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.

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