.

The writer teaches at the Institute of Islamic Studies (IAIN) Imam Bonjolin Padang, and is a graduate student of Bandung’s Teacher Training College.