Saturday, March 16, 2013

Bilingual Schools in Indonesia

Hi there,

Many Islamic Schools are now bilingual
I decided to write this article as I can see this is an issue that has been on the minds of parents and educators in Indonesia for quite some time. I've met many parents and teachers who feel very strongly about 'bilingual education'. In this article I intend to address a few of the common issues and questions regarding bilingual schools.

My first experience with bilingual education in Indonesia was after my first year teaching there where I was asked to head the English program at a new Islamic School in Tanggerang. The school had previously been running as a Kindergarten only but they were preparing to open their first Primary level class when I joined them. Previously they had tried to establish themselves as a bilingual school but had problems with the teachers understanding what was expected from them. If a bilingual program is to be a success expectations for teachers should be clear. So in the new campus instead of using the term bilingual we started using the phrase full-English and explaining which subjects would be taught fully in English and which would be taught fully in Indonesian, this made expectations clear. For the Primary Grade 1 the following subjects were taught fully in Indonesian SOSE, CIVICS, RELIGION, INDONESIAN and the following were taught fully in English SCIENCE, MATHS, ENGLISH (of course). In addition to this the language spoken on campus and in homeroom time was always English. Instead of having an English Zone/Time we would have an Indonesian Zone/Time which would be whenever the subjects taught in Indonesian were. Any other time it was understood by the teachers, staff and therefore children that English should be used.

It was not long after the program was underway that parents started coming to me with concerns. Will our children’s ability in Indonesian be badly affected? How will their scores in Science and Maths be if they are taught those subjects solely in English? The issue of whether or not the knowledge and practice of their own culture or traditions would be affected did not arise but I have since heard that this is a concern for some parents putting their children into similar schools.

I felt that these things would not be an issue, but if some parents were concerned then naturally I wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing.
Similar benefits can be found by being bilingual in Indonesia

So I set out on my journey to research similar programs to our own around the world, to find data to show what the adverse affects of such a program would be, if any. My quest led me to come across a wealth of data on the French Immersion program in Canada. There are many examples of immersion programs and immersion situations around the world but I think none that are such a good example of what we were trying to achieve than the French Immersion Program in Canada.

The French Immersion program in Canada was started by concerned French Canadian parents who saw that the schooling options for their children were all in an English medium of instruction. To preserve the culture and tradition of their children as well as to make sure their French was fluent and of a native level, the parents set up the first French immersion school in the early 1950s. The schools were so popular and such a success that by the mid 1960s the government had begun funding and opening French Immersion schools around the country. Of course this was not without any scrutiny. Ever since they began, data has been collected on the effects of the French immersion schools on both the French-Canadian children and English-Canadian children that were schooled in them. To some up this 50+ year collection of data we can safely say that the parents at the school I was working at needed not be concerned. According to the results of the French immersion schools, English speaking children admitted into them may struggle with their subject scores for the first few years when compared to the national level but catch up to their non-bilingual counterparts and in many cases surpass them (due to their superior command of the English language, thanks to being fluent in French as well).

This was exciting, and I shared this information with the parents who were already committed to the program as it was but our hearts were all at peace with the program being less of an experiment and more of a tried and tested road to success.

A question should be asked here which is why did the school decide to use Full English before knowing about this data. The fact of the matter is many schools don’t know about the data, they only know about what the market wants, and the market wants their children to be fluent in English as an International language.

The sad thing though is many skeptics of English being used as a medium of instruction in Indonesia don’t know about the data either. There are a lot of opinions floating around on the subject of bilingual education in Indonesia and not all of them are based on research.

Here are some things to think about when comparing the French Immersion program in Canada to the English Immersion program at the school in Tanggerang:

The French Immersion programs in Canada

  • ·         Taught all subjects except for English in French
  • ·         Were Immersing English speaking students in French in French Canada
  • ·         Were making French culture and tradition an integral part of the school program
  • ·         Had French Natives teach the subjects in French

The English Immersion program in Tanggerang, Indonesia

  • ·         Taught half of the subjects in Indonesian
  • ·         Was immersing Indonesian speaking students in English in Indonesia
  • ·         Was making Islamic and Indonesian culture and tradition an integral part of the school program
  • ·         Had Indonesian teachers who spoke English fairly fluently, teach the subjects in English

So it’s obvious that the cultural impact and negative impact on the students’ Indonesian ability in the school in Tanggerang would be much less than that of the French Immersion schools in Canada, this on top of the fact that the French Immersion program shows no long term negative impacts to date, and that’s after 50 years.

