New Roles of Indonesian Language Teaching Program in the 2013 Indonesian National Curriculum : Integrating science and social studies into Indonesian Language classes

Indonesian language (Bahasa Indonesia) learning system in the Indonesian National Education program is entering a new era by being given a tougher role in the new curriculum starting from next July 2013. This change would be a result of an experimental effort as the Indonesian government through its Ministry of Education and Culture is attempting to tackle the problem of declining education quality in the country and preparing students to keep pace with global challenges by restructuring the curriculum for elementary and secondary schools. One of the change is to remove science and social studies from the list of separate subjects and incorporate them as part of Indonesian Language class for the first, drugs second and third year of elementary school. This has been a controversial decision of the government and generated hot discussions of pros and contras throughout Indonesia whether it would be a bright solution or rather a fatal blunder on the cost of many stakeholders.

Bahasa Indonesia is the only official language of the Republic of Indonesia – a large archipelagic country with enormous diversity. Over 350 ethnical groups throughout the archipelago, having different cultures, speaking their own languages and dialects, were the reason for the Dutch colonial government in the late IX century to introduce a single language, derived from Malay, to be the language of work and education in the Dutch East Indies (proto Indonesia). Being connected with a single language, this vast archipelago had become easier to govern and people from different regions had been able to gain better education and to coordinate themselves through organization and political parties, which in return build a strong sense of nationalism resulting to a revolt in 1945 that ended the 350 years of Dutch colonization in the region. Indonesians proudly consider Bahasa Indonesia an agent of change, a miraculous medium, a language that unifies recently more than 240 millions of the country?s population. It has excellent and steady development of grammar and literature with a rich contribution from local/ethnical languages. Now in 2013 it will have a more challenging role; a melting pot of integrated science and social studies in the national education curriculum.

Overall situation
Indonesia?s national education has been under heavy critics, starting from declining academic achievement of students, fatal brawls between students from different schools, costly provision of school books that change almost every year,  the relatively low qualification of teachers in elementary and secondary schools to the rising cost of education that must be paid by parents.
Studies have shown that students get too many subjects at schools which resulted to heavy burden, stress and poor concentration , while teachers pay less attention to subjects they teach, spend too much time preparing syllabus and teaching materials that change from year to another.


Education is Indonesia is expensive, especially in bigger cities which have both governmental and private schools competing each other. Parents must pay registration fee ranging from ca. Rp. 1.500.000 to 22.000.000 (approx. US$ 120 to 2500) to have their child enrolled in an elementary school. The more favorite the school is, the more expensive the school fee will be. They will need to pay another tens of millions rupiah ?donation? for the school infrastructure, in which the acceptance of students will be considered by how much donation fee is offered. Monthly school free varies from Rp. 750.000 to Rp. 3.500.000 (US$ 80 to 400). Good education seems only available for the rich. This happens also in college and university level, which makes studies in European universities a cheaper alternative for Indonesians.

Indonesian government does provide free schooling for elementary  and partly for secondary schools, with some local governments took initiative by using their tax revenue to make basic education totally free of charge. But this kind of privilege only applies to children from poorest family, in relatively low ranked governmental schools. Middle and higher class families are reluctant to enroll their children to these schools due to worries about lower quality of education and unfavorable social environment that may negatively affect their children.
The cost of education keeps rising with no significant solution to prevent it from happening, leave alone to make education free for all.

Back to the problem in tackling the declining academic achievement among elementary and secondary school students, the Minister of Education and Culture Prof. Muhammad Nuh, DEA. had proposed a new system, which would enable students to study less but better focused subjects and provide more time for teacher to deliver materials suited to actual global challenge, such as interdisciplinary competence, skillfulness and good moral behavior through religions.  About 102,053 elementary and secondary schools will apply the 2013 national curriculum, but it will be restricted to only first, fourth, seventh and tenth grade levels. The new curriculum will be applied gradually and will be taught at all schools nationwide by 2015. Incumbent Indonesian president Dr. Soesilo Bambang Yodhoyono gives his full support to the plan.

According to the minister, school children of the first, second and third grade don?t have the ability yet to learn things which are abstract, such as the materials of Science and Social subjects. Hence it would be better to integrate those subjects as part of the language class, which bridges all contents in form of reading materials and vocabulary.


