Should college students learn Indonesian?

A. Chaedar Alwasilah, Canterbury, UK | Opinion | Sat, November 24 2012, 9:35 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 7

Why do you need to study Indonesian in college? Don’t you think you have studied it enough in school? Such questions are often raised by international students studying on our campuses. For them, it is not sensible, just an unnecessary repetition.

By way of comparison the undergraduate curriculum in Australia, England, France, Japan and many others do not require them to learn their own national language. For them learning the language in K-12 is enough, unless they want to be an expert in the language: a linguist, literary critic, fiction writer, or philologist.

K-12 education has provided them with relatively strong literacy skills to perform college tasks. In the UK, English, along with mathematics and science, constitutes the core curriculum. English, evidence suggests is a vital foundation for developing a high-level of literacy.

At home, the present law on higher education (Law No. 12/2012) confirms the status of Indonesia as a mandatory subject. The law explicitly states that the undergraduate curriculum must include Indonesian language along with religion, Pancasila (state ideology), and citizenship.

When drafting the bill, specifically Chapter 35, especially Article (3) regarding the four core subjects, the lawmakers should have reflected on what they learned from their college experience and listened to more knowledgeable academics. Such a reflection would have informed them of what went right and wrong with those courses.

Their inclusion suggests that the four subjects are unconditionally essential. By implication, our graduates are expected to demonstrate a very high degree of understanding and mastery of those areas. More importantly though, they are to have the high literacy skills which will enable them to develop civic commitment, national identities and democratic citizenship.

Why very high? Because those subjects have been learned in elementary and secondary schools, repetition at college level suggests the four subjects are core subjects for post-secondary education. Students have to take them, like it or not.

Among the four subjects however, it is the freshman Indonesian course that puzzles many international students. Mandatory teaching of Indonesian at the college level suggests two things. First, ostensibly there was motivation to reinvigorate language loyalty and nationalism in general.

Lawmakers took it for granted that such learning will enhance nationalism and college students would take pride on the national language.

The truth is that the attitude among the youth, especially freshman students, towards the national language is far from positive. Language attitudes develop early and two credit hours of freshman Indonesian will not change anything. They are potentially sheer repetition of the high school subject.

The most logical rationale for mandatory teaching of Indonesian in college is a collective assumption among lawmakers that the teaching of Indonesian in schools — from elementary to high schools — is not enough. Or, put bluntly, language education fails to provide Indonesians with the high literacy skills of their counterparts in Australia, England, France and Japan.

Early this year the Directorate General of Higher Education issued a policy on mandatory journal publication for college graduation. The policy sparked protests from private universities. The protest manifests the theory that our graduates lack academic writing skills.

Inclusion of Indonesian as a core subject in college is probably meant to provide students with the skills to write a BA or Master’s thesis, which are — as a matter of comparison — not required in many other countries.

It is self-apparent that K-12 needs to be redesigned with a new paradigm. Indonesian as a school subject needs to be taught in such a way that no repetition is necessary at college level. Removal of the course from the college curriculum would prove the success in teaching in schools.

Education, regardless of subject, level, and student age, is facilitated through language. At a philosophical level it is urgent to redefine Indonesian language for national education. Indonesian must be at the center of all education. Success in Indonesian language teaching would be a step in right direction.

In the UK, Dixon’s Growth through English (1967) inspired English teachers to observe themselves and their teaching activities. Teaching English, consisting of composition, language, literature, and poetry, flows together in a holistic way.

A British primary school, for example, develops students personal response to literature and their enjoyment of literature as a way of liberating the imagination and exploring experience. By corollary, children’s literature is the bedrock of primary education.

In Indonesia, the focus of teaching Indonesian language at primary level should be on developing enjoyment in reading, and at secondary levels on literacy in general. Through this paradigm of teaching and learning, our high school leavers will be ready to develop a tertiary level of literacy, namely the ability to transform and reproduce knowledge.