So the question of whether or not we should be using English as a medium of instruction in Indonesian schools [that can implement a program properly] is really a no brainer. The benefits are immense. To sum it up though, in a few simple words is worth putting in bold:

If students are taught in an English medium of instruction, they have the best chance of becoming fluent in English and acquire English at an extremely advanced rate.

This eventually means more time for other languages or more time for other subjects and a better overall result in the target language.

What is happening in most schools in Indonesia now regarding the foreign language program is what I’d like to describe as prolonged torture. The children ‘learn’ English year after year never being able to ‘speak’ it. I have written about this before in my article Education, Language and Learning a Language.

This is not because Indonesian students can’t learn English easily, on the contrary they learn English a lot more easily than Thai, Korean, Japanese or Chinese students do, this is because of the similarities between Indonesian and English like the fact that they are both in Latin script.

Since heading the program at the school in Tanggerang I have helped a number of institutions implement successful English immersion programs and advised many more.

To implement a successful language Immersion program does not need a lot of money or resources but it does need dedication, consistency, clear expectations and know how.

I plan to write again soon on the subject of bilingual schools in Indonesia but until then here are a few simple ingredients to have a successful bilingual or even trilingual school:

1.      1. Set aside at least two years to focus on immersing the children in the target language. This will need the dedication (and ability) of all teachers and staff involved and perhaps a separate campus or area in the campus for the levels that are being targeted. A good time would be The first two years of primary school (or the second and third year) or the first two years of Junior High School (SMP).

2.      2. Make sure the curriculum in other subjects is not overwhelming. Some schools double up their curriculums falsely believing that it is what it means to be a National Plus school. The school should commit and believe that the students will succeed in national exams, even though they have studied the subjects in English. This is because they are still Indonesian students that will speak Indonesian no worse than their non-bilingual counter parts. Extra preparation may be required regarding terminology but this is rare. If the issue is approval from DIKNAS, then the two curriculums can be blended to make sure all points needing to be covered in the curriculum according to KTSP (the national curriculum standard) are. Many schools have successfully done this (like Lazuardi in Depok to name one) and their models are available for comparative studies.

3.      3. Make sure the proper order of acquisition is observed (oracy before literacy) and that a time is dedicated for a transition into the new environment in the first few months of the program. The key word is immerse, not submerse. I did this in the school in Tanggerang by allowing the teachers to speak Indonesian to support the emotional needs of the children in the first three months, so rapport can be built up and the children feel safe and secure with their teachers. Another school that I have observed dedicated the first 10 weeks of their Junior High School program to learning English. In those ten weeks students basically learned English all day and for every period, thereby being ready to learn other subjects in English by the end of this period. This is also an option but I feel it is harder to apply and not completely necessary.


Until next time, keep shining, sharing and let’s change some lives!

Kindest regards,


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The challenge of changing negative practices in Indonesian schools

I received a comment on my last post The Development of a Human Being and thought the question so good that it was worth writing a post on.

Ms. Neno an English teacher from Bali, Indonesia wrote:

Hi Mr Hugh. Thanks for writing this. :-)

Interesting. Though I should say that after reading it I exhaled a quite deep sigh. I am not trying to be pessimistic to my own country (considering you are writing about positive psychology), but I guess I need your opinion on this: what do you think would be the best way to implement "positive education program" when the fact is... "negative" practices are still seen anywhere in schools and educational institutions in Indonesia? This should be a huge challenge.

Ms Neno

In reply to Ms. Neno I write:

Hi Ms. Neno,

I'm sorry to hear about you're deep sigh, I obviously need to write more on the application of Positive Psychology so that you are instead, gasping for breath in excitement. The fact of the matter is most formal education around the world has been entrenched in "negative" practices perhaps since the very inception of the model our formal education is based on (something built to meet the needs of the industrialization era).

Only now in the last decade or so, thanks to the development in neuroscience are we really starting to understand, how the brain works. Positive Education is something new everywhere and it covers many things which I believe will be very useful and welcome in schools and institutions in Indonesia.

One key concept in Positive Psychology is "to flourish". Ask any one of your colleagues if they would like to flourish in all aspects of their life and they will no doubt say something to the tune of "yes, of course". Ask them how to flourish and they probably won't have a model to work from (unless of course, they already are flourishing). What Positive Education gives us is that model. If we can get more teachers experience Positive Psychology first hand and the difference it makes to their own thinking, habits and thus life, we'll have much less to deal with regarding a paradigm shift from "negative practices" to "positive practices".

What they do at Geelong Grammar School is to provide  intensive training where the first week or so is focusing on the process of experiencing positive psychology first hand. I was told that of that first week at least 3-4 days are needed for people to start opening up and going deeper into the experience. Many teachers may leave the training still having doubts even though they understand the model, this is where continual time and patience is needed from the trainers throughout the school year. If an institution was prepared to provide the initial training and then the ongoing support I see no reason why the institution's culture could not change and that a Positive Education program wouldn't be a success.

Thankfully many schools like Geelong Grammar School have done the hard yards in ingraining Positive Psychology into their culture and are happy to share their experiences in their journey and what method of development they have found works best.

I plan to provide lots of links to resources on Positive Psychology and Positive Education here on my blog in the coming months, and will hopefully be able to become more active in spreading Positive Education in Indonesia upon my return. I hope you (Ms. Neno) and anybody else reading this can assist and support the development of Positive Psychology in Indonesia.

Kindest regards,

Hugh Elliott

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Development of a Human Being

Hi there it's nice to be writing again,

Sorry I haven't written for a while a few things have changed for me recently.  For one I have taken a trip to Australia for a few months.  Here I have had the opportunity to meet with some excellent educators.  One subject that has come up a lot  since I have been here has been the development of the students character in school.

Although the development of character in schools is not a new subject it is one that is fraught with difficulties, differences of opinion and problems with measuring success. Overall with character, although it's something that everybody agrees is important, nobody has really devised a system to 'teach' it and achieve a great amount of success from it.

This is perhaps because the acquisition of character similar to acquiring a language cannot be achieved through 'teaching' but it must be discovered by the students themselves, assisted by the masterly facilitation of a skilled teacher or mentor.

With the learning of facts, one may choose to teach by giving the information or facilitate by providing the environment in which it can be learned. With the acquisition of character strengths however, the choice of telling somebody what they should think or feel is not there, it must be discovered.

Of course in talking about 'character strengths' we mustn't forget that what is strong or weak is a matter of perception and our perceptions are defined by the environment we come from (culture, DNA, upbringing etc.) and our own experiences. This being taken into consideration there are still many universal character strengths in which we can base our model of development on. Luckily a lot of work of researching the universal traits of character which are important in living a successful, happy and productive life has already been done.

Chris Peterson the co-author of 'Character Strengths and Virtues' adjusted a fairly long list of character strengths (as mentioned in Paul Tough's book 'How Children Succeed') and listed seven which he thought were particularly likely to predict life satisfaction and achievement. They were:

  1. Grit
  2. Self-Control
  3. Zest
  4. Social Intelligence
  5. Optimism
  6. Curiosity 
These were set out so teachers and curriculum developers in particular could use them as a model to base the competencies on for character development programs. Although they are obviously not the be all to end all they are never the less a good guide and a starting point in our quest to instill our students with strong, well rounded and beneficial character.

For a full list of character traits analysed by a research study of 117,676 adults from 54 nations by the university of Pennsylvania you can find the research report in the July 2006 Journal of Positive Psychology.

So all this leads us to the question, How can we transfer these character traits to our students in school? What the team at Geelong Grammar School has done is made sure to put all the teachers that come into their school through a two week intensive Positive Education course, not only to impart the skills of a facilitator but also to impart the skills of positive psychology onto the teachers themselves. This is because it is of course quite possible to imagine a student positively affected by a positive education program (excuse the pun) if the teacher themselves are living, breathing examples of positive psychology.

Positive Psychology as explained in Wikipedia is a branch of psychology which "...complements, with no intention to replace or ignore, the traditional areas of psychology. By adding an important emphasis to use the scientific method to study and determine positive human development." 

In short it is a branch of psychology immensely important and relevant for the teachers of today. Many say we are currently in a time of character crisis, where the instilled tried and tested values of tradition have been replaced by consumerism and the leadership of desire. Further more many concerned educators in Indonesia  have mentioned, the traditional values of the village have started to disintegrate, as the above influences and the influx of the population from rural areas to the city, have combined to make less and less room for the contemplation and implementation of character strengths.

What many fail to recognize is that in this time more than ever with all the turmoil our children are experiencing, that character strengths are really what are going to pull them through and give them the best chance in life. Studies have shown that it is not so much IQ or one-on-one tuition that determines a student's academic success, but it is character strengths. The same rings true in perhaps all areas of an individuals life.

If education is the preparation for life and we are educating our children for a future that we have no way of predicting, surely one of the greatest things we can help them achieve is strength of character!

I intend to write more articles on Positive Psychology in the coming months as I will be staying at Geelong Grammar School until the end of May. Hopefully I'll be able to participate in the implementation of more positive education programs in Indonesian schools after my return.

Until next time, keep shining sharing and succeeding.

Kindest regards,