English Language Teachers towards ASEAN Community 2015: Are we ready yet?
By: Wildan M Muttaqin
(Presented on The International Seminar ‘ASEAN COMMUNITY 2015’. Conducted by Slamet Riyadi University, Surakarta)
The paper aims to convey the development of English Language Teaching in Indonesia and the readiness of
English Language Teachers towards ASEAN Community 2015. One of the statements on ASEAN SocioCultural
Community (ASCC) blueprint is to promote the use of English language, because English will
become the language of the ASEAN Community. Since the New 2013 Curriculum has been implemented in
schools, it is very important then to know and see Teachers’ preparations to take the challenge to ASEAN
Community 2015. They have to link and match between their ways (methodology) in teaching and ASCC
blueprint. In addition, higher education system in Indonesia must be strengthened into coming up with
concrete strategies on how to be able to address this challenge. The quality of the English Language Teachers
should also be improved and English Language Teachers have to participate actively in promoting Concept of
ASEAN Community 2015 to their students.
Keywords: English, ASEAN community, and teaching
English was the first foreign language obliged to be taught at junior and senior high school as
determined by central government policy since independent in 1945. It is prioritized over other
foreign languages such as French, Arabic, Chinese and others (Dardjowidjojo: 2000). In 1967, the
Ministry of Education reviewed that teaching English as a foreign language in Indonesia was
intended to equip students to read textbooks and references in English, to participate in classes and
examinations that involved foreign lecturers and students, and to introduce Indonesian culture in
International arenas. This general objective was represented in the high school English curriculum
1975, 1984, and 1994. The objective in the 1967 decree actually was to teaching English as to
prepare students for the function at the tertiary level (Fuad Hassan in the Jakarta Post, 2001 as cited
by Jazadi, 2008). In other words, English teaching and learning in Indonesia was dedicated to
academic purposes. English teaching in Indonesia has been based on the curriculum designed by the
central government throughout provision of curriculum policies. English Language Teachers plays
an important role in teaching and educating their students. They have to be aware on the
development of their students and the latest curriculum. Technological modernization, vocational
development, and freedom on education are now promoted, the ability to communicate in
international language should be improved and they have to become fluent in English language as it
is the official language medium of the ASEAN community members.
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The 13th ASEAN Summit held in Singapore on 20th November 2007, agreed to develop ASEAN
Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) blueprint to ensure that concrete actions are undertaken to
promote the establishment of an ASEAN. The ASCC Blueprint represents the human dimension of
ASEAN cooperation and upholds ASEAN commitment to address the region’s aspiration to lift the
quality of life of its peoples. The ASCC is characterized by a culture of regional resilience,
adherence to agreed principles, spirit of cooperation, collective responsibility, to promote human and
social development, respect for fundamental freedoms, gender equality, the promotion and protection
of human rights and the promotion of social justice.
The blueprint also states that ASEAN will enhance the well-being and livelihood of the people of
ASEAN by providing them with equitable access to human development opportunities by promoting
and investing in education and lifelong learning, human resource training and capacity building,
encourage innovation and entrepreneurship, promote the use of English language, ICT and applied
science and technology in socio-economic development activities.
The ASEAN Community 2015
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was established on August 8, 1967 in
Bangkok by the five original member countries. They are Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines,
Singapore and Thailand. Brunei Darussalam joined on January 8, 1984, Vietnam on July 28, 1995,
Laos and Myanmar on July 23, 1997, and Cambodia on April 30, 1999, resulting in a ten-nation
cooperation framework. The ASEAN region has a population of more than 600 million people, has a
combined gross domestic product (GDP) of US$1.8 trillion with total trade valued at $2 trillion
among the countries.
During the 9th ASEAN Summit in 2003, leaders of member countries resolved to establish the
ASEAN Community. It aims to develop a place where all the ten countries come together to build a
better place to live for everyone. In 2007, at the 12th ASEAN Summit, the Heads of States affirmed
their strong commitment to establish the ASEAN Community by 2015. It has three pillars: ASEAN
Political- Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community, and ASEAN Socio-Cultural
Community forming the roadmap or ASEAN Community 2015. In constructing an ideal ASEAN
Community, a Regional Identity needs to be cultivated by the Member States and its peoples. To
achieve this goal, the Member States shall reinforce not only mutual interest and interdependence
economically, but also understanding and appreciation of the Community’s diversified cultures and
ethnics; a unity in diversity. That is to say, the Member States and their peoples should have respect
for the different cultures, languages, and religions of their associated countries.
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English and ASEAN
English will become the language of the ASEAN Community once it is introduced towards the end
of 2015, yet few members of the 10-nation bloc have ever embraced the language.
