Int’l standard school and the fallacy of English acquisition

Setiono Sugiharto ,  Jakarta   |  Sat, 03/27/2010 12:39 PM  |  Opinion

The recent hullabaloo over the enforcement of the education ministry’s 2009 decree targeted at international and national schools with the label “international” only serves to highlight the fact that education will never be free from government intervention.

In an effort to ensure quality control, government intervention is mandatory to regulate the mushrooming practice of so-called national schools with “international” standards and to protect the basic rights of citizens to quality education.

As a regular legal process for school evaluation, the issuance of the decree should not be viewed as detrimental.

In the longtime absence of assessment of education practices offered mainly by privately run schools with the label “international”, the decree is a part of the government’s initiative to continually monitor the practice of schools offering international curricula.

The decree calls for the inclusion of such subjects as religion, civics and the Indonesian language in the curricula, all of which must be conducted in Indonesian.

From a purely political standpoint, the introduction of these subjects can be construed as one of the alternatives to helping boost the spirit of nationalism among students studying at international schools.

Viewing the practice of international education in the context of nation-building, deputy education minister Fasli Jalal, in an interview with The Jakarta Post (March 18), stated, “It is impossible for Indonesian students at international schools to have a strong national attachment to the country if they do not learn Indonesian, religion or civics.”

It is completely understandable that the enforcement of the decree has sparked confusion among educators.

The label “international” connotes the West, and as such school subjects must be conducted in English rather than Indonesian.

It may seem rather odd for us to figure out that the schools, which are ostensibly international in standard, use Indonesian as the language of instruction.

It is also important to note here that although many schools claim to run bilingual programs, in practice the use of English is favored over the use of the local students’ native language.

This is clearly motivated by business orientation. Issuing a policy of insisting local students use English (via teaching instruction in English) is more of a sell for parents who wish for their children to master conversational English.

Irrespective of the political motive, the clearest educational benefit we can reap from the 2009 ministerial decree lies in the inclusion of the students’ native language in the learning process.

Quality education in the students’ native language surely facilitates the acquisition of English. At first, this may sound counterintuitive.

Language specialists have, in fact, cast doubt on the facilitation effect, arguing that the psychological mechanism for such an effect is non-existent.

However, with insight from empirical research, we can be confident that English can be acquired in a bi-directional way. The rationale is quite simple. When we encourage students to learn and read civics, for instance, in their native language, we give them what American educator Stephen Krashen calls “the knowledge of the world and subject matter knowledge”.

Knowledge gained in the students’ primary language serves as background information and as such provides a shortcut for learning a second language.

In terms of literacy proficiency, a student highly proficient in reading in their primary language will eventually become proficient second-language readers.

Here, literacy transfer from the primary language to a secondary language takes place, the reason being that reading strategy applies universally from one language to another.

For students with limited English proficiency, reading in the primary language is much easier than reading in a language they are not familiar with.

There is no need to worry, however, that literacy proficiency in the primary language restrains literacy acquisition of the second language, given the universal reading strategies the students employ. Once you can read, Krashen says, you can read.

There is indeed a blessing in disguise in the enforcement of the decree, in that as the eventual goal of most international-standard schools here is the mastery of conversational English, the enforcement of using Indonesian in certain subjects can help speed up the acquisition of academic language in the students’ primary and secondary languages.

Research demonstrates that the acquisition of academic language is strongly related to the students’ literacy skills. The more literate a student is, the greater their acquisition of academic language. Taking a more extreme view, we can say that literacy proficiency is the basic condition for the acquisition of academic language.

In addition to empowering students with solid background knowledge necessary for the acquisition of academic language in English, competence in the first language is believed to contribute to an awareness of biculturalism; that is, an avoidance of the state of “bicultural ambivalence”, shame of the students’ own culture and rejection of other’s cultures.

The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University in Jakarta and chief editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching.

