With a diverse landscape, East Sumba district has a few areas with difficult access. Access to these areas is often cut off during the rainy season. Small primary schools in East Sumba district, with a total of 72 schools, are in these areas. Most residents in this area, including children, can only use the local language or mother tongue in daily communication.

This is a learning challenge at school because during teaching the teachers generally use Indonesian language. Meanwhile, according to local government estimates, around 50% of students have not fully understood Indonesian.

As stated in the Policy Brief Number 9, July 2021, Centre for Policy Research, Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology (MoECRT), citing the results of the 2010 census of the Statistics Agency (Badan Pusat Statistik or BPS), more than 16 million Indonesian citizens cannot speak or understand Indonesian language, with 22.8% of them are aged 5-9 years or children who are in the early grades of elementary school.

The Policy Brief recommends learning in the mother tongue for the transition to Indonesian as a solution that has been proven to improve the quality of student learning processes and outcomes. However, this solution is not without challenges.

Teachers who teach in the early grades need to be ensured that they have the competence to provide instruction in the mother tongue. This is because most teachers in small and remote elementary schools are high school graduates and some are not able to speak the local language because they come from other regions.

In East Sumba district, INOVASI continues the mother tongue-based basic education program that has been carried out since Phase I (2017-2019). Program implementation during Phase I has yielded positive results.Children have become more confident in communicating and expressing their opinions in learning, and as a result, their learning outcomes have improved.

Literary works in mother tongue in learning

October is celebrated as Language and Literature Month. Even though for 2021 the commemoration carried the theme “Speaking Healthy, Resilient Indonesia”, the meaning of this theme was not limited. The key to effective communication is understanding so that the use of language that is understood by the parties communicating is necessary.

The use of mother tongue to understand learning material to children is certainly the right way for speakers of a single mother tongue such as children in several areas in East Sumba district. Because, how can they understand, let alone apply Pancasila values, for example, if they do not even know Pancasila precepts?

The use of language understood by children in instilling moral values in them is part of efforts to build a resilient Indonesia. This can be done through various methods, such as using story books that promote good values and local wisdom. At the same time, these books function as learning media to increase student literacy.

The practice of developing bilingual stories by teachers in INOVASI partner schools for mother tongue-based basic education programs in Southwest Sumba and East Sumba districts needs to be continued and developed. Teachers in Southwest Sumba use tablet media to accommodate these stories which are equipped with sound. Meanwhile, teachers in East Sumba put the story into the Big Book. Despite the different formats, both have been proven to encourage students’ interest in reading and learning.

Collaborative support between the local government and schools is needed. 

Prior to receiving training and mentoring in learning programs which use mother tongue as the instructional language, the majority of partner teachers in East Sumba district admitted that they were doubtful and even worried about using their mother tongue in learning even though they understood that children could more easily understand when the teacher used their mother tongue in learning.

They argued that the use of the mother tongue in learning was not included in any curriculum; therefore, teachers who use it may get a warning from the education office. It should be noted that the use of regional languages in learning has been regulated in Law Number 20 of 2003 on the National Education System and Presidential Regulation Number 63 of 2019 on the Use of Indonesian language. However, its implementation has not been optimal.

Therefore, multi-stakeholders’ collaboration is needed to strengthen good practices which have been done and scaled out to schools and other areas facing similar challenges.

The Head of Education Standards, Curriculum, and Assessment Agency (BSKAP) of MoECRT, Anindito Aditomo, during his visit to East Sumba district on 28 September 2021 stated that the use of mother tongue in learning, particularly in schools whose majority of students use mother tongue in daily communication, should have been applied a long time ago.

Otherwise (if they are not using their mother tongue in learning), students are forced to learn 2 things at once, first learning to recognize Latin letters and reading, secondly learning a foreign language (Indonesian). The difficulty is multiplied, but this can be easily solved by using mother tongue as the instructional language,” said Anindito.

Anindito and the BSKAP team visited SD Masehi Kapunduk, one of the INOVASI partner schools for mother tongue-based basic education program which has been in cooperation with Sulinama Foundation in East Sumba district. During the visit, Anindito witnessed how teachers deliver learning in the classrooms with the mother tongue approach.

According to Anindito, the approach used by the teacher in the respective elementary school was beneficial to and in favour of the child as learning became more fun and effective. Therefore, the central government needs to review the Teacher Training Institute’s curriculum so that the curriculum could be more suitable with the condition and needs of education in the field, especially for literacy learning and the use of mother tongue.

However, what may result in something sooner is the dissemination of these good practices to other schools through the local government (of East Sumba). This is crucial to work on because basic literacy is the foundation for learning in the next grades. If this failed, the next learning process would also be difficult,” Anindito revealed.

He added, ensuring that children have adequate literacy skills when they are still in the early grades is much cheaper and easier than correcting them later when they are in the higher grades, especially in junior high and high school.

Recommendations from the Head of BSKAP was warmly welcomed by East Sumba Regent, Kristofel A. Praing. When receiving Anindito and the BSKAP Team at the official residence the day before the school visit, the regent, Kristofel, expressed his willingness to support efforts to disseminate the good practices produced by the INOVASI program, including mother tongue-based basic education.

Meanwhile, schools also need to provide CPD (Continuous Professional Development) for teachers to be able to apply the use of mother tongue as a transitional language in learning. This could be in the form of allocation of BOS funds for teacher training or procurement and development of contextual and bilingual learning media.