In the last few years, the number of international conferences focusing on the education field has increased significantly in Indonesia, especially in English education. There is also a rising awareness among Indonesian academics, that there is a need to present their works to an international forum.
The trend indicates that internationally branded conferences are now organized, not just by well-established public universities in big cities such as the Indonesia University of Education (UPI) in Bandung and State University of Malang (UM), but also by medium-sized public and private universities in smaller cities.
The conferences invite well-known figures in English education, from native English speaking countries to become the keynote speakers, and provide a forum for English educators to present their research papers and exchange thoughts and ideas.
Surely such developments are exciting, a sign that Indonesian academics are now getting the opportunity to connect with a global community of scholars. For university departments and faculties, international conferences are a means for professional development. Presenting papers at an international conference provides an opportunity to develop professional networking at international level.
Furthermore, the Directorate General of Higher Education determines that participation in conferences such as these, as well as publication in international journals, weighs heavily in its credit point system. This will also make it easier to gain academic ranking promotion. Moreover, global connection with academics at an international level will improve pride and dignity.
However, what are the impacts of those internationally branded conferences on the quality of our English teachers, of English teaching and learning — and on the quality of preservice English teacher education in Indonesia’s universities?
Internationally branded conferences tend to cost, at minimum, a few hundred thousand rupiah, or even millions of rupiah, to attend. How many low-paid English teachers can afford to attend? How many students in preservice English education can access the conferences?
To truly provide localized benefits, in addition to organizing costly internationally branded conferences, our universities also need to organize local conferences to address local issues and actual realities. Universities need to encourage and facilitate their departments and faculties to go to local schools and work with the teachers — for instance, in developing teaching materials, implementing new teaching strategies, collaboration in classroom action research and so forth.
Thus universities would be able to organize a conference for departments and faculties, as well as for teachers to share the results of their collaboration, to exchange ideas about new teaching practices and methods; and also to discuss problems in classroom realities.
Both parties could successfully build a learning community among themselves. The goal of such partnerships is to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in their reports, have identified a huge discrepancy between teaching programs in preservice teacher education in Indonesia’s universities and actual classroom practice.
Therefore, improving partnership activities between universities and school is vital to close the gap.By closely working with teachers in schools, university departments and faculties will be directly exposed to actual and practical trends in classrooms. Meanwhile, working with university faculties will help teachers gain new insights. Ultimately, this partnership will improve the quality of teaching and learning for both parties.
Engaging with teachers at the local level would not instantly catapult academics into the international realm. However, localized activities will be beneficial to all, through discussions of local problems that need immediate solutions. Being globally connected yet locally engaged is important to improve our education. –
This article appeared on the Jakarta Post on Friday, November 6, 2015.
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