The writer, a professor at UPI Bandung, is currently a visiting researcher at Canterbury Christ Church University, England.

Curriculum revamps: More smoke, mirrors

Setiono Sugiharto, Jakarta | Opinion | Sat, November 24 2012, 9:26 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 7

For most laymen and pundits alike, the Education and Culture Ministry’s policy to scrap both English and science from the national curriculum is quite mind-boggling. Under the initial pretext of a curricular load burdening students’ cognitive capacity, the ministry, albeit without clear logic, deleted these two subjects while maintaining Indonesian language, Pancasila state ideology, religion, math and civic education as compulsory subjects to be taught to students throughout their school years.

Despite the public’s outcry lambasting the obliteration of English and science, the education ministry has turned a deaf ear to this disapproval and has instead deliberated a new curriculum with the title, Kurikulum Perekat Kesatuan Bangsa (National Unity Curriculum), in a move to replace the currently implemented Kurikulum Tingkat Satuan Pendidikan (School-based Curriculum).

The shift to this new curriculum, as its name suggests, has been motivated primarily by our social milieu, which is often marred with such social ailments as street brawls, corruption, racial and religious clashes and moral denigration among youngsters.

The purpose of shifting the current curriculum to the new one is oriented toward social reconstruction. This orientation assumes that the behavior of those in society can be shaped, controlled and dictated through formal schooling. This helps explain why such core subjects as Pancasila, religion, and civic education remain intact in the
curriculum.

These subjects have long been believed to be able to instill a positive character among students.

Curriculum reform is indeed necessary, if not crucial, in order to serve as a binding force to help resolve problems in society.

While no one would deny the fact that any curriculum needs to be flexible in line with the dynamics of societal life, the exclusive reliance on one particular orientation at the expense of another will bring out what Eisner and Vallance (in their classic book Conflicting Conceptions of Curriculum, published in 1974) call “curriculum fallacies”.

Certainly, social reconstruction is a useful orientation to consider in any attempt to overhaul a curriculum, as the contents of the curriculum ought to be beneficial to its stakeholders, including society at large. That is, they are expected to reconstruct society for a common good.

To illustrate, through the exposure to religion, for example, students might be expected to refrain from cheating in exams and brawling, as these acts are considered not only forbidden and against religious norms, but sinful as well.

Yet, social reconstruction is purely a necessary, but not a sufficient condition of curriculum reform. A pedagogical orientation also needs to be spelled out, so that suitable methods of teaching, teaching-learning interactions, assessments and teaching materials can be projected beforehand.

For instance, how can civic education be effectively taught to students? How can we ensure that its teaching will yield a positive impact on the lives of students?

What kind of teaching materials will be used so teachers can optimally inculcate a positive character into their students? And finally, how will the cultivation of positive values through civic education be assessed?

Needless to say, under the new curriculum these reflective queries should be addressed from a completely different vantage point; simply replicating (I dare say it will happen) what has been addressed in the previous curriculum will only add more smoke and mirrors.

In addition, an orientation to educational politics needs to be considered. At the outset, we have to acknowledge that educational activities are always political and full of vested interests. They are not neutral and value-free. Likewise, decisions made to maintain certain school subjects and scrap others as part of curriculum reform are politically-loaded.

Looked at in this way, an orientation to educational politics is important because it could provide room for related stakeholders to question and challenge the maintained subjects in the new curriculum by virtue of their historical, political and social conditions.

As there seems to be a growing tendency among our educational practitioners to regard every new curriculum as an axiom and truism, consider that an orientation toward educational politics can avoid “curriculum fallacies”, resulting, according to Eisner and Vallance, from the ambition to one-sidedly judge a curriculum as right and universally applicable to all historical, political and social circumstances to which it relates.

The writer is an associate professor at the Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta.

It’s time to revitalize Indonesian teaching

A. Chaedar Alwasilah, Bandung | Opinion | Sat, November 17 2012, 8:16 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 7

Public responses to the government’s plan to remove English from primary schools vary. Basically, there are two opposing views: the nationalist view and the global view. The former supports the government’s move on the following grounds.

