THE COMPETENCY – BASED CURRICULUM OF ENGLISH SUBJECT FOR SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL IN INDONESIA: A CRITICAL EVALUATION (Full Article)
(Published in Humanitas Journal, Brawijaya University of Malang http://humanitas.ub.ac.id/index.php/humanitas/article/view/112)
The Indonesian government has nationally implemented the competency – based curriculum of English subject for senior high school in Indonesia since 2004. The recent curriculum has been warmly welcomed by teachers as it is claimed that the curriculum will be more effective in enhancing the teaching learning process than the previous curricula. Some problems, however, may potentially hinder the implementation of the latest curriculum. If these problems remain unsolved, Indonesian people will end up repeating the same failure of the previous curricula: teaching learning process that is far from communicative competence. Therefore, it is recommended that the newest curriculum should be modified based on the importance of competent teachers and authentic resources, communicative situations for grammar mastery, and ongoing assessment.
For several years, the Indonesian government has been working hard to establish an ‘ideal’ form of English language education that can foster students to face the global development of economy, science, and technology. Following current trends of English language teaching in the world, the curriculum designers have decided to use communicative approach across the educational levels since 1994. This is a ‘dramatic’ change that actually tries to tackle failures with approaches and theories adopted before it (Musthafa, 2001).
In spite of the change in the curriculum, however, the concern of most English teachers remains unchanged. English teaching still deals mainly with the complex structures of the language, long reading passages, too technical vocabulary items, and other activities that are far from the real purpose of the current curriculum. The facts show the contradiction between the principles of the communicative approach and the actual implementation in classrooms. No wonder Indonesian students still find it difficult to speak English communicatively (Sukono, 2004).
To solve the problems in the previous curricula, the Indonesian government has nationally implemented the new curriculum, known as the Competency-Based Curriculum since the beginning of 2004. This new curriculum has been welcomed enthusiastically by teachers as it is claimed that this new curriculum will be more effective in improving the English teaching learning process than the previous curricula.
This article will critically analyse the competency – based curriculum of English subject for senior high school in Indonesia. To begin with, the writer will first discuss the competency – based curriculum in general perspective, and then state the evaluation principles that the writer is going to use to analyse the curriculum. From this point on, it is possible to suggest whether the curriculum could be improved or modified.
THE COMPETENCY – BASED CURRICULUM
As its name implies, competency-based curriculum (CBC) is designed on the basis of what the students can do in performing tasks rather than what they know about the tasks. In this respect, the notion competency becomes the key word. A student is said to be competent or to have competency if he or she has specific skills and knowledge required for effectively performing a real life task. For example, if a student can respond appropriately to his friend's letter of invitation in writing, he can be said to have the competency required for writing informal letters (Setiono, 2004).
In the introduction of the English subject curriculum for senior high school (p.3), it is stated in that the curriculum bases its teaching and learning theories on the Communicative Competence Model. It shows in the diagram that the main competence targeted in language learning is discourse competence. It means the ability to connect several ideas together appropriately and to maintain an extended exchange of messages. For this competence to develop properly, learners of English need to be exposed to and engage in the actual use of the language for communication purposes. To get the discourse competence, students need to obtain supporting competences, i.e., Linguistic Competence, Actional Competence, Sociolinguistic Competence, and Strategic Competence (p.2).
There seemed to be a major change in English teaching, leaving out grammatical and lexis emphases and shifting to the new era in which students’ ability to communicate in the language will receive priority. To sum up, the characteristics of the English subject curriculum for senior high school are as follows:
· Development of communicative competence—the ability to use English for communicative purposes—which integrates all four macro skills: reading, listening, speaking, and writing; efforts should be made to strike a good balance among the four-macro skills.
· Mastery of linguistic aspects is to be used to support communicative abilities in both oral and written forms.
· The tasks that are required of students are those that reflect the situations commonly encountered in their everyday life. This is to say that the tasks assigned to the students should be as authentic as possible.
· The formulation of teaching objectives and the content of teaching materials are all decided on the basis of the learner's needs and interests.
· Teachers facilitate learning and assist as well as monitor learners in performing the tasks.
· Students are evaluated on the basis of what he or she can do with specific learning tasks.
To analyse the competency- based curriculum of English subject, the writer will use some evaluation principles as follows:
1. Are theories of language teaching and learning adopted by the curriculum still relevant?
2. Is the approach of the curriculum suitable with teachers and students?
3. Are the assessment procedures appropriate with the approach of the curriculum?
4. Can learning environment in reality support the curriculum implementation?
(Modified from Richards, 2001, pp. 286-287)
The writer chooses the evaluation principles above for a practical reason. The four questions above can be used to identify whether or not the competency based curriculum of English subject works well. Since no current research has been conducted to investigate thoroughly the effectiveness of the latest curriculum, the later analysis based on the evaluation principles above will be still on general perspectives.
ANALYSIS OF THE CURRICULUM
Theories of Language Teaching and Learning
Curriculum development in Indonesia is always up to date in catching up the development of English teaching theories in the world. The emphases that are stated in the recent curriculum clearly indicate the understanding of what communicative competence is and how the approach sees language teaching in foreign language contexts. In other words, it is still relevant with the development of current theories and practices in teaching English as foreign language.
However, it should be admitted that the theories adopted by the competency-based curriculum in Indonesia are not exactly a spectacular breakthrough in education. In fact, competency-based education has been implemented and widely employed since the 1970s as a part of teaching programs for adult learners, especially at vocational schools (Chappell, Gonczi & Hager, 2005).
The competency-based curriculum of English subject is actually a developing version of the 1999 Curriculum, and both curricula share the same theoretical backgrounds. Both have been based on studies in language acquisition originating in the USA, particularly at Ohio University. The studies result language instruction programs that emphasize on total language exposure, such as Language Experience Approach, Total Immersion Program, and so forth.
As gaining communicative competence requires certain enabling conditions in order that it can be applied effectively—such as, the existence or good language models from whom students can learn language, a great deal of exposure to the language in the real-life situations, the involvement in meaningful communication—we have seen from the beginning of the curriculum implementation to date that such conditions are potentially contradictive with the language learning environment in Indonesia. Such a good theoretical understanding may potentially not be well translated into practice in educational fields, particularly in the classrooms (Sukono, 2004).
The Approach versus Students and Teachers
Many English teachers of senior high schools in Indonesian find it hard to identify the approach adopted in the competency-based curriculum. This is because the approach is not clearly stated as the previous curriculum. However, the writer believes that the recent curriculum still applies Communicative Approach since the explanation of Communicative Competence Model stated in the appendixes leads to the basic components of Communicative Language Teaching (p.35).
Using Communicative Approach, the curriculum designers seem to claim that it is effective to develop communicative competence—the ability to use English for communicative purposes—which integrates all four macro skills: reading, listening, speaking, and writing (p.12). Nevertheless, learning from previous problems encountered in the previous curriculum, the writer thinks the curriculum potentially repeats the same failure in teaching learning process.
One of the main features of communicative language teaching is its focus on learners. Richards and Rodgers (2002) say in a communicative language teaching–based classroom, language teaching should be learner-centred and responsive to their needs and interests, while Dardjowidjojo (1997) puts it even stronger: there is a need to develop learners’ autonomy, which involves “determining the objective, defining contents and progression, selecting methods and techniques being used, [and] evaluating what has been acquired.” While this idea probably work well in countries where principles of egalitarian and democratic prevail, it is almost unrealistic to hope that such an idea will work in Indonesia, particularly because teacher-student relations are based on “culturally-bound hierarchy” (Dardjowidjojo, 1997, p.5).
Indonesians, in general, including most teachers and students, are not accustomed to the idea that learning activities are more student-generated than teacher-initiated. The widely held belief is that teaching is passing down knowledge from teachers to students, that teacher knows everything and that student is knowledge recipient from teacher. Because of such beliefs, it is very unrealistic to hope that the students will be very active in their learning situations. In fact, Indonesian classrooms are renowned as uni-directional and quiet ones (Sukono, 2004).
In addition to the absence of the enabling conditions (such as communicative activities in the classrooms), these students have had a pre-structured attitude that the measure of being good or not good students is judged from their obedience to the guru (teacher), who must be digugu (trusted with everything they say) and ditiru (imitated). Being a good student also means taking for granted whatever the teacher gives without questioning mind. Shifting the role of the teachers from learning conductors to teaching facilitators is also much easier to be said than to be done. Teachers are considered school time parents for Indonesian students, and being “parents” means that they should always play a leading role in the classroom (Sukono, 2004).
Another problem is the fact that most senior high school English teachers tend to speak Indonesian while teaching English. The research conducted by Artsiyanti (2002) suggests that the frequency of English used by the teachers in classrooms is considerably low. In most occasions, the teachers tend to use Bahasa Indonesia to carry out the English lesson, except when greeting the students to get the class begun and dismissed. In this case, the teachers fail to act as a language model and consequently, students do not have opportunities to see how ‘a real model’, a native speaker like, speaks English communicatively and correctly.
The Assessment Procedures
Talking about the assessment procedures, there is a contradiction between on-going evaluation (p.9) and the purpose of the new curriculum (p.5). The on-going evaluation says students are evaluated on the basis of what he or she can do with specific learning tasks as stated in the indicators of the curriculum. On the other hand, the purpose of the curriculum emphasizes that students need to have a good mastery of contextual grammar since students are prepared to be able to speak English communicatively as well as gain an entry to university. The contradiction, of course, leads to a serious problem.
Relating the objectives of the curriculum to the way English language learning is assessed is like seeing a paradox. On the one hand, it is clearly stated in the curriculum that the aim of the language teaching is to enable students to be communicatively competence. It means that classroom situations should be managed in such a way that is conducive for communicative use of the language. More communicative activities should be encouraged and activities that do not lead students to be communicatively involved should be reduced as much as possible.
On the other hand, the government have stipulated that the nation-wide examination for English at the end of senior high school level is in a multiple-choice format since they believe that a communicatively-design assessment is both difficult and expensive. Such a choice of the test format is, inevitably, very much form based and the main area tested is, of course, language structures: knowledge of grammar and lexis, because it is this knowledge that is best suit with the format of the test. To put it simpler, the language assessment is not communicative at all.
Even though concern has been raised with regard to this problem, as more and more educators become aware that this kind of assessment is potential to misconstrue learners that all they need to know in order to perform communicatively in English is its grammar and vocabulary, this multiple-choice test still prevails up to now for the reasons mentioned earlier.
The final assessment model also creates significant implication in the area of English teaching, in which the main focus of teaching is on the grammatical competence. There is practically no room left for senior high school teachers to engage the students in meaningful communication. Four hours a week to teach English is so limited a time for them to do things other than preparing the students for their multiple choice exams. This is so because the teachers do not want to see their students fail in The National Final Examination and The National Entry Test of New University Student (Sukono, 2004).
It is emphasised in the new curriculum that students are expected to be able to use English language in different social contexts, purposes and genres (p.36). Theoretically, the expectation is possible to achieve but practically it is very difficult.
One of the enabling conditions for communicative competence is the availability of supportive learning environment. Is supportive learning environment available in Indonesia? It is hard to answer. English is treated as a foreign language in Indonesia. As a result, students hardly practice and witness how English is used in real-life situation. The language only circulates in their classroom and is not used at all outside the school’s walls. It is difficult to get student motivated when they do not see immediate need of the language outside the school. The notion that learning a language is learning how to communicate in that language is a vague construct, because even though they learn a language, English, for example, they will not use the language for their social interactions.
The number of teaching materials that support the implementation of communicative competence is very limited, so is the number of schools which own language laboratory. This is in contrast to private language courses that, generally, have stronger financial resource than formal schools. Being financially established, they can provide decent facilities to support language learning and give better payment to their instructors. The fact that learners who learn English in such courses are generally more successful than those who learn it in schools, despite the same length of contact time in a week, may explain that those language instructors, supported by sufficient facilities and good salary, can work more effectively to help the learners obtain considerable success in learning English than their counterparts working in formal schools.
Moreover, Indonesian senior high school teachers’ quality in research is relatively low. The teachers do not have enough opportunities to research their teachings or even to keep up to date with the research in English teaching areas. Consequently, their classroom management skills are low and, most importantly, they may find it hard to translate the idea of communicative competence model into the actions. This leads to a situation in which no significant change takes place on the way they teach and nurture the students’ learning. Limited teaching skills, coupled with large classrooms of varying abilities, have driven these senior high school teachers to a dilemmatic position when the competency – based curriculum of English subject comes (Sukono, 2004).
LIST OF QUESTIONS
There are some important aspects of the current English curriculum which are not clearly explained by the designers. As an English teacher, the writer is tempted to ask the curriculum designers about the following questions:
How do English teachers apply an ongoing assessment to assess students' performance in the completion of their tasks?
