English in Indonesian Primary Schools:

Written By dwi asmara on Selasa, 18 Oktober 2011 | 21.43

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Abstract:

This essay aims to overlook the implementation of English curriculum document at primary school level currently used by the educational ministry. According to the document, English in the primary schools is only an optional subject as part of local contents. As the consequence, the curriculum development of English should follow the same guideline of others local contents curricula which strongly emphasize the students' needs as well as the interest of the community. The examination of the curriculum and its implementation shows the wide gap between the expectation and the reality. Therefore, both aspects need to be considered in order to find more realistic approaches.

Introduction

The latest curriculum in Indonesian primary schools known as the 2004 Curriculum Framework was developed after a dramatic change in the governmental system in 2001 from centralised to decentralised government. This decentralization program is also called regional autonomy (otonomi daerah). Thus, the release of the 2004 curriculum framework has given a wider autonomy to regional governments to determine their educational policies. In order to implement this autonomy, the current Indonesian education system has adopted the competency-based teaching approach (Kurikulum Berbasis Kompetensi). In regard to this approach, Schneck (1978) argued that "competence-based education has much in common with such approaches to learning as performance-based instruction, mastery learning and individualized instruction. It is outcome-based and is adaptive to the changing needs of students, teachers and community." (Scheck, 1978, p vi cited in Richards, 2001 p. ).

To illustrate how such changing needs have been accommodated and implemented in the 2004 curriculum framework, this essay aims to examine the curriculum of English in the Indonesian primary schools. It is important to note that the notion 'curriculum' stated in this essay refers to White's curriculum definition or what Nunan called as a plan as this term is currently used by the Educational ministry (see also White, 1988 and Nunan, 1988). This essay is organised into two sections. The first section focuses on the examination of the related documents of English curriculum particularly with respect to the target learners, teachers, the institution, the community and the society, and their needs and interests. The second section investigates the extent to which the implementation of this curriculum has met those criteria. In addition, this essay also evaluates the possible mismatch between the curriculum documents and the real needs and interests of the learners and the teachers as well as provides some suggestions concerning this issue.

What is in the document?

The establishment of English in Indonesian primary schools curriculum was marked by the release of the renewed curriculum popularly known as the 1994 Curriculum. In this curriculum framework, English was placed as one alternative subject as a part of two local content (Muatan Lokal) subjects that need to be taught in the primary schools. As it was optional, schools may decide either to include or exclude English in their subjects list. In 2004, the curriculum was reviewed again and this renewed curriculum was called the 2004 Curriculum Framework . In this new curriculum, English is once again being emphasised, but its position is still as a local content and non-compulsory.

As mandated by the legislation, the curriculum of local content subjects must be developed by the schools (school-based curriculum development) namely Curriculum at the Educational Institution Level (Kurikulum Tingkat Satuan Pendidikan or KTSP). Furthermore, the formation of this curriculum requires the collaboration between, schools, regional government and local community and should meet regional characteristics, needs and conditions. In implementing this policy, the educational ministry has set seven basic principles (see table 1) as a guideline for schools to develop their local content curriculum.

Table 1. Principles of curriculum development

1. Centralised to the potency, development, needs and interests of the students and their environment.
2. Varied and interconnected.
3. Responsive to a rapid development of science, arts and technology.
4. Relevant to students' everyday lives.
5. Integral and continuing.
6. Lifelong learning.
7. Balance between national and regional interests.

Source: Depdiknas, 2007

It is clear from these basic principles that the students' interests and needs theoretically become the major considerations in the curriculum development. Moreover, beside these principles, the educational ministry also provides a more specific guideline to be used to assist the local institutions in developing their local contents curricula. This guideline includes several criteria to be considered concerning the target students, the teachers, the institution, the community and the society and also their needs and interests (see depdiknas, 2007).

In regard to the target learners, this guideline has set at least five criteria that need to be taken into consideration in developing the local content curriculum including (i) the used material should match with the level of development of students including their current knowledge and thinking ability and the students' emotional and social development level; (ii) the learning and teaching activities should be convenient and do not add any burden to the students, e.g. by avoiding the homework; (iii) the program should also consider the current physical and psychological aspects of the students ; (iv) the material to be taught also has to be meaningful and useful for students in their everyday lives; and (v) teachers also need to involve the participation of students through their mental, physical and social activities in order to be able to select the appropriate teaching and learning strategies. In other words, in developing local content curricula, schools need to consider students' current knowledge and development level, learning difficulties, age, learning resources, and learning strategies.