National exam and educational development

Nurrohman and Dindin Jamaluddin ,  Bandung   |  Sat, 03/27/2010 12:40 PM  |  Opinion

National exam issue is currently igniting a hot debate. While many people including education observers, educators, students as well as lawmakers, stick to the opinion that the national exam should be abolished, National Education Minister Muhammad Nuh, on behalf of the government, asks people to stop making the issue controversial. This means that the government will not amend the ministry regulation on national exam.

Opponents of the national exam argue there are many frauds in its application; leaking documents, answer and question sheets as well as shamanism. Students’ intelligence is measured by grades, which partially touch the key purpose of the teaching-learning process. Grades play a significant role in our education and it leads students to become certificate oriented.

The national exam is a formalization process, a setback and degrades the spirit of education. It is nothing more than a theater by the government in the name of state building and is extremely formalistic. But rejecting national exam merely based on the “government’s failure” was not enough and not the appropriate way to solve problems related to education.

We should not be ashamed to admit that national exam is weak in depicting our education sector today. This situation can be improved if we realize and return to the basis of the learning process that applies to Indonesia so far: Cognitive, affective and psychometric domains. While concern about the cognitive domain through many kinds of evaluation such as the mid test, final test and weekly test, remain relatively high, stressing the two points later is low and appears to be ignored.

Concerning the learning evaluation applied in our education in 1971 up until 2002, the methods of exam varied and changed from time to time depending on circumstance, needs and culture-social of Indonesian people. We even recognize the “state test” between 1971 and 1972 and “School test” between 1972 and 1992.

In both methods, students absolutely passed the test because there was still no passing standardization. Later, it was converted into the national and final exam of learning evaluation (EBTANAS) that combined state and school tests and worked between 1992 and 2002.

This last one, however, is prone to attract attention of critics for it did not determine the minimum grade and standard students must reach.

If compared to the previous test, we still believe the national exam currently performed by the government is more effective to develop Indonesia’s human development index, especially in the education sector. Without highlighting and stressing the standardization of marks, the students’ learning process remains covert and is hard to measure their progress during class activities.

Throughout the national exam process, teachers can improve their professionalism by creating teaching innovation that upholds intellectual basis leading to student independence and responsibility about themselves. Also, they are demanded to set strategies that take students to the visible purpose of learning (cognitive domain), or at least fulfill the minimum grade of national exam.

Instilling a culture of motivation and independence among educators and learners is imperative and should start immediately. Ethics, as a philosophy dealing with morality, should also be considered as the base of education. More attention should be paid to it.

Empirically, the national exam as a part of teaching-learning process evaluation plays a huge role in a country’s education development. Only an education providing good evaluation, whatever it is named, for its learners can reach the heights of knowledge, societal acceptance. Conversely, ignoring evaluation means backwardness in education.

Besides those supporting aspects, there are also other reasons why national exam to be maintained. One of them is to nurture and balance out the diversity of Indonesia’s human resources which are of course different from one region to another.

We are fully aware that the access to education is not distributed well; people living around capital cities possibly enjoy much better facilities than those who dwell in remote areas. “Papua is left behind 18 years in education” is a portrait of imbalance.

The next reason is because of misconduct and immoral acts. It comes as no surprise that a finding during the national exam 2007 so much dishonesty was committed by headmasters who collaborated with teachers on leaking the question-and-answer sheet of the test, whereas in fact the test was closed off, guarded, and monitored by an independent team. So, the regional school in which the national exam is held may ruin the image of our education, because at this time honesty and fairness is lacking.

To this end, the Indonesian people may have to support governmental policy concerning the national exam, where the country allocates 20 percent of its budget toward education.

Another thing, which is apparently a difficult but not impossible task, is generating national exam commitment that education is a priority on the national agenda and the clean national exam is a gateway.

Significant attention should also be paid to the change of the ongoing paradigm among Indonesia people that our education is merely directed to job no more no less, regardless of prominent values.

Ultimately, the national exam needs support and improvement.

The writers, Nurrohman and Dindin Jamaluddin, are both lecturers at State Islamic University (UIN) Sunan Gunung Djati, Bandung