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.

Inter (cultural) national education: Implications for teaching English composition

Setiono Sugiharto ,  Contributor ,  Jakarta   |  Sun, 11/09/2008 10:59 AM  |  Supplement

International education, an ubiquitous catchphrase in education today, implies intercultural education, the features of which emphasize cross-cultural understanding, tolerance, heterogeneity, appreciation, plurality and inclusiveness.

However, unless critically scrutinized, these features will become meaningless traits that try only to deceive people for the sake of quenching the thirst for capital.

In the case of English writing pedagogy, for instance, teachers of writing still cling to the prevalent monolingualist assumptions that conceive foreign students’ rhetorical convention (i.e. the way one organizes reality) as a big hindrance, hence interference, for the successful attainment of English writing convention.

Their teaching practice is still dominantly shaped by this assumption, perpetuating the privileged status of English rhetorical convention as if it were the most superior to other rhetorical conventions.

There is no other way of emulating English rhetorical convention, except for the students to strictly conform to this convention and discard their way of organizing written thoughts. This is reflected in the textbooks used for the teaching of writing in English, which exclusively adhere to English rhetoric.

Within the framework of inter (cultural) national education, such an imposition to acquiring English rhetorical convention certainly runs counter to the idea of inclusiveness and cross-cultural sensitivity.

On the contrary, it disseminates stereotypes, creating an image of the supremacy of English rhetoric to other rhetorical conventions typical in every culture. It also reinforces the idea of cultural hegemony and exclusiveness.

Such stereotypes are indeed real and widespread among writing teachers who are mostly non-native English speakers, but are pedagogically and politically unarmed to resist the dominant monolingualist assumptions.

English rhetorical convention, for example, is described as direct, linear, systematic and logical, while Asian’s is infamously labeled as circular, digressive, non-systematic and full of extraneous narrative. The latter is to be avoided at all costs when one is writing in English, and the former is to be conformed as the sole norm.

International students — students from multilingual, multiethnic and multicultural backgrounds — who study in universities overseas are often accused of not being academically ready at best, and intellectually deficient at worst when they write an English academic prose in a way that is not considered linear and direct by their professors.

In a context radically different from theirs, these students are both linguistically and culturally conditioned to write to meet the expectations of their new audiences who share distinct rhetorical conventions.

However, inter (cultural) national education, which values heterogeneity, opposes the idea of imposing specific written conventions on students from diverse cultural backgrounds. It strongly rejects a fixed and static understanding of language and cultural identity. It resists the dominance of exclusive ideology used as a basis for teaching written language.

In writing pedagogy, inter (cultural) national education legitimizes different rhetorical conventions the students bring from their home culture. Inter-linguistic/cultural influence in writing in English is not deemed deviant. Instead, it is seen as a valuable resource that demonstrates the vitality and dynamism of language and culture.

The implications of inter (cultural) national education in teaching particularly English composition in whatever contexts it takes place are then obvious.

First, it will be no more relevant to exhort the student to emulate, for example, linearity in organizing written ideas if they are not accustomed to writing using such a convention in their native languages. Such exhortation denies the uniqueness of students’ cultural identity inherent in individual students.

Second, differences in rules and thought pattern organization in written language are not an unwitting error. Students have a variety of strategies in trying what they want to say in order to achieve an effective communicative purpose. Thus, different text constructions can be seen as a depiction of students’ creativity motivated by cultural and ideological considerations.

Third, instead of teaching students to focus mainly on adhering rules and rhetorical convention, teachers’ main task now is to equip students with effective communicative strategies of rhetorical negotiations. Writing is not just simply a matter of text construction, but it is also a way of expressing one’s identities, values and interest. Equipped with these strategies, students are poised to challenge the dominant convention, resist it or modify it to suit their own communicative purposes.

Finally, there should be a flexible means of responding to students’ written products. Overzealous attitude of imposing a single correct standard to be adhered to can stifle a student’s creativity in communicating intended messages.

Admittedly, cross-cultural writing poses a great challenge for teachers of writing. Not only does it require them to understand the complexities of multilingual students’ composing processes, but it also demands that they be ready to accept possible alternatives of style, tone and convention in writing, which may be radically different from English writing convention.

-The writer is chief editor of Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching and teaches English composition at Atma Jaya University, Jakarta. He can be reached at setiono.sugiharto@atmajaya.ac.id.

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.