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Indonesian teachers learn ‘talk teaching’

Langley Middle School eighth-graders Stephen Peterson, center, and Nate Goodman, left, point out landmarks on the school’s campus to Indonesian teacher Musta’in and several of his colleagues. - Matt Johnson
Langley Middle School eighth-graders Stephen Peterson, center, and Nate Goodman, left, point out landmarks on the school’s campus to Indonesian teacher Musta’in and several of his colleagues.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

When English teacher Faisal Ahda lectures to his junior high school students on the Indonesian island of Kalimantan, he generally expects them to remain silent.

It’s not that he wants the room full of young people ages 12-15 to always remain close-mouthed. Some days, he would gladly toss his lesson plan aside in exchange for a good English language discussion. But he knows tradition makes this an almost impossible expectation.

For more than 100 years, Indonesian students have been trained to show respect for their teachers by being quiet during class.

“They’re afraid to talk,” Ahda said.

On Wednesday, Ahda and 42 other Indonesian teachers took a step toward breaking that tradition. Hoping to reduce a high student dropout rate in the years between junior high and high school in their country, the teachers visited Langley Middle School as part of a three-month program that will teach them how to get their students more involved — vocally as well as mentally — in their own learning.

Specifically, the Indonesians are studying a teaching method called contextual education, an instruction style which makes connections between school lessons in math, language and art and the use of those subjects on the job, at home, and in other parts of life outside school.

Sponsored by the Indonesian Ministry of Education, the foreign teachers will spend a month in Washington to observe contextual education at work in classrooms, and will learn about it in classes at the University of Washington. The remainder of the teachers’ training will be elsewhere in the United States and in Indonesia.

Kasihani Suyanto, a professor of education from Indonesia’s Malang State University who is traveling with the teachers, said Wednesday that Indonesian schools need to make connections between school and real life if the country is to have a well-educated population.

Most Indonesian students choose to leave school after the equivalent of eighth grade, she said, and begin working in low-wage jobs. The country’s traditional education system cannot promise most students anything better.

Suyanto attributed the problem to a “lack of thinking about the needs of the students.”

That is not the case in U.S. schools, she said. In their first hour at Langley Middle School, the teachers saw exactly how students get involved in their education. Students in the Girls in Technology group gave a video presentation showing their hands-on work with computer software and hardware. The school’s Adventure Education class also showed off their out-of-classroom experiences, which entailed sailing to the San Juan Islands, camping outdoors, restoring an island wildlife habitat, and doing classwork in a University of Washington aquatics laboratory.

Seeing this impressed teacher Adha.

“We’d like to try to involve the students in the teaching and learning process,” he said.

During the remainder of their day at LMS, the Indonesian teachers toured wetlands on the school’s campus restored by earth science students, and observed several classes inside the building. They also had a question and answer hour with LMS students.

School administrators who guided the teachers through the school said they felt fortunate that Mimi Heggelund, the U.W.’s associate director of international programs, chose LMS to be part of their contextual education program.

Principal Greg Willis said he enjoyed seeing his students and the Indonesian visitors talking.

“There was that whole idea of conversation where people struggle with language but get through it,” he said.

Eighth grader Katy Gordon was one the students who “got through it.” She said she has been interested in studying Indonesia for some time and plans to write a report about the country for class.

The visiting teachers each specialize in one of five areas — biology, English, Indonesian, physics and math. They are the first of two groups of teachers from the Indonesian islands of Kalimantan and Sulawesi who will study contextual education through the U.W. When they return to Indonesia, they will teach other teachers how to build more student participation into their classes, as they witnessed at LMS.

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