Indonesia is the most linguistically diverse nation in Asia, yet challenges abound when it comes to education for mother language speakers. The Indonesian constitution mandates Bahasa Indonesia as the sole language of instruction in formal education. Bahasa Indonesia, which was selected in 1928 as the country’s official language in an effort to promote national unity and identity, is the mother tongue of less than ten per cent of the population. This means that the vast majority of Indonesian students begin their schooling in an education system that they cannot fully understand or participate in.
In Bima, home to the local Mbojo language, INOVASI has been working to address this through a language transition and literacy pilot (known locally as GEMBIRA). Working with educators and policy makers alike, locally relevant strategies and solutions have been tried and tested.
For partner teachers like Sunardin, these strategies have proved highly useful in the classroom.
A young teacher at SDN 6 Sila primary school, Sunardin began his career just two years ago, teaching a grade one class. His first teaching assignment was challenging, introducing the basics of literacy and numeracy to students more used to using their mother tongue in daily life.
“It’s rather difficult to introduce some concepts in Indonesian to children. They have difficulty understanding,” Sunardin said.
With most students unable to understand the language of classroom instruction, usual learning models could not be applied. More innovative ways were needed so that children could better absorb key learning concepts.
Sunardin applied several strategies in classroom learning activities. For example, he used learning tools such as pictures when introducing objects and the first letter of the object name. A number of object pictures were displayed in front of the class with the names written in Indonesian. Through this method, he also slowly introduced letters and numbers to students. Sunardin also used body language and hand gestures to introduce the names of different body parts.
“I also often use local story media for children in class. After they understand the concept of the story, I will then repeat it again using Indonesian,” he explained.
Although he had learned at university about the use of pictures to help teach, Sunardin continued to hone his teaching skills through the pilot.
“In the past, we also used pictures, but the images were more general. Now, the images that we make are tailored to the learning themes and levels of growth and needs of children and of course adjusting to the local context,” he said.
During pre-pilot activities, additional strategies were introduced to partner teachers, including:
- Total physical response – a language teaching method based on the coordination of language and physical movement.
- Contextualised approaches – which use ‘real life’ learning materials found in the local context to help students more easily make connections with the new ideas and skills that are taught.
- Experiential approaches – which encourage learners to develop the target language skills through exploring their own personal and cultural experiences.
- Language bridge – which sees the gradual process of language transition, first using local language as the language of classroom instruction, and then gradually introducing Indonesian. After this, Indonesian is used during all lessons, usually by Grade 3.
Sunardin remains enthusiastic about the various creative methods he has been introduced to via the GEMBIRA pilot. Every day he uses the new strategies in the classroom. The impact on his students has been very positive.
“Thank God, since these creative models such as using image media are used in the classroom, many children have started to use Indonesian, especially when in class,” Sunardin said.