The transition from mother tongue: challenges and opportunities

November 2017

As part of pilot design activities in West Nusa Tenggara province, INOVASI is exploring ways to improve learning outcomes for children in Bima whose first language is not Bahasa Indonesia.

Located on the eastern side of the island of Sumbawa, and with a unique cultural context, Bima has its own challenges in education. With a population of more than 400,000, and a primary school dropout rate of 11%, Bima’s priority education programs in 2016-2017 focused largely on teacher quality and competence.  With the strong prevalence of local language, an ongoing issue faced by teachers is how to better plan and manage the transition from mother tongue to using Bahasa Indonesian as the primary medium of classroom instruction and assessment. This is particularly important for early grades.


Through the INOVASI program, the governments of Australia and Indonesia are partnering to understand how student learning outcomes in literacy and numeracy can be improved in schools and districts across Indonesia. Bima is one of six INOVASI partner districts in NTB.

In Bima and in all partner districts and provinces, INOVASI uses a distinctive approach to develop pilot activities and find out what does and doesn’t work to improve student learning outcomes. In simple terms, this approach is called Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA). It sees INOVASI working and learning directly with local partners to explore and identify local problems and co-design locally relevant solutions. This bottom-up way of thinking is certainly not new – conceptually it draws on approaches in the Doing Development Differently and Human Centred Design fields – but INOVASI continues to implement and iterate its own version of this on the ground in Indonesia.

The challenge of transition from local language is a pervasive one in Bima, and indeed in many areas of Indonesia. It continues to cause low learning outcomes in literacy and numeracy. To help build teachers’ competencies in developing student fluency, comprehension and confidence in the country’s official language of Bahasa Indonesian, INOVASI is putting PDIA in action and planning for a new pilot focused on the transition from mother tongue in early grades.

Pilot planning commenced in early September 2017, with initial exploration activities. INOVASI is working with two chosen KKGs (grassroots level forums for primary school teachers residing in a single school cluster), from two sub districts in Bima. Through classroom and playground observations, and interviews with early grade classroom teachers, principals, school supervisors and parents, INOVASI could piece together a more detailed understanding of the local issues and context.

An important part of the PDIA and pilot planning process is the involvement and training of local facilitators, who are usually teachers and educators themselves. In this case, facilitators are teachers, principals and school supervisors from the chosen two KKG forums. By building their capacity and empowering them to use the PDIA approach with local people and co-identify root problem cause and effect, it is expected that the end pilot design and implementation is far more sustainable.


During the PDIA synthesis stage, a range of tools were used to explore problem cause, effect and prioritisation, and solution brainstorming. Additional interviews and observations added depth to this understanding and analysis.  At a broad level, two facts were clear. Firstly, for grades one – three, the Bahasa Indonesia learning process for students who use local language is conducted through direct translation. Secondly, students still need time to get used to using correct Indonesian language inside and outside of the classroom. For teachers, strategies are needed to more effectively manage this transition from local language. With children speaking their mother tongue language at home with their parents, in the local community, and even in the playground, transitioning to full use of Bahasa Indonesian as the primary mode of classroom instruction is challenging. Teachers require more effective teaching strategies.

Local examples of teaching and learning strategies do exist – including through INOVASI’s first pilot Guru BAIK.  During her time working with INOVASI, Ibu Arnu, a Guru BAIK teacher, developed her own Bima-Indonesian language dictionary, which was full of short stories about the local environment, and lots of simple and colourful pictures. Armed with this dictionary, Arnu’s students were able to more easily build their Indonesian vocabulary. Ideas like this may be discussed further with teachers as part of the new pilot.

Ibu Arnu, a teacher from the Guru BAIK workshops in Bima, with her Bima- Indonesian dictionary



Moving forward, local facilitators will coordinate further workshops with Bima teachers to co-identify concrete problems in using Indonesian language during the learning process. Ideas for teaching and learning in the classroom will be explored further.

As part of final pilot design, ideas testing and review will continue during the November – December 2017 period, including in selected schools and classrooms. The Bima pilot will commence implementation in early 2018. Follow the INOVASI Facebook page for more updates.




The transition from mother tongue: challenges and opportunities