Strengthening the language transition process in Bima classrooms

Indonesia has more than 652 local languages which are spread from Sabang to Merauke. In Indonesia, the constitution mandates Bahasa Indonesia as the sole language of instruction in formal education – a decision driven by national unity and identity. Although the constitution does allow for local languages to be used in a supplementary sense during the early grades, few teachers are trained in appropriate teaching methodologies for second language acquisition. Language transition strategies must be well designed. If students’ mastery of the language of instruction is low, it will certainly have an impact on their learning outcomes.

INOVASI’s 2018 baseline data from Bima paints a picture of learning quality and challenges. Sample findings revealed that 91% of children in Bima use the local Bahasa Mbojo language at home. When it came to the basic literacy test, only 18% of students in grade one passed, followed by only 46% of those in grade two and 65% of those in grade three. For third grade students, only 72% passed the syllable recognition and only 66% passed the word recognition portions of the test. These results indicate the importance of getting mother language transition right, as well as the valuable role that teachers play in understanding and mitigating language transition learning issues.

On a warm and sunny morning in Bima, West Nusa Tenggara, children’s voices ring out across the grounds of Sarikalampa primary school. Inside one classroom, first grade teacher Nurdiana points to different pictures painted on the blackboard, her students scrambling to call out the different names. The names of the objects are written in the region’s local language, Bahasa Mbojo. As she explains each object using Mbojo, Nurdiana will also purposefully speak in Indonesian every now and then. This is all part of a transitional strategy called ‘language bridge’, which sees the gradual process of language transition, first using local language Bahasa Mbojo as the language of classroom instruction, and then gradually introducing Indonesian.

The use of local language is a key feature in daily Bima community life, with children speaking it at home, to their parents, and in the community. The strong prevalence of local language poses a challenge for teaching and learning activities in the classroom. Children still experience difficulties understanding the lessons, often due to a lack of mastery of Indonesian – the formal language of classroom instruction. Nurdiana also experienced this challenge, during her many years as an early grade teacher in Bima.

“Children in the class often experience difficulties when understanding the concept of learning because the lessons are given not in their mother tongue language. In the past, I just mixed up the language in delivering lessons. As a result, when I give assignments both in class or at home, the children cannot finish it because there are things they don’t understand,” Nurdiana said.

Nurdiana first began to change her teaching approach when she participated in INOVASI’s Bima pilot, focused on mother tongue-based multilingual education (a pilot known locally as GEMBIRA). She explained how her perspective changed and she realized that teaching children with specific challenges needed an innovative but still structured approach. Not only when it came to using language, but also in the use of learning materials that can support the teaching and learning process.

“I was introduced to a number of new methods through training conducted by INOVASI program. For example language bridge, and how to use Big Books in learning, as well as several other ways. I then applied this new knowledge in class,” Nurdiana said.

The language bridge method is applied by first explaining various concepts to children using the Mbojo language. Nurdiana did not directly use Indonesian language, but gradually introduced it. When she began to see that children could already understand the concept, Nurdiana would then begin to deliver lessons in Indonesian.

The Big Book approach also helped the learning process in the classroom. A Big Book contains short stories and is made creatively with illustrations that appeal to children. Through this storytelling, Nurdiana then introduced the concepts of learning in the local language.

“Children are always enthusiastic when I use Big Book in class. I made a Big Book with pictures that I made myself. I then explained using language that they understood,” she said.

After some time applying various innovative methods in her class, Nurdiana began to feel there was something different about her students. They became more active in the learning process. Each time she finished telling a story, the children were able to recount it.

“They are excited to retell because they understand what I just told them through the Big Book,” Nurdiana said proudly.

The teaching techniques and methods obtained by Nurdiana through INVOASI’s pilot have helped make the classroom atmosphere different and improve student progress. For Nurdiana herself, joining the INOVASI program has opened up her own creativity, so she can continue bringing new ideas to the classroom.

To help improve literacy skills more broadly for her students, Nurdiana has also worked on setting up a beautiful reading corner in her classroom. She bought the materials herself. The reading corner displays various learning tools that have been hung on the walls of the class, complementing her new approach to language transition.

To see Nurdiana in action, view her video here.

Strengthening the language transition process in Bima classrooms