The Philippines have the Americans to thank for English proficiency. In Myanmar, English has only
just survived, because of that country’s colonial history. Singapore still has English listed as one of
four official languages and Cambodia has made enormous strides in learning the language, sparked
by the intervention there by the United Nations in the early 1990s and the hundreds of NGOs that
followed and stayed.
Elsewhere, English is still struggling. This was always on the cards given the likes of former
Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad, who relished overseeing the removal of English as an official
language from the Malaysian school curriculum. Consequently, standards there have wallowed for
decades. Mahathir’s colonial hang-ups have cost his country dearly in the intellectual stakes.
English skills have not fared much better in Brunei, Thailand, Indonesia, Laos or Vietnam, although
there are no shortage of government statistics and schools that would beg to differ. The pro-Mahathir
faction is trying to re-invent itself by arguing that English is now the language of science and
commerce and thus is acceptable for teaching in their precious government schools. At the same
time, however, they still justify the relegation of English as just another subject to be taught for
It’s a nonsensical argument but one that finds fertile ground across ASEAN among nationalists who
like to blame outsiders for their low rankings on the international stage. Radical Buddhists in
Myanmar, Muslim firebrands in Malaysia, communist hardliners in Vietnam – all have taken turns at
blaming outsiders and the language they teach for their problems at home. However, the ASEAN
Community will change long-standing prejudices over time. Perhaps more interestingly it will also
shake up the older order and cause a power shift within the trading bloc that will upset the traditional
powers like Kuala Lumpur.
If Cambodians, for example, can speak English much more fluently than the Thais and Malays can it
will find itself a popular destination for foreign investors. Given the potential reach of the
Community, it might also emerge as a future regional hub for trade and investment – something that
would have been barely conceivable less than a decade ago.
English was chosen as the official lingua franca of ASEAN in 2009. The choice had in fact been in
place before then. As pointed out by Kirkpatrick (2007:155), English had been the de facto lingua
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franca of ASEAN right from the founding of the organization, and the choice had been made
naturally with neither objections, nor debates from all parties.
In Thailand, English has taken on its significant roles, mainly in sectors such as education, tourism,
and business. In this regard, a great number of English programs (EP) have been offered as an
alternative in schools, and universities in recent years. Moreover, the existence of several
international’ schools and universities are also evident to the increasing popularity of English in the
country. However, English is by far perceived as the language of the educated and elite, not people in
Since English is the lingua franca of ASEAN, Thai Education Ministry has tried to promote the
language by allowing the integration of English in school curriculum at every level. Despite the
educational sector’s attempts at promoting English in Thailand, students of non-EP programs usually
do not have opportunities to actually use English outside their classrooms. This owes to the fact that
Thailand is a monolingual country, and as such English has never taken on a central role in the same
way it has in countries like Singapore, Malaysia, or the Philippines.
English language teaching in Indonesia
As early as 1950, when a foreign language to be chosen for the school curriculum nationwide (either
Dutch or English), policy makers in Indonesia were well aware that English could serve a very
important role as a tool in the development of the country, both for international relations and
scientific-technological advancement. English was chosen over Dutch despite the fact that the Dutch
had colonized Indonesia for three and a half centuries. As is very well recorded in our history, the
official status of English in the country has been “the first foreign language” and the political stance
of Indonesia’s government is quite firm: “English is not and will never be a social language nor the
second official language in Indonesia” (Sadtono, 1997:7).
With English being given this status, the objective of English language teaching (ELT) in Indonesia
is to equip students with a working knowledge of the language. While this instructional objective
may appear self-explanatory, in the context of formal schooling, the notion of “working knowledge
in English” has been approached in different ways throughout the history of ELT in Indonesia. The
condition of Indonesian government which issues the policy of decentralized system has made many
educators and teachers urge for the role presence of local authority in designing curriculum.
The 2006 KTSP curriculum was implemented as a response to many input toward curriculum
correction. However, the 2006 curriculum had several problems; (a) too many subjects being learnt
by students and many competences were overlapping each other ignoring the cognitive development
of the students, (b) curriculum was not fully based on competency, (c) competency did not
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holistically reflect domain of knowledge, skills and affective behavior, (d) some competences were
not accomodated such as character building, active learning methodology, (e) the equilbirium of
developing soft skills and hard skills, (f) standard of learning process is still teacher-oriented, (g)
standard of assessment and evaluation still neglects process and end product, and (h) KTSP was still
open for multi interpretation by many educators and teachers in real practice (Diknas, 2012).
Responding to some above constraints, the Indonesian government has decided to rethink,
reformulate, and redesign the curriculum into the 2013 curriculum. To this date, the government has
succeeded in producing curriculum documents that served as frameworks and syllabuses in all
subject from primary level to senior high level. After being launched for public review, this
curriculum has been implemented in many schools in Indonesia. In context of ELT in the 2013
curriculum, the time allotted for English subject at schools is reduced. This surely brings about
several consequences for language teaching and learning process in Indonesia.
The readiness of English Language Teachers towards ASEAN Community 2015
Although the curriculum plays important role in maintaining standards in ELT and the new 2013
curriculum is designed to improve the quality and standard of ELT in Indonesia, most of the major
problems still exist. Both Dardjowidjojo (2000) and Nur (2004) agree on five common problems
such as big class sizes, teachers with low level of English proficiency, the low salary of government
English teachers which encourage or even force many to moonlight, the lack of sufficient preparation
to teach the new curriculum and the culture barriers for teachers to leave the role of master and to
accept or to adopt the new role of facilitator. They also claims that the large class sizes and
unqualified English teachers are two obvious factors that contribute to the ongoing problems in ELT
Musthafa (2001) also lists other reasons for the problems such as limited time allocated for teaching
English; lack opportunity to actually practice speaking English in the classroom due to focus on
grammar and syntax and the use of L1/ mother tongue; less authentic materials and lack opportunity
to socialize English outside the classroom. ELT in Indonesia seems to be always problematic before
and after decentralization era. The continually revised curriculum does not seem to consider factors
such as suitable qualifications for teachers and numbers of students nor does it provide strategies and
In addition, Dardjowidjojo (2000) assumes that the number of hours a student spends in secondary
school and the optional hours in elementary school should at least have resulted in a high ability in
English by the time she/ he graduate from senior high school. The outcome, however, is far from the
expectation. It seems that a high school graduate is unable to communicate intelligibly in English.
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The number of hours of learning English at class in the new 2013 curriculum is less than that of
previous curriculum. This brings a big challenge for both teacher and students to work harder in
achieving the learning goal in a limited time. The integrative topic in some subjects in learning
process is the main point of 2013 curriculum. Other points are thematic and scientific characteristics.
In addition, schools should also be aware of a condition in which opportunities for additional English
learning and exposure could be one effort to improve students’ learning mastery of English. The
current policy of teachers’ certification program is hoped to improve the quality of the teachers.
Nevertheless, Dardjowidjojo (1996, cited in Kam, 2004) claims that the lack of students motivation,
poor attitude of students in learning English and shortage of teachers with adequate English language
competence are the contributors of the low ability in English.
Regarding with the problems above, a broader strategic objective of ensuring the integration of
education priorities into ASEAN’s development, the English teachers have to advance and prioritize
education then focus on:
preparation to teach the new 2013 curriculum intensively
practicing speaking English in the classroom due to focus on grammar and syntax and minimize
the use of L1/ mother tongue
using more authentic materials and improve the opportunity to socialize English outside the
More than that, students’ empowerment should also be encouraged by teachers to know the essence
of new curriculum. Bringing students into the right conception about the language being learnt is
essential for achievening language learning target as students and teachers would have the same
perception about their target of language teaching and learning. Then, the implementation of new
curriculum that changes the teacher from being information center to be facilitator toward their
learning should gear the concept of student-centered classroom. Learner-centeredness should be
embraced since it could maximize the learner’s focus on form and meaning and their achievement
(Reilly, 2000). Teacher-centredness should be left behind since the teacher often dominates the class
hours. In this sense, students are inclined to be passive listeners for teachers’ explanation. The ability
to manage class or classroom management ability is required in this case, so that the teachers can
easily lead the class without any frustration to find their classrooms are noisy in some extent.
Dealing with the preparedness of English language teachers to take challenge of ASEAN community
2015, they have to link and match between their ways (methodology) in teaching and ASCC
blueprint. The school or institution should support the English teachers in delivering the materials
where they teach, as like:
Creating a knowledge-based society;
Achieving universal access to primary education;
Promoting early child care and development; and
Enhancing awareness of ASEAN to youths (students) through education and activities to
build an ASEAN identity based on friendship and cooperation.
ASEAN Community is to pilot free labor market in 2015, thus higher education system in Indonesia
must be strengthened into coming up with concrete strategies on how to be able to address this
challenge. The following actions are deemed necessary in achieving the desired goal in higher
education among ASEAN community:
Increase Usage of English Language
Language is a key towards the development of ASEAN community. Workers should realize
the importance of being able to communicate in English as an important tool for the
realization of ASEAN Community 2015 so that they will not face a handicap to benefit from
the fruits of the ASEAN community. In this case, teaching English for specific purposes
should be improved. It can be in the form of materials and teaching methodology.
