Critiques on social and education issues
Due to the poor acquisition of English by Indonesian students, the deputy education and culture minister Musliar Kasim declared the end of teaching English. Keep in mind that his title includes the word “culture”.
He stresses that since students are unable to communicate fluently in Indonesian, they should learn to master it first before learning other languages, such as English.
Aside from this purpose, the ministry also wants to focus more time teaching religion and Indonesian culture, and cutting back on science and social studies.
To clarify, I have no qualms with learning about culture in schools. After all, schools are social agents that teach children about the norms and mores, usually at the expense of a minority culture. Their country is probably more religiously based than North American countries, and that is their norm, so I can’t be ethnocentric in judging them. However, my nerves bristled when seeing that they are going to reduce teaching time in science and social studies.
I am not a geek for science; I’ve done poorly in it since high school. I am also not a fan of social studies; it was only recently that my interest in politics has sparked, but only because education is controlled by politics, so it is necessary that I know how it works.
Do religion and culture really need to be taught in schools though? Perhaps it is my own bias that is currently being expressed (but I have never stated that this blog would be free of bias), but is religion not a private issue? Is religion not your personal connection with your deity/deities, and is your interpretation of the world and your social context? It just seems bizarre to me that religion should be taught en mass. I had always thought religion was this personal and sacred connection between you and whoever you believe in.
Even if religion and culture do need to be taught, is that not the job for parents to do?
Although, I must admit, some of the things we expect children to know (at least in North America, anyway) are actually brand new concepts for these students. It seems that manners, politeness, courtesy, and basic interpersonal skills (ex. asking how someone’s day is) are out of fashion. Or as some may say, “Chivalry has died”. And when we look at the issue from this point of view, manners and courtesy are part of culture. Perhaps schools do need to teach culture.
But do we need a separate period for the class titled “Culture”? The way this article has written about “more teaching time on religion and Indonesian culture” implies that time will be allotted out of science and social studies to make room for more culture time. How would students be evaluated? What happens if, say, a student fails Culture class?
But I digress. My main peeve with this new Indonesian education policy is the elimination of English.
Although I understand the concerns of not knowing one’s native language, it seems apparent that the ministry has not looked into the abundant amount of research done on the subject of bilingualism and neural development.
Judy Willis, MD, from Edutopia, is a neurologist and a teacher. She wrote:
Compared to monolinguals, bilingual children develop greater attention focus, distraction resistance, decision-making judgement and responsiveness to feedback.
Part of this conclusion stems from the brain activity of a bilingual person. The brain needs to “select” between competing languages to find words that fit the linguistic criteria and conveyance of the meaning of those words. Each language has its own language system that is unique, and for the brain to be able to compare and contrast competing language systems in a matter of seconds is astounding. Think of how often Google Translate produces wildly inaccurate translations of a simple sentence.
In her article, Willis continues to state some of the statistical methodology in obtaining these results.
The key to having “successful” and fluent bilingualism is to start at home. Parents should communicate with their child in their native language to maintain their child’s linguistic competence in their L1 (aka maternal language). Schools should begin their L2 education earlier. Junior high school is the age at which Indonesia begins teaching English. Children aged 7 and under who begin learning an L2 (or L3) can still have a chance of speaking with native-like fluency, but children who are older, like 11 or 12 (aka junior high school age) tend to have more difficulty in obtaining the same fluency.
Eliminating English is not the answer. English is one of the vernacular languages of the world through which we conduct all types of affairs. To end the teaching of English is to put the future if Indonesia at a major disadvantage. Certainly not all Indonesians will stay within the country to find employment. What happens if they decide to work internationally? They can decide to pick up an L2 then, but how much more difficult would it be?
Moreover, Indonesia can consider programs like French Immersion, an education program that introduces the child to French through gradual exposure. There are 3 types:
Each category starts their L2 acquisition before their L1. Hence, if your child’s native language is English, they will receive instruction in French first. The program gradually weans them into more English courses so that by the end of secondary school, half their classes are in French, and half are in English.
French Immersion students, especially in the early category, perform with native-like fluency in reading and listening comprehension. However, they do not perform with the native-like fluency in speaking and writing, but they are not serious impediments to their use of French for academic and interpersonal purposes.
Perhaps immersion programs is what Indonesia should try. I am not one for advocating the copying of education programs across the globe, but this suggestion may prove to be a seed for a language program that may flourish in the future.