It is complicated because there is no clear explanation about this crucial issue. So far, there is no readily available valid procedure and standards on how to assess the students' performance consistently. Clearly, the recent curriculum requires teachers who are not only professional in teaching, but also professional in testing.
Is the financial issue related to the implementation of the competency-based curriculum of English subject well considered?
Economically, a great amount of money needs to be spent to make authentic teaching materials that foster the learning process. The more ideal Indonesian government intend to implement the competency – based curriculum, the more expensive it will be.
The economic factors, closely related to the government policy that allocates only a small number of budgets for education, have made schools lack resources to provide quality language education. The number of teaching materials that support the implementation of communicative approach is very limited. In addition, it is also impossible to count on teachers to collect authentic materials using their own money since Indonesian teachers are underpaid (Sukono, 2004).
Is the 2004 English curriculum culturally appropriate?
From a cultural standpoint, it will be difficult to successfully implement the new curriculum in this country. The features of communicative competence discussed above seem to contradict the values and beliefs in the dominant culture of this nation, which is heavily influenced by the Javanese tradition. For example, two famous Javanese philosophies such as manut lan piturut (to obey and to follow) and ewuh-pakewuh (feeling uncomfortable and uneasy) are still very much a part of us.
The implications of these views in the classroom context are that the best students are those who always obey and follow their teacher's commands. They are considered disrespectful if they have a different opinion from their teachers, let alone question their teachers. It is, therefore, very hard to expect students to be interactive with their teachers in the classroom. They might feel uncomfortable and uneasy to say something directly to their teachers, to talk about controversial matters, and to disagree with them (Setiono, 2004).
Based on Ohio's Model Competency-Based Program of Foreign Language (http://www.ncssfl.org/ohio.htm) the writer recommends that the competency – based curriculum of English subject for senior high school in Indonesia be modified based on the following points:
Communicative Situations for Grammar Mastery
Research in second language acquisition suggests that students acquire communicative competency in a foreign language when they, first, have the chance to hear and understand messages in the foreign language followed by opportunities to use the language to convey their own messages (Ellis, 1994).
Based on this theory, it would be better for the designers of recent curriculum to emphasise that Indonesian students learn grammar and vocabulary, not through memorization of grammar rules and exercises for final examinations, but rather by participating in meaningful, authentic communicative situations in risk-free environments. Furthermore, recognizing that learners will exhibit a wide range of learning styles, intelligences, and first language skills, learning instructions must be tailored to the individual needs of each student.
The Importance of Competent Teachers and Authentic Resources
To be successful to implement the idea of communicative competence, there must be a room in the current curriculum stating about its requirements of adequate resources, authentic language materials, competent teachers who are proficient in the language(s) they teach, and the necessary time to meet specified performance standards. In addition, because foreign language teachers are, in most cases, the only role model for their students, teachers must strengthen their language skills in order to teach English communicatively.
Time for teacher planning, sequential, long-term programs for students, and authentic materials to support foreign language instruction will provide opportunities for all students to acquire communicative proficiency in a foreign language.
It is also necessary for the latest curriculum to include the explanation and the standard instrument of ongoing assessment. This is very important because assessments in the competency-oriented classroom are designed to assess a student's competency to communicate in the target language. They are performance-based, which require students to use language to perform a variety of functions within specified contexts. It is, therefore, very important to address this issue in order to avoid teachers’ confusion in assessing students’ communicative competence.
The standard instrument of ongoing assessments must cover students’ respond to situations likely to be encountered in the target cultures. These assessments and the feedback they offer to the student are directly correlated to the student's ability to function in the language. Evaluations that assess a student's communicative competency should test what a student has been taught (structures, vocabularies, and situations) in class as well as provide opportunities for students to be creative with the language in an interactive setting. Every effort must be made to assess each student's ability to speak, listen, read, and write in the target language throughout the school year.
In this article the writer discussed various problems related to the implementation of the competency – based curriculum of English subject for senior high school in Indonesia. Instead of suggesting major changes, the writer recommends the curriculum designers modifying the ‘weaknesses’ of the curriculum based on the importance of competent teachers and authentic resources, communicative situations for grammar mastery, and ongoing assessment.
The issues related to practice, social and culture may become potential problems to hinder the implementation of the competency – based curriculum. If these problems remain unnoticed, Indonesian people will end up repeating the same failure of the previous curricula, particularly in teaching learning process that is far from communicative competence.
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