The guideline has also given a specific account on respect to the teachers' needs and interests. According to the guideline, teachers should be given a wide authority in the selection of teaching methodologies, teaching resources and materials.

The institutional interests are accommodated by the government policy to place English as one of local content subjects. The educational ministry had acknowledged that the schools' capacity to teach English varied from one school to another and also among regions. The educational ministry has also recognized that not all schools have the resources to teach English, especially relating to the availability of English teachers. Therefore, schools do not require to teach English if they do not have adequate resources for it. In addition, for schools that decided to include English as a part of two local content subjects to be taught in primary schools, the educational ministry has also given the guideline for its implementation (see depdiknas, 2007). According to the guideline, if a school is not able to develop its own local content curriculum, it might seek assistance from other schools in the same region that have successfully developed the curriculum. However, if there are no reference schools in that region, a school may ask assistance from the Curriculum Development Team (Tim Pengembang Kurikulum-TPK) in that region or province.

Furthermore, the needs and interests of the community have been clearly accommodated by looking at the definition of the local contents itself. The Department of National Education has defined local contents as "the program activity that aims to develop (students) competency based on the unique needs, interests, and strengths of local regions in which its substantial could not be classified into the existing subjects" (free translation from Depdiknas 2007). Hence, the local content subjects should highlight the needs and interest of local regions. The government intention to emphasize on the interests of local community is also revealed in the special objectives of local contents set by the Department of National Education, which are: (i) for students to become more familiar with their environment and also their socio-cultural background, (ii) for students to have knowledge, ability and skills about their regions that are relevant to their needs and interests and also the surrounding community, and (iii) for students to demonstrate their attitude and behavior that exhibit their cultural values, and preserve and develop these values to support national development. To conclude, the needs and interests of local community have become the central issue in the local content program.

What is in the reality?

By looking at the curriculum documents about local contents presented in the previous discussion, it is obvious that the central government has given a full support to promote educational decentralisation which underlined the needs and interests of students as well as local regions. But in its implementation, this policy is still far from perfect. The following discussion will highlight some constrains that might affect the level of success of the implementation of English as one of the local content subjects in Indonesian primary schools.

Had students-teachers' needs and interests become the top priority of the implementation of English in the primary schools program?

Before English in the primary schools introduced in 1994, in practice, many primary schools, especially private schools had started this program. The inclusion of English subject in these schools was more like an 'icon' or symbol. Thus, schools that run this program were considered to be having a high-status. After English was formally recognized as one optional subject in the local contents in the 1994 Curriculum and again was emphasised in the 2004 Curriculum, more and more schools including state schools have followed this trend. Consequently, according to Cahyono, the implementation of English in the primary schools is still like a 'fashion' or 'prestige' so that they can be identified as the best schools (Cahyono 2008 cited in Surya 2008). This phenomenon, in fact, is one of the social, cultural & political contexts identified in the English language teaching (see Bretag, 2005). Bretag stated that "English has become the language of power and prestige" (Bretag, 2005 p. 5). As a result, this phenomenon has overshadowed the importance of students' needs and interests which are supposed to be the central issue in running this program.

Moreover, the English teaching in the primary schools has even had negative effects for students as the English teachers in those primary schools were mostly unqualified. The truth is that before 94' curriculum was introduced, the institution that was responsible for teacher training, which is Lembaga Pendidikan Tenaga Kependidikan (Teachers Training Institute) was not intended to produce primary school teachers, but the main concern was to produce high school teachers (Chandra, 2002). Furthermore, she argued that, even for high school teachers, especially for English teachers, the training program was considered as inadequate. This problem had serious impacts on students motivation, as Cahyono commented that incompetent teachers had given bad experience for students to learn language as some of them might have become 'phobia' of foreign language (Cahyono 2008 cited in Surya 2008).

