Development of English Language Teaching Syllabus in Indonesia

Development of English Language Teaching Syllabus in Indonesia

By: Eneng Elis Aisah*

(English Teacher in MTs. Negeri Ciranjang, Cianjur, West Java ,Indonesia)


Many critiques correspond to government due to curriculum change over minister replacement (, December 30, 2004, retrieved at April 8, 2009). Curriculum, in school context “referring to the whole body of knowledge that children acquire in school” (Richard 2001:39), is influenced by the development of paradigm of philosophy (Zais 1976), needs and situational analysis (Richard 2001) and also ‘Global Mega trend’ (Pezzoli & Howe 2001). Therefore the changing of curriculum, followed by the development of syllabus as of  means selecting, organizing, assessing content (Brown cited by Sundayana 2004) and goal of curriculum activities in the classroom context (Huda, 1999) holds crucial issues in our education.

This writing is chapter report from a book entitled “Language Learning and Teaching” written by Nuril Huda in 1999. This report discusses the development of English language Teaching Syllabus in Indonesia from 1984 up to 2006. This is divided into four sections. The first will discuss syllabus of 1984 curriculum. The second section will introduce some discussion of syllabus of 1994 curriculum. The next section will be shown syllabus of Competence based curriculum (2004) and finally the latest curriculum – School based curriculum –will be discussed.

The 1984 English Language Teaching (ELT) Syllabus

The 1984 curriculum is based on the amendment of 1975 curriculum (Kasihani cited by Emilia 2005). The education is ruled in UUPP (Undang-Undang Pendidikan dan Pengajaran) No. 4, 1950. The goal of education is membentuk manusia susila jang tjakap dan warga Negara jang demokratis serta bertanggung-djawab tentang kesedjahteraan masyarakat dan tanah air (Chapter II, article 3). As the situational needs, in Pidato Kenegaraan at August 16, 1984 the president of Indonesia address the goal of education development in Repelita III is to improve quality of education, learning opportunity, relevance of education and development, efficiency and effectively of management of education by training and curriculum improvement for fulfilling development skillful labor (Repelita III Chapter XVII).  Therefore, due to the needs and situational analysis, the changing of curriculum is necessary.

Although English is placed as the foreign language in Indonesia, the competency of learner in this subject is very important to overcome the national development goal. So, the 1984 English syllabus intends to build the ability of learner in communicating, well-known by Communicative approach/communicative language teaching (Huda 1999: 118).

Communicative approach (CA) was very popular in 1960s-1979s. It assumes that if the students are involved in meaning focused communicative task, then ‘language learning will take care of itself’ (Allwright 1979) (Harmer 2007: 69).  The goal of CA is communicative competence in which instruction needs to be aimed in organizational, pragmatic and strategic competence (Azies & Alwasilah 2000; Moreover Richard argued that communicative competence referred to “the capacity to use language appropriately in communication based on the setting, the roles of the participants, and the nature of transaction” (2001:36). In other words, grammar and the use of language hold important aspects in promoting communication.

Syllabus as aims to simplify and rationalize the curriculum (Richard, 2001: 42) influences the selecting of material and the method used in classroom. Huda (1999:118) summarizes the components of 1984 English syllabus as structure, reading, vocabulary, dialogues, writing, song and game (SMP), and spelling, pronunciation and poem (SMU). Here the structure, as mention earlier, still is placed as important aspect to be able to communicative well.

The content of the book shows that the syllabus design is structural syllabus which main focus is structure (Krahne and Richard).  A major characteristic of structural syllabus is “synthetic” (Wilkins, 1976; Yalden 1983 cited by Krahne 1987:16) that derives from assumption that learner can synthesize the material from analyzing rule and patterns to construct information. Reading a text is assigned as the context of the use of grammatical rule.

However, Krahnke states that the structural syllabus usually associated with Grammar traditional method (GTM), audioligualism and silent way (1987: 17; see also Celci-Murcia 1991), whereas CA usually used the notional/functional syllabus (Krahne 1987: 29, Richard 37; Dubin and Olshtain, 1986).  Obviously it demonstrates contradiction between philosophical principle perceived by government and text book used by teachers in class.

The 1994 English Syllabus

The 1994 English syllabus emerged as the approval of UU Sistem Pendidikan Nasional No. 2, 1989. The goal of national education is to develop mentality of nation which is imbued with, faith, moral, science and skill, and also to increase responsibility as nation (chapter II, article 4). In addition, in chapter IX, article 37 states that curriculum development in every school level is based the development of learner and situational needs, national development, and development of science, technology and art. Therefore for the need of globalization and 21st century, the goal of ELT addresses to the development of communicative competence in English, including reading, listening, speaking and writing skill simultaneously by mastering 1,000 words for Lower secondary level and 2,500 words for higher secondary level (Depdikbud 1993; Huda 1999: 119).

The approach of teaching is communicative/meaningful approach which is broader than previous syllabus (see Depdikbud 1993; Huda 1990; Suplemen GBPP 1994, 2000; Kasinhani cited by Emilia 2005). Reading, as mention earlier in the goal, and mastering vocabulary still hold important skill to communicate (Huda’s survey at 1990). Reading is represented in some themes. Theme is the context of communication (Suplemen 1994, 2000) not as material which is learned by students. Grammatical rule is used and presented to express meaning and functional skills (Depdikbud 1993; Suplemen 1994, 2000). Learning process is focused on learner-centered orientation (Depdikbud 1993; Ernawan & Hardjomarso, 1996).

The example shows that the first column is TPU (learning objective). Richard called syllabus by emphasizing “the essential skills, knowledge, and attitudes” is called competence- based syllabus (159). Moreover, Ernawan & Hardjomarso called it “Thematic” syllabus (1996). Krahnke and Richard called thematic syllabus as topical/content based-syllabus (See Krahne 1987:66, Richard 2001; 157). However, the 1994 ELT syllabus is as integration of functional, situational, skill and structural (Suplemen 1994, 2000). In other words “Variable focus design”, which emphasizes to gradual change of focus of organizing principle, affects the design of syllabus (Huda, 1999: 123). However, this ELT regards fails to overcome the national goal, particularly to respect multicultural values (Lie, 2000). Hence, the improvement of our ELT syllabus is indeed needed.

The 2004 ELT Syllabus

The 2004 ELT Syllabus emerges after a year of launching of Undang-Undang Sistem Pendidikan Nasional (UU. SISDIKNAS) No. 20, 2003. The aim of national education is to develop learners’ potentials so that they become persons imbued with human values who are faithful and possess morals and noble character; healthy, knowledgeable, competent, creative, independent; and as citizens, are democratic and responsible (Chapter II, Article 3). Moreover, in chapter II, article 3 states that the development of curriculum is influenced by the development of paradigