Bhinneka Tunggal Ika or “unity in diversity” has been Indonesia’s official motto since its independence in 1945. It reflects Indonesia’s commitment to create peace within the local, national, and international societies despite race and ethnicity, socioeconomic, cultural, and religious differences. Since Indonesia has 250 million people who speak more than 300 different languages, it is crucial to engage them in implementing tolerance and solidarity while keeping the traditional culture and values alive. Today, this population is dominated by youth, and the sustainable development of Indonesia lies in their hands.
Globally, this phenomenon known as a “youth bulge” or “demographic dividend” propels national productivity. Most people define it as the total population of a country dominated by people between 15 and 64 years old. People in this age group are in what social scientists call the productive age. According to the DBS Asian Insight Conference, in 2010, there were 60-70% of people in the productive age range in Indonesia. This percentage will reach its peak in 2035 where 80–85% of the total population will be considered productive. As a result, the Indonesian ex-President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, believed that in 2030 Indonesia will become the nation with the 10th biggest economy in the world.
Considering these circumstances, demographic dividend can potentially boost the growth and development of Indonesia. However, if this potential is not supported by high quality human resources with a reach toward global competitiveness, the opportunity demographic bonus provide will be wasted. According to a World Bank Survey, 56% of young Indonesians reported that they feel poorly prepared to enter the workforce in terms of skills. Because of this, 22% of Indonesians between 15 and 24 years old are unemployed. This was threatened due to the opening of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in the 1st January 2016 where it provided the free flow of goods, services, investments, and skilled labor across the Southeast Asia region. Since English became the official language of AEC, language skill also appeared to be an issue in Indonesia, with 48% of employers saying their skilled employees lacked English language proficiency. Compared to its neighboring countries, Indonesian’s English proficiency is still lagging. The Education First (EF) English Proficiency Index noted that Indonesia’s English skill in the Asia region is ranked eighth, while Singapore ranked first and Malaysia second. Today, although Malaysia reaches the second highest rank in the index, they still put a big effort to maintain their achievement by conducting national teacher training programs in advanced levels. Furthermore, Thailand has also showed their commitment to improve English skills by making a new standard of proficiency, as well as enrich their competency by learning a new language, Bahasa Indonesia. This action indicates a great intention to enter Indonesia. Indonesian unemployment may rise if Thai citizens, and others, begin to seek employment in Indonesia.
These conditions indicate language barriers might harm national growth and require a new method of teaching. Therefore, there is a need to manage youth bulge as soon as possible and develop students to communicate effectively in English. This can be done by implementing English through formal education, informal ways, and to create a conducive environment to help foster these efforts. Concerning formal education, a teaching and learning methodology has to be in line with the 21st century education model where students become the center of learning activities. Teachers can shape the classroom as the venue of sharing ideas between them and students, as well as student-to-student. This provides a more effective learning process where students do not need to memorize theories and become mark-oriented; they will be triggered to think critically towards an issue and commit to addressing and solving these issues. The effectiveness of an active learner can be seen from the learning pyramid published by the National Training Laboratories in Bethel, Maine. This learning pyramid underscores that students are able to get only 10% of the overall learning material taught by lecturing and reading, while students gained 50% of material from discussion and 75% from practice. When schools are able to combine lecture, discussion, and practice in their method; the implementation of values and skills towards student will be easier.
The student-centered learning method was applied in my high school where it offered me an opportunity to live in the dormitory with diverse students across East Java. Since I had to share a room with friends from different backgrounds, an adjustment was needed when we faced differences related to our habit or even dialect while having conversations. Although my friends and I came from the same province, East Java, our dialect and manner in doing certain activities were quite different. These differences, however, provided a conducive environment in which to learng English due to the implementation of English hour and English pin. During 7 to 9 pm, students have to communicate in English. Not only that, the English pin with a sentence “Speak English to me” also pushed students to speak in English both in the school and dormitory area. If they were known for having a conversation in Bahasa Indonesia or Javanese, a penalty would be given. Despite offering boarding school programs, my school also applied International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE), a curriculum from Cambridge, in the first year and Indonesia’s own national curriculum, Kurikulum Tingkat Satuan Pendidikan (KTSP), the following two years. Although the learning materials provided in the IGCSE was quite similar to the materials I learned in junior high, it still benefited me to understand scientific terms in English as well as enrich my vocabulary. The experience I got during a year learning international curriculum assisted me to be globally-minded while maintaining the values of my local and national culture. It was true that my teachers and I often spoke in English during that time, but we were communicating in Bahasa Indonesia outside the class and during national events. I also still held conversations in Javanese with my friends and local people around the dormitory. These helped enhance my language ability and served as a step toward shaping myself as a global citizen without forgetting my origins.
Other foreign languages implemented in my senior high were Japanese, Mandarin, and Dutch. It was a good program to introduce students to the basic understanding of these foreign languages. An interesting story happened when our Dutch teacher exposed us to access "Brieffreunde.de", a communication site used by Europeans. She targeted each of us to have at least three friends from Germany, interact with them, and report the conversation we did by the end of each week throughout a year. Although we only knew the basics such as greeting and other basic conversations, helped by e-translators, this helped us knowing about other cultures better, and facilitated the exchange of ideas, as well as increased our confidence on having interactions with foreigners. Not only that, we also learnt Japanese culture by making sushi, Japanese traditional food, and memorizing Mandarin vocabularies by playing games together with our teacher.
After learning languages in high school as well as in the campus, I further nurtured my ability by joining an international forum. I attended Asia Pacific Urban Forum-Youth (APUFY) conducted by the Ministry of Public Works and Housing of Indonesian Republic in collaboration with UN HABITAT. This forum is a particular program for achieving sustainable development agenda held in Jakarta for two days and immediately proceeds to APUF-6 and the HABITAT III Asia-Pacific Regional Meeting. It gathered 300 young people from 22 countries across Asia-Pacific and exposed me to a new look on how beautiful diversity can be. I saw this when delegates delivered their perspectives as well as their exchanges with others of different ethnicity, race, religion, and skin color. This program also provided a wider range of insights and aspirations. By joining this forum, I learned the importance of creating mutual understanding needed for effectively tackling the diversity challenge.
Reflecting on the above experiences, improving language competencies towards youth can be done by understanding their character and passion before starting to implement programs in formal education. It will also be better to increase youth participation in the learning process rather than letting them become passive learners. When youth have already got enough skills in school, we need to expose them into the more complex and diverse world instead of just the local and national environment. If youth are solely attuned to tackling language barriers within themselves, it will be easier to trigger them in learning other skills necessary in life. This will help youth to get access into global knowledge which in the end increases their competitiveness in the global market.
The urgency of improving youth language proficiency increases when Indonesia has to face challenges in attaining Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Since efforts to achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were not quite successful indicated by unequal welfare across the nation, Indonesia needs to build partnerships at the regional, national, and international level. Only by having good communication, Indonesia will be able to address its concern in understanding and solving society’s needs, wants, and problems in these forums as well as harness its natural and human resources effectively. Therefore, when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono becomes optimistic that Indonesia will become a nation with the 10th largest economy in the world by 2030, this optimism is rightly placed and can be achieved.
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