Universal Education (access, equity and quality)
Not all ASEAN countries are able to provide free education like Brunei Darussalam, which is
free for all citizens from the age of five to the university level. Many developing countries in
Asia have had tremendous success in expanding access to primary and secondary schooling.
However, this is now fueling a spike in demand for post-secondary opportunities.
E-learning/Online learning/Distance Learning/Open Learning
To increase access at the higher education, a number of countries in the region are increasing
the number of open universities. This open learning system is not only for university and, but
also for teacher training programs. Conducting webminars and online learning are the ways to
improve the quality of teaching. The development of technology (esp. using internet and
skypes) makes no limit to discuss the ways in continuing professional developments among
the English Teachers in ASEAN regions.
Improve Quality of Education
Asian countries need to improve the quality of their education systems as many graduates
lack the skills needed in today’s rapidly changing workplace. “The shortage of skilled
workforce in the Asia-Pacific Region, male and even more so female, has been a major
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bottleneck in economic and social development,” The report called for greater emphasis on
technical and vocational education and training (China View 2008).
Scholarship for students/Faculty Exchange
More programs on scholarships grant on students from all the regions are now being
practiced in most ASEAN countries. The Scholarships aim to provide opportunities to the
young people of ASEAN to develop their potential and equip them with skills that will enable
them to confidently step into the enlarged community. Another medium of attaining the
quality of education is by educating the teachers, school principals and other educational
personnel and upgrade their professional competency. Teachers should continuously update
their knowledgeable and be innovative, strongly motivated and dedicated. Programs can be
introduced that focus on talent management, leadership selection and review of teachers’
workload. Various initiatives, from faster promotion prospects to awards can be introduced,
to acknowledge the role teachers play, and raise the image and morale of the profession.
Regional Skills Competition
Encourage the participation of higher education institutions and in skills competitions such as
the ASEAN Skills Competition to support workforce development and to achieve regional
standards competency. It will contribute towards the advancement of quality and skills of
workers in all ASEAN Member Countries
Regional Accreditation (APACC)
Accreditation is very important in higher education. It is viewed as both a process and a
result. It is a process by which a university/college or technical and vocational training
institution evaluates its educational activities, and seeks an independent judgment to confirm
that it substantially achieves its objectives, and is generally equal in quality to comparable
institutions. As a result, it is a form of certification, or grant of formal status by a recognized
and authorized accrediting agency to an educational institution as possessing certain
standards of quality, which are over and above those prescribed as minimum requirements by
the government. One accrediting mechanism that harmonizes education and training systems
in the region is the Asia Pacific Accreditation and Certification Commission (APACC). It
aims to accredit and certify institutions through a common quality framework that would
facilitate the mobility of workforce across national borders in the region.
Unified Education Framework
Intergovernmental Organizations establish ASEAN standards for HEI’s including curriculum.
Consequently, revising curriculum and delivery modes in all programs are still on the process
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to meet labor market needs. Thus, a unified curriculum in the ASEAN region is highly
recommended to achieve the desired goal of one community. The focus should be on learning
Some common ELT problems in Indonesia and the preparedness of English language teachers to take
challenge of ASEAN community 2015 are also discussed. The implementation of 2013 curriculum
seems to be promising if Indonesian government put maximum efforts through policy and budgeting
to really resolve many constraint in Indonesian ELT practices. The integrative topics in some
subjects in learning process as one of the main point in new curriculum 2013, and textbook provision
as designed on the basis of new curriculum by the Ministry of Education and Culture have brought
certain resources to the development of the quality in English language teaching in Indonesia.
Regarding with the preparedness of English language teachers to take challenge of ASEAN
community 2015, they have to link and match between their ways (methodology) of teaching and
ASCC blueprint. Moreover, English Language Teachers have to participate actively in promoting
Concept of ASEAN Community 2015 to their students.
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Dardjowidjojo, S (2001). Cultural constraints in the implementation of learner autonomy: the case in
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Jazadi (2008). The Politic of curriculum: an Interpretive Study of English Language Teaching and
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Musthafa, B. (2001). Communicative Language Teaching in Indonesia. Journal of Southeast Asian
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Nur, C. (2004). English Language Teaching in Indonesia: Changing Policies and Practices. In H. w.
Kam & R. Y. L. Wong (Eds.), English Language Teaching in East Asia Today: Changing
Policies and Practices (2 ed., pp. 178-186).Singapore: Eastern University Press.
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