In the mean time, the intention of the educational ministry to give a wider authority to the teachers in the selection of teaching methodologies, teaching resources, and materials, and also to participate in the formation of English curriculum did not gain a great deal of interests either. Based on Sutardi's interview with twenty English teachers in five major cities in Indonesia, he concluded that although these English teachers agreed to have some flexibilities in organizing the teaching material by adapting the students' needs, the majority of them were preferred to have and refer the national curriculum (see Sutardi 2005). They expected that the availability of national curriculum could answer some of their difficulties in teaching English in the primary schools, particularly concerning the difficulty of obtaining teaching materials.

Is English really what the local community needs?

Looking back at the definition of local content which was "the program activity that aims to develop (students) competency based on the unique needs, interests, and the strength of local regions in which its substantial could not be classified into the existing subjects" (Depdiknas, 2007), one important question that need to be raised is "has English really fitted this criterion?" The answer is yes, but in only a small part of the region. It is difficult to find the reasons of learning English that is associated with local community needs other than for tourism industry. For this reason, only regions that get in touch with international community such as Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Surabaya, Bali, and Medan that can be fit with this condition.

The next question is how about the other regions, do they need English? The answer could also be 'yes', but the community and students' desire to learn English in these regions could not fulfill the requirements of local content. In fact, all primary school students need to learn English if they want to compete equally with others in the globalisation era. Labeling English in the primary schools as a local content subject, in my opinion, has contributed to a wider education inequality, whereas the students who do not have the opportunity to learn English in their early age will be left behind from the others in their future education, as many scholars believed that age factor plays a major role in English acquisition (see e.g. Richards et al. 1987; Bialystok and Hakuta, 1999).

Evaluation

Based on the above discussion about the curriculum document of English in the primary schools and its implementation, there are several points that can be made:

(i) The curriculum document has shown the ideal aspects of educational decentralisation in regard to the regional autonomy, but its implementation has shown a serious breakdown of this policy. The major factor that contributed to the failure was the teacher factors. But, unfortunately, this issue did not receive sufficient attention in the current curriculum documents. Therefore it is important to provide more efforts concerning the teacher factors, and more importantly to include the procedures that support teachers' professional development through providing a training arrangement on the development of the curriculum, as the teachers' professionalism had become the central key affecting the breakdown. In addition to this, it is also critical to give more thought on providing more resources for the teachers in order to support the classroom teaching and learning.

(ii) Given the fact that learning English is vital for the preparation to face a global competition, all primary school students in all over the country share the same 'instrumental motivation' (For the discussion about the definition and types of motivation, see e.g. Dornyei, 2001). However, evaluating the current policy of the Indonesian government to place English as a local content subject was not relevant with both the students and community needs. Based on the current practice, only a small percentage of primary schools students had the opportunity to learn English. The disadvantages for the others who do not have this opportunity are huge, especially when they start the junior high school level where English becomes compulsory subject. For this reason, it is essential to consider English to become a compulsory subject in the primary schools in order to attain educational equality. Hence, despite a huge attention from the government to the students' interests as presented in current curriculum document, the students' motivation in learning English should be reconsidered.

(iii) The discussion also shows an enormous gap between the curriculum in the document and in the reality. In this regard, it is crucial to combine both aspects in the development of curriculum. Therefore, a further revision of the current document should take into account these two aspects.

References:

Bialystok, E. And Hakuta, K., 1999, "Confounded age: linguistic and cognitive factors in age differences for second language acquisition", In Birdsong, D. (ed.), Second language acquisition and critical period hypothesis, Lawrence Erlbaum associates, Publishers, New Jersey, pp. 161-81

Bretag, T. 2005, The social, cultural and political contexts of Teaching English to speakers of Other Languages, School of Management, Unisa

Chandra, A. 2002, Pengajaran bahasa Inggris di sekolah dasar, viewed 16 August 2008
Departemen Pendidikan Nasional/Depdiknas 2007, Materi Sosialisasi dan Pelatihan Kurikulum Tingkat Satuan Pendidikan (KTSP), Depdiknas, Jakarta

Dornyei, Z. 2001, Teaching and researching motivation, Longman, Harlow

Nunan, D. 1988, Designing tasks for the communicative classroom. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Richards, J. C, 2001, Curriculum development in language teaching. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press

Richards, J.C., Plat, J., and Weber, H., 1987, Longman dictionary of applied linguistics, Longman Group, Hong Kong

Surya, 2008, Bahasa Inggris hanya muatan lokal, akibatkan siswa SD phobia

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