One of the topics my Indonesian students are always most interested to hear about is how American high schools differ from their own—in the case of my students, a well-renowned public high school in the special region of Yogyakarta, Central Java. They are always curious about cultural differences (“American proms include dancing?”), but what they’re often most surprised about is how class schedules differ in structure. For me, as an American raised in a standard public high school in southeast Pennsylvania, the Indonesian class structure was just as unusual.
In my public school there are eight forty-five minute class periods each day, beginning at 7:15 am and lasting until 2:00 pm. Classes run Monday through Saturday—my students are dumbfounded with jealousy when I tell them that American students have off on Saturdays— but end at 11:15 on Fridays for prayer. Two breaks are included at the same time each day for all students: the first break lasts for fifteen minutes between third and fourth periods, and the second break (used for lunch, group meetings, and noon prayer for Muslim students) takes thirty minutes between periods six and seven. For many classes, two periods are scheduled back-to-back, so teachers actually get an hour and a half block of teaching time for their subject. Occasionally, three or even four classes are put together; this allows extra time for lab sciences and other activities. Some classes, like the English Conversation classes I assist in for eleventh graders, are taught by assistant teachers and only take up one period.
Methods of changing classes vary throughout Indonesia. Some schools use stationary classes, meaning that groups of students (often numbered for convenience: X-1, X-2, etc. for tenth grade, for example) stay together in the same classroom while teachers move from room to room. Other schools, like mine, use moving classes. This means that students still stay in their assigned classes (and develop a lot of class pride as a result!), but move around to different classrooms throughout the day along with teachers. This can be a little confusing, since my fellow co-teachers and I still forget which classroom belongs to which class sometimes, but students are always willing to point out where we should be.
The most surprising thing for my students to learn about the typical American school day isn’t lockers, specific classrooms for each teacher, or the absence of class groups for students, though—it’s the difference in class scheduling itself. Students in Indonesia take a staggering amount of classes in a semester, as many as twenty-two in some schools. This accounts for art and music classes, religion courses, multiple languages (which can include various combinations of Indonesian, Javanese, English, French, German and Japanese—although this is changing with the new curriculum), and Chemistry, Biology, and Physics all at once. In order to account for the large number of classes, students usually end up seeing each of their teachers only once a week. To compensate, many students take courses outside of school in the evenings or on weekends to get extra help in classes they may struggle with or to get ahead in classes they show promise in. I’ve learned that many of my best English speakers do so well because they work tirelessly both inside and outside class.
Especially with the recent implementation of the new curriculum, the structure of Indonesian students’ school schedules is often in flux, but teachers and students are flexible and determined to provide and receive the best education possible—even if they’re jealous that Americans have Saturdays off.
About the author: Gillian Irwin is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant at SMAN 3 Yogyakarta in Yogyakarta Special Region. She graduated from Muhlenberg College in 2013 with a degree in Music and English.