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.

What do our students need to learn?

Anita Lie, Surabaya | Opinion | Sat, September 22 2012, 11:30 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 6

As the Education and Culture Ministry is about to evaluate the school curriculum, schools need to be prepared for the reallocation of resources, a reduced number of subjects and longer school hours.

The results of the curriculum evaluation should input into the revision and development of the next curriculum and be used in elementary to senior high school levels. To assess what to retain and what to let go in the upcoming curriculum, it is important that we remember the three imperatives of schooling: personal, economic and social.

At the personal level, schools facilitate students to discover themselves, grow and enhance their interests and talents. Throughout their years of schooling, children learn to shape themselves to become better human beings, appreciate life, and glorify their Creator.

At the curricular level, certain subjects help students achieve this particular purpose of schooling. Religion, literature and the arts provide knowledge and values to lead young people to be whatever they are capable of becoming. Physical education helps them form healthy habits. In addition to these subjects, the hidden curriculum, including any human interaction happening in schools, also helps students enhance their personal growth.

Schools have also prepared students to contribute productively to the economy by providing vocation-related and skills-based subjects. A 21st century curriculum requires that students be equipped with information technology skills and media literacy. In this era of global competitiveness, the economic purpose of schooling has overridden the personal and social purposes of schooling.

It is easy to get rid of the seemingly less practical subjects such as literature, arts, history and philosophy to make room for the math, science, technology and vocation-related subjects. Focusing heavily on the economic imperative and neglecting the personal and social purposes of schooling will lead to the formation of individuals with capabilities to use their minds and skills but who lack an understanding of the purpose of their work.

The social purpose of schooling is to establish each student’s connection to humanity. A global economy, too, requires more knowledge of world cultures and world history. The study of humanities will enhance students’ lives and enable them to contribute productively to the economy while maintaining their sense of purpose as part of the human race.

A terrorist’s action is an extreme demonstration of a human capacity to utilize knowledge and skills to destroy life, when the learning process is disconnected from personal and social purposes. Terrorists who aim to destroy individuals and groups whom they label as infidels fail to understand the history of their nation-state building and to feel connections to the people they hate.

Less dramatic than these terrorists, but just as abominable, are individuals and corporations that accumulate wealth at the cost of ecological destruction and the impoverishment of local communities. They too are the product of a system and culture that celebrates economic success and competitiveness per se.

So, what do our students need to learn? Concerns that there are currently too many school subjects have been raised by educators as well as by stakeholders. The number of subjects does not automatically correlate with how much students learn in school.

By the same token, reducing the number of subjects in our next curriculum should not be equated with reducing essential knowledge content and values our students should be acquiring in schools.

To prepare our young people so they engage in personal growth and become contributing citizens of their country and the world, our national curriculum should cover general education that provides liberal arts and humanities, math and science, as well as 21st century skills such as information technology skills and media literacy.

Reducing the number of school subjects should mean simplifying the organization of units of studies into fewer subjects and making the scope and sequences of knowledge content more efficient, not watering down what our students ought to learn.

Furthermore, an effective curriculum takes into account the delivery or implementation levels, that is classroom instructions. A well-written curricular document will not result in its intended outcomes if teachers are not properly developed to deliver them at the classroom level. A competent teacher should be able to deliver the appropriate breadth and depth of a curriculum and translate it into engaging classroom activities.

The writer is a professor at Widya Mandala Catholic University, Surabaya, and a member of the Indonesian Community for Democracy.