Redesigning the curriculum for English teachers

Redesigning the curriculum for English teachers

A. Chaedar Alwasilah

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Around 1 million out of 2.9 million teachers have taken a PLPG program, or mandatory professional improvement program mandated by the law. Selected LPTKs, or teacher-training universities, are tasked with carrying out the program.

Annually around 300,000 teachers are certified and it will take another four years to certify all teachers in the country.

At present there are around 130,000 English teachers, which is about 4.4 percent of the teacher population. There are only two English teachers on average in every school, suggesting that one English teacher has to handle 150 students (Hamied, 2011).

From 2009, through Ministerial Regulation No. 10/2009 on the certification of teachers, the Education and Culture Ministry requires all practicing teachers to hold a teaching certificate from the government. The main reason is because according to the previous law teachers did not necessarily hold a bachelor degree.

In many private universities and colleges, the enrollment of education majors has increased significantly and has become a lucrative asset for 128 English language training institutions throughout the country. Students’ motivation to be an English teacher is indeed very high. However, motivation alone is not necessarily a pathway to success. Equally important is what is taught to the prospective teachers in pre-service training.

A survey was conducted on two groups of EFL teachers, comprising 88 elementary teachers in Jakarta and 200 junior secondary teachers living in Jakarta and the West Java, and Banten provinces. The second group of respondents were participants of the nine-day Teacher Certification Program in September 2011, while the former were graduates of or were attending PGSD, or four-year elementary school teacher education.

According to the current policy, English is a mandatory local content subject for grades 4-6. However, many schools introduce English to grades 1-3. Despite the lack of resources, the show goes on to please parents. Most elementary teacher respondents (58.0 percent) have neither English backgrounds nor any training on English for young learners.

The qualifications of secondary EFL teachers are better as they have the following qualifications: Master’s degrees (4.2 percent), Bachelor’s degrees (90.7 percent), and 3-year Diplomas (5.1 percent). However, at the national level the picture is discouraging. As Prof. Hamied, president of Indonesia’s TEFL (2011) has stated, only 35 percent of English teachers are academically qualified to teach.

In reality, they tend to faithfully follow available textbooks and LKS or student work sheets, which are not necessarily professionally prepared. This is a far cry from the spirit of the present school-based curriculum, which requires teachers to be creative and resourceful in developing their own instructional objectives and in managing the class.

The current teacher certification program has improved salaries, yet failed to improve teachers’ professionalism. Only 13.2 percent of them have enhanced the quality of student learning.

Secondary teachers mastered the following as part of their professionalism: (1) learning materials (51.3 percent), (2) methods of teaching (16.7 percent), (3) curriculum implementation (11.9 percent), (4) instructional technology (10 percent), and (5) learning evaluation (9.7 percent).

This suggests that for them, mastering English seems to be easier than mastering methods of teaching, implementing the curriculum, using instructional technology and conducting learning evaluation.

Apparently for the respondents, who have taught at least five years, it is easier to learn English than to learn methods of teaching.

However, recent observations of PLPG teacher participants at the Indonesian University of Education (UPI) in Bandung revealed that both junior and senior secondary EFL teachers’ mastery of English as set in the standard of content, remained weak, with an average TOEFL score of 400.

The present PLPG program consists of 90 hours of training on the following subjects: (1) teacher professional development, (2) review of English, (3) teaching methodology, (4) workshop on (classroom) action research, academic writing, learning material development, and (5) peer teaching.

The inclusion of those subjects must have been based on a needs analysis. By implication, teachers are generally weak at them and present pre-service training at LPTKs has failed to equip them with sufficient knowledge and practical know-how in those areas.

To develop professionalism in EFL teaching, proficiency in English is crucial. So is mastering the subject matter pedagogy. In other words, it is much easier to learn English than to learn how to teach it. You cannot teach what you do not know, and without subject matter pedagogy you cannot do well.

Secondary EFL teachers believe that in-service training is the most appropriate way of upgrading their professionalism, followed by training to improve English proficiency. They are less interested in obtaining a graduate degree than obtaining a teaching certificate through the PLPG as mandated by the law.

It is clear that the bedrock of EFL professionalism is teachers’ mastery of English and its pedagogy. ELT trainings and EFL professional development programs should emphasize these two aspects.

Secondary EFL teachers also reported the following aspects as those that they had mastered the least: (1) instructional technology (33.9 percent), (2) curriculum implementation (28.2 percent), (3) methods of teaching (20.8 percent), (4) EFL teaching materials (8.7 percent), and (5) learning evaluation (8.4 percent).

This suggests that instructional technology is the weakest area of EFL teaching followed by curriculum implementation and methods of teaching. Alas, many EFL curriculum developers at LPTKs have taken this issue lightly.

Prof. Watson, in his inspiring response to my article in this daily (The Jakarta Post, Feb. 11) echoed the same problems in pre-service training that existed 40 years ago.

New branches of linguistics and literature and interdisciplinary approaches to them are intellectually fascinating and selling the image. Epistemologically, there is nothing wrong with them, but over teaching them to prospective teachers of English as a foreign language at the cost of proficiency in listening, speaking, reading and writing is educationally misleading.

It seems that most faculty members in the departments are English-minded, showing zero tolerance for un-English subjects. There is no room for reviewing students’ mastery of Indonesian language and local literature en route to English literature. They would argue that anything Indonesian is to be taught in the Indonesian language (education) department.

Watson and I share the view that the prerequisite for learning a foreign language well is first to have an excellent command of your own language.

Unfortunately, neither writing nor reading are given the importance they deserve in the current curriculum for Indonesian language teaching. How can you expect Indonesian intellectuals to write articles in international journals when they do not write well in their first language?

The writer is a professor at the Indonesia University of Education (UPI) Bandung and a member of the Board of Higher Education.


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