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Tensions Faced by International High School English Teachers

I am at this point of view, feeling little frustrated facing the reality of today’s English fever in Indonesian secondary schooling sectors. The so-called globalized world where technological advancements that seem to lead has caused teachers of international languages, especially English, to vividly alter their perceptions to keep bearing an extreme point in mind. The view of English as a key to success is one of the oft-cited arguments of the points by these teachers. This, to some extent, later affects changes to teaching scheme mostly in the Indonesian secondary schools. Despite the ban of RSBI (an internationally standardized schooling system) by the Indonesian constitutional court (MK) years ago, school authorities still put a big interest to this, using the system with a different branded name. We have to warmly welcome this initiative, however. At this point of discussion, I bring the issue to attention in order to show that fever of “an international school” is much held today, in Indonesian secondary schooling contexts. Of these all, English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) policy is required to run in schools. On another side, school English teachers are then faced with tensions in their teaching profession. I would like to discuss, if not all, at least three tensions English teachers may have felt within this school teaching and learning system — imported curricula, the pressure of providing English exposure, and the hiring of native English speaker teachers (NESTs).

Internationally-known schools regulate in their education system an oversea curriculum. The use of such curriculum is not without any reasons. The schools set their graduates, by the hope of using international curriculum, to reach a maximum internationally equitable grade to students abroad. Their graduates are also encouraged to take undergraduate degree abroad. This makes sense as students have been well prepared for such challenges. I feel this is risky, however. English teachers in fact are not yet ready to work with this system. Under the pressure of implementing the burdensome curriculum they continue to teach without being wholehearted. Continued trainings are even insufficient to reach the expected results under the use of the curriculum. Amidst this phenomenon, English teachers who wish to involve in the teaching of English subject in this school are required to better enhance their English prior to securing their spaces in the school teaching schedule. This rather critical tone idea is reflected in the field. I have met some English teachers who are now working there but are not emotionally involved, rather, they are burdened by the challenges and tasks given.

The pressure of providing English exposure, to some extent, might serve as another problematic paradigm. Frankly speaking, research has informed that this takes time and rather difficult conditions to expose students to English if this is still taught as a foreign language. The claim of having English environment may not fully serve the idea. There are things to consider such as motivation, opportunities, learning strategies, and learners’ innate competence in the well-attained English language exposure. It is best done if English is spoken as a second language such as in Malaysia and Singapore. At one point, this onus is much given to teachers of English at schools. Indonesian schooling with teachers and the facilities as well as environment are not yet ready to run English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) policy, though some other Indonesian schools have been attempting to do so. This however does not intend to suggest school authorities to stop the implementation of the policy, rather, I am inviting all parties to reflect the status quo for better logical reasons – what is “why” and “how” in the EMI policy! The focus should better be directed to teacher training program. Note that the understanding of EMI policy and second language acquisition is of paramount importance and this institution could be a place to construe this.

The last, which tangibly leads (local) English teachers in the internationally-branded schools to the very tension, is the hiring of native teachers. Informed by Kachru’s World Englishes concept born in the late 1985, the shift of English language teaching has been scrutinized and re-designed, including one issue of native speaker fallacy. Oftentimes, schools hire native speakers of English to teach in classes without understanding and considering their education background and teaching track records. In fact, Indonesian schooling system has not yet set clear requirements for native speakers to teach English. Is this because they are native? Is this because they are from English-speaking countries? We too tend to see the native as ‘merit’ figures to teach English, albeit in fact they are incapable of and have not gained any teaching experiences and teaching certificates, let alone, undergone a study of teacher education program.

This tension is clear enough to tell us that schools with an internationally-branded name should deem at least these three much-disputed issues by language professionals to deal with teacher tensions in the education system. When teachers are well-treated, learners will also be well-taught. If not these, what else should we consider to the better Indonesian schooling system, especially those favoring the internationally-branded name for the schools? This rather critical is not thought-provoking, but idea-construction. Thus, I welcome additional comments on this reflection which later shape as a better solution among the scholarship of this trend.

Written By: M. Faruq Ubaidillah, S.Pd

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