Middle income nations often share the same social and political issues, with education being an important yet contentious issue for many developing countries which are trying to move forward and become effective global players. Indonesia, as well as many North African countries, faces a ‘financing gap’ with constraints in mobilizing the funds needed to invest in many areas, especially education.
One popular way for these nations to retain confidence in education is through curriculum reform. Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, has struggled since independence to maintain a curriculum that pleases everyone – the media, the finance and education departments, parents, teachers and least of all the students. However, the latest reform efforts suggest radical new changes to the curriculum focusing more on national content and a move away from subjects that can empower Indonesia within the global economy.
We need to ask what the impact of these changes will be regarding Indonesia’s future ability to compete in the global international economy.
Curriculum reforms between 1994 and 2006 saw English becoming a recommended, yet not compulsory part of primary education. Specialist ‘international-standard’ senior high schools (RSBI) were also introduced as compulsory for each regional administration, using English as the language of instruction. In this way, schools in Indonesia have been wisely preparing students for a global future with English language being taught from an early age, enabling its effective use throughout high school and onto university. Indonesian students were thus being trained to finally become serious players in the global workplace. Decades of English language teaching has helped Indonesia progress towards the ultimate and essential aim of becoming a middle-income country.
However, the recent curriculum trend in Indonesia for keeping up with the global demand for English as the language of future successful graduates has recently been denounced by the government as anti-nationalist, arguing that it detracts from national identity. It has been proposed that, in July 2013, English language tuition (amongst other basics that create global citizens, such as science and social studies) will be removed from the primary student’s daily schedule. The argument? Students need to be in touch with their national identity and national languages. Granted, all nations need to learn about their origins and national identity, especially regarding both national and local languages, before they can become successful participants of the global community. However, if we acknowledge the purpose of education as preparing students to be successful, functioning members of a global society, then the English language, taught from a foundational age at the developmental primary school age (widely seen as ideal for language acquisition), with the opportunity to attend an international standard senior high school, will certainly enable students to have a viable opportunity to be players in the global workplace.
This call to nationalize the Indonesian education system may now resonate with the North African governments following the Arabization of their education systems that is largely considered achieved since the 1980s. Interestingly, this educational model used across North Africa, generally speaking, is now being questioned with new reforms focusing on globalization, calling for the education systems of Maghreb countries to be ‘more internationally compatible’ with the aim of producing ‘more internationally competitive students’. It has become clear to these middle-income countries that for students to compete in the global workplace they need internationally competitive skills. What more so than the use of the English language to be able to communicate all those other essential skills with?
We can now ask if Indonesia can learn a lesson from looking at these decisions to internationalize education in the Maghreb that are being made decades after their own nationalization aims were implemented? Should Indonesia be sacrificing English at a foundational age to equip students with national knowledge for a future with a stronger national identity? Should the existing international standard schools (RSBI) be seen as illegal, while the middle-income Maghreb countries are recognizing the need to become more internationally competent? Or should Indonesia and other middle income countries alike be working towards becoming nations capable of communicating effectively in the global economy and capable of operating on an international level? Indonesia must wake up and look at the examples of education reform in other middle-income countries. Maghreb countries are providing a useful working example of how emphasis of curriculum reform on the recognition of national identity has been followed up with a focus on international capabilities.