First, primary school ages are golden ages for developing pupils’ love and appreciation toward the Indonesian language. All over the world, the early years of schooling are understood to be very critical for teaching the first language.

Second, primary schooling is aimed at developing students’ character. Respect, deference, discipline, tolerance, love, sensitivity and a sense of beauty are culture-laden, and to be specific they should be first-culture laden.

Third, for the majority of pupils in this multicultural nation, Indonesian is the second language, their mother tongue being an ethnic or local language.

Ostensibly for the majority of pupils here, English is in fact a third language.

Nationalists criticize the globalists for speaking for the minority and ignoring the majority. When three languages are spontaneously learned, the pupils are confused by a barrage of linguistic input. This linguistic confusion does not lead to effective learning.

There is evidence that the current teaching of English in primary schools is far from satisfactory. My survey, as reported in this paper (The Jakarta Post, May 19) with English teacher respondents in West Java, Banten and Jakarta, revealed that most elementary teacher respondents (58 percent) had neither English language backgrounds nor any training in English for young learners.

According to the current policy, English is a mandatory local content subject for grades 4-6. However, many schools introduce English to grades 1-3. Despite the lack of resources, the show goes on to please parents.

In other words, the exclusion of English from primary schools should not have generated such public objections. In general, the pupils do not get enough learning from English classes.

The nationalists believe it is better for primary schoolchildren to concentrate on learning the Indonesian language rather than a foreign language. First-language mastery is a head start for second- or third-language mastery.

The globalists, on the other hand, hold that English is the world’s most important language for science and technology. They argue that it should be introduced to primary school pupils. If the argument is for the mastery of science and technology, teaching primary English is not the answer.

Teaching and learning in primary schools is play-based. Learning Indonesian meaningfully is the surest way to decode the linguistic symbols for understanding textbooks on various imminent school subjects, such as geography, science, math, etc. in secondary school.

All secondary textbooks are written in Indonesian, and this is the way it should be. Indonesian should be promoted as a language of science technology, especially for high school children.

Practically speaking, students do not read English textbooks and other printed media for science and technology until they go to college. In other words, what is essential for primary pupils is to develop a strong love of reading.

National education should promote Indonesian as the national language. It also means using the language for intellectualization. Both the developmental and intellectual effects of language are transparent but nowhere are they more powerful than in school settings.

At this juncture, it would be wise to compare how the British National Curriculum for English guides teachers to carry out their tasks. The following guides are also relevant for teaching Indonesian language as a core subject here.

First, a personal growth view. Through language, pupils are encouraged to be creative and imaginative individuals. Reading fiction, travel writing and writing creative works are the right pathway to personal development.

Second, a cross-curricular approach is adopted. All school subjects are facilitated by the medium of the Indonesian language — a fact that tends to be easily accepted by many.

It positively means that all teachers become language models for their pupils to emulate.

In primary schools, where teachers teach almost all subjects by using a topic-based approach, they can teach almost anything related to social studies, science, mathematics, civics, the arts and so on.

Third, an adult needs emphasis. This is relevant particularly for high school students. Beyond school, graduates will have to work for a living, where they will communicate with different people from different backgrounds.

Pedagogically, language teachers should teach pupils how to communicate effectively, including the mastery of vocation-based language forms.

Fourth, a cultural heritage model is adopted. Every nation takes pride in its own great works of literature. By engaging primary pupils with Indonesian children’s literature, children will potentially read great literary works later on in life. Creativity does not come from nowhere. Reading fiction will open an otherwise locked door to creativity.

Fifth, a cultural analysis view. At an appropriate age, pupils should be encouraged to be critical of the social and cultural context of the Indonesian language, particularly the value systems that are necessarily embedded in our culture.

The writer, a professor at the Indonesia University of Education (UPI), Bandung, is currently a visiting researcher at Canterbury Christ Church University, England.