This will not be an easy task, because the nature of language teaching is different than the teaching of science and social studies. Teachers would need a new pedagogic strategy to teach this subject. Most linguists in Indonesia are happy with this change. Although they could see a rising challenge in preparing Bahasa Indonesia teaching materials and the methods of delivery, they consider this change the embracement of Bahasa Indonesia as a vital tool of education that will also enhance the prestige of the language. Apparently it is a chance to also develop their career and competence as linguists.

For many, it is still unclear how this will work. Many teachers, parents and politicians voiced their strong objection with arguments that this new curriculum is too absurd to implement. Teachers of science and social studies are worried about their future employment or their declining role in the class. The government ensures that no teachers will be laid off as a result of this new curriculum, as they shall work together with language teachers delivering materials in Bahasa Indonesia classes. They will no longer need to spend time creating syllabus, for the central government will provide it. Students will no longer be forced to buy new school books every year, because the same (new) books will be good for the next generations. Any change shall mainly affect the teaching method. These days preparatory courses are intensively being underway to bring teachers to the implementation of this new teaching model.

One may see this 2013 curriculum a failure rather than a brilliant solution as the government removes science from the list of subjects and instead endorses more hours for religion class with hopes that students will have better moral behavior and social understanding and thus, will avoid violence. So far religions have few to do with preventing brawls. Many also questioned how it would be possible to combine biology, physics, chemistry, civic, mathematics and religion lessons in one single subject of Bahasa Indonesia. The authors of syllabus are confident that the new curriculum will be a good one. But would the teachers throughout Indonesia be capable to cope with the new system? This remains a big question and it will surely take time until we see the answer.

A need for a breakthrough
In comparison with the situation in Japan and South Korea, where most young students are exposed to tough competition and extra burdensome courses, students in Indonesia actually have a much more comfortable condition. For the majority of Indonesians, religious living is considered more important than a life full of competition, hence religious lessons, especially for moslems, are provided not only as school subjects but also as extracurricular activities. Indonesian students spend more time learning religion than science compared to Japanese and South Korean children. This is one of the biggest contrasts. The decline in students? academic achievement may be caused by many reasons, for instance unqualified teachers, less attractive school environment and inadequate equipments, but time spent for intensive religious lessons will never be sacrificed in the efforts to overcome this problem. It would also inappropriate to say that Indonesians should reduce time for religious lessons and give science and social subjects more hours, since religion is a sensitive matter in the society.

The plan to better integrate the lessons of science and social studies into Bahasa Indonesia subject is one of several possible solutions worth to try. Indonesia may learn from countries which have excellent education system such as Japan and Finland, but the circumstance in the life of the Indonesian people is quite different than in those countries which makes the same systems not applicable. Indonesia needs good solution tailored to its specific conditions. It can learn from other countries? experience but not necessary copy the system. This new  national curriculum is indeed a brave innovation.

Of course, parallel with the curriculum, the delivery method should also target better way of time consumption by students and careful control from both teachers and parents. Young students in the age of elementary and secondary schools are in critical period as they are developing their identity by imitating behaviors and icons of attractive models. It means they need good examples to follow. School programs should more absorb students? energy and attention to keep them engaged in positive activities such as in playful laboratories, skills or cultural workshops. This will reduce the potentials to spend time for unconstructive activities which recently often led to brawls between student?s groups or gangs, that has a lot to do with losing their focus on lessons. They also face the dilemmas of modern computer technology, in which children need teachers and parental guide to take the highest benefit of the information technology and not to give up to addictive entertainment from computer games and uncontrolled internet access.

This plan is not free from feared effects. As the contents of science and social studies fill the syllabus of Bahasa Indonesia teaching program, teacher may have less chance to explain the grammar and materials of important literature. But this could be overcome when the students enter higher grade of school. Many people also oppose the ruling out of science from the subject that may lower their children?s technical knowledge while living in this era of fast developing technology and industry.
It will need a lot of funding as well, which derives from taxpayers money. The Indonesian government had allocated US$ 257 million to plan and implement the new curriculum, half of which will go towards the printing of new textbooks.

After all, if this new curriculum really works well, it will be a successful innovation and may become a good model for other countries as well. Bahasa Indonesia has been a language of struggle, revolution, democracy and will have a new prestige as a language of good education.

dr  Teija Gumilar
Indonesian and Malay Philology, Institute of Linguistics
Faculty of Modern Languages and Literatures, Adam Mickiewicz University

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