Abstract: Confronted with ever-changing policy and practical demands teachers of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in Indonesia have to do a very unique priority setting in order to develop survival strategies which are unlikely required by their counterparts working overseas. The purpose of this article is to discuss EFL teachers’ experiences in teaching English in Indonesian schools in the reform era. First, a historical sketch is presented which provides background to the contextual demands confronting EFL teachers both at policy and practical levels. Second, an analysis is conducted based on the context of situation in order to locate the core of teachers’ roles within the changing context. Next, discussion is presented on the basis of comments made by different groups of teachers on their experiences working within a system fraught with conflicting demands: how the teachers cope with the problems and what strategies they use to survive working in the system. Based on results of this analysis fundamental issues are located and a room for improvement is created relative to the needs for concerted efforts to ensure that teachers get the support they deserve to discharge their professional duties within the system. Last, suggestions are presented to provide a better support system for teachers’ professional development so that the profession of Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) proliferates as expected.
Education in Indonesia dates back to the beginning of the evolution of the country several hundred years ago. Within this lengthy history, the course of the development of Indonesian education system has been divided into six historical periods based on the changing views of the ruling power on the purposes of education. As described in Jalal & Musthafa (2001), the six distinctive periods cover ancient beginnings (Prehistory to Mid 1800s,during which time the primary purpose of education was socialization of religious values and functional everyday life skills), the Dutch Colonial period (Mid 1600s-1942, which provided educational access to only the chosen few), the Japanese Occupation period (1942-1945, during which education for the mass was introduced ), the Old-Order Era (1945-1966, during this time the education was populist in its orientation and was directed towards the development of nation and character), New-Order Era (1966-1998, during this period education was oriented to producing “people for development” who have the spirit of Pancasila), and the Reform Era (1998-present, where the purpose of education moves towards democratization).
Within the broader context of developmental history, since Indonesia as a nation-state declared its independence in 1945, Indonesia has witnessed at least nine times of curricular changes—the 1945 curriculum, 1952 curriculum, 1964 curriculum, 1968 curriculum, 1975 curriculum, 1984 curriculum, 1994 curriculum, 2004 curriculum, and the 2006 curriculum. The latest curriculum currently known is called KTSP (school-based curriculum) (Alwasilah 2013). As teachers work within a system (call it “curriculum” to be more concrete) which imposes a certain structure and space within which teachers’ work is initiated, refined, and further developed, changes at the system level can create confusion and disorientation on the part of teachers, and this can disrupt their daily teaching practices.
The rest of this article will (1) pull together multi-level changes at both policy and practice which surround the teaching of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in Indonesia’s schools in the present reform era, (2) bring to fore comments made by different groups of EFL teachers on the centrally-mandated curriculum and approaches to the teaching of English, (3) discuss teachers’ strategies in discharging their professional duties and maintaining their roles as teachers of English as a Foreign Language, and (4) to suggest alternative ways of supporting teachers so that they develop professionally.