A look at the 2013 Curriculum

Children seem to be everywhere one looks in Indonesia. The central importance of family within Indonesian culture means that people have a lot of children and those children must be educated. It is a key duty of the Indonesian government to provide a sound education system. In fact, it is constitutionally mandated that education account for twenty percent of the country’s national budget.

Students take a break from studying with their new English textbooks to pose for a picture. (Elizabeth Kennedy/ Indonesiaful)

Students take a break from studying with their new English textbooks to pose for a picture. (Elizabeth Kennedy/ Indonesiaful)

Since 1947, the Indonesian government has created and implemented no less than ten different national curricula. The latest curriculum reboot came earlier this year with Indonesia’s new 2013 Curriculum. Although the last curriculum change occurred as recently as 2006, many felt another curricular iteration was necessary to address what some Indonesians see as a rising flood of immorality and intolerance among Indonesia’s youth. Indeed, the Deputy Minister of Education, Musliar Kasim, explained the push for a new, morally focused curriculum, stating, “Right now, many students don’t have character, tolerance for others, [or] empathy for others.”

In addition to the moral component, the 2013 curriculum aims to improve Indonesian education by reorganizing required subjects. At the primary level, the Ministry of Education cut required subjects from ten to six per day. English, Science, and IT courses were eliminated in favor of courses viewed as character-boosting, such as Bahasa Indonesia, Civics, and Religious Studies. At the secondary level, teaching hours in English and IT classes decreased in exchange for history and local language classes. At my high school, 10th graders receive one and a half hours of English instruction per week instead of three. This change allows time for a course in Bahasa Sunda, the local language in West Java.

The new curriculum officially launched for 4th, 7th, and 10th graders on July 15th. About 6,000 schools throughout the country implemented it this school year, but the Ministry of Education hopes to apply the curriculum in all schools by 2015. Before the school year began, teachers at participating schools received five days of training to familiarize themselves with the curriculum and its corresponding textbooks.

Of central importance to the new curriculum is a change in teaching style. It pushes teachers to move away from the traditional teacher-centered classroom and towards a student-centered classroom. In real terms, this means that teachers are to spend less time lecturing students and more time teaching through inquiry. Teachers should facilitate the learning process by asking guided questions that help students discover content for themselves. Students are expected to become active and engaged learners. The new approach hopes to stir curiosity in students in order to build their critical-thinking and communication skills.

My high school was selected by the provincial government to participate in the initial roll-out of the new curriculum. Some of the teachers here will serve as teacher-trainers to other teachers in the region as the curriculum expands to all schools. As one can imagine, there is immense pressure to successfully apply the curriculum and improve student success.

After one semester teaching with the new curriculum, reactions are mixed. Generally, all of the teachers I spoke to agree with the overarching goals of the new curriculum. Citing the frequency of student brawls and the dissolution of cultural traditions among youth, they support the move towards a morally focused curriculum.

Complaints about the curriculum mostly surround implementation of the new teaching approach. Teachers worry that students are confused and lost. Students seem uncomfortable asking their teachers questions. Their struggles could be partially due to culture – asking questions of teachers may feel disrespectful in Indonesia’s hierarchical society. After the first semester’s round of mid-term tests, remedial classes (after-school courses required for students with lackluster scores) were atypically bloated with students. Some teachers connected this fact to the curriculum transition, also noting that many remedial students were eager to receive and record content in the traditional fashion.

Teachers have many interpretations of how to apply the new teaching style. A history teacher told me that he gives his students a history topic and sends them to the library to study the topic individually. An English teacher admitted that after allowing some time for inquiry, she falls back upon lectures due to student confusion. She’s also finding it difficult to teach the required content in half the instructional hours. Yet another teacher with a son at a different high school has decided to put her son in chemistry courses outside of school. Her son didn’t receive his new chemistry textbook until halfway through the semester and is struggling in class after years of receiving high chemistry marks. She worries about students from families who can’t afford outside educational assistance.

I’ve noticed an emphasis on culture and moral issues within my own classroom. During a lesson on simile and metaphor, students created poems based on their favorite national heroes. My students taught me about Indonesian leaders like Kartini and Jendral Sudirman. In regards to morality, the newest English textbook is full of lessons about problems facing Indonesia. The first three chapters, for instance, focus on floods, earthquakes, and tsunamis. Language exercises include information about NGOs and ask students to consider how they can help their fellow countrymen after disasters. I actually enjoy the cultural and moral focus, as it enables me to learn about Indonesia and sometimes stirs interesting discussion among both teachers and students.

A shared sentiment I heard from all the teachers is simply that they need more time to adjust to the new curriculum. They support its overarching goals and believe the new teaching style will become more natural as they gain experience. Recalling that the last curriculum change only occurred in 2006, many hope that the government will give teachers the necessary time to adjust to the 2013 curriculum before scratching it for another new program.

Every three years the OECD studies the scholastic performance of 15-year-olds in math, science, and English through the PISA (Programme for International Scholastic Assessment). In 2012, Indonesia ranked 64 out of 65 countries studied. The archipelago ranks lower than all its neighbors in the region – including Malaysia, which scored 52nd and Vietnam, which scored 17th. Indonesia’s PISA score is a worrisome indicator for the rising middle-income nation seen as a leader in Southeast Asia. Hopefully the changes embodied in the 2013 curriculum serve to make students both morally sound and intellectually competitive for the demands of the 21st century.

About the author: Elizabeth Kennedy is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Parung, West Java. She graduated from Occidental College in 2012 with a degree in Diplomacy and World Affairs. When Elizabeth is not sitting in traffic or running from a rainstorm, she enjoys dancing with her students and eating rujak.     

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8 thoughts on “A look at the 2013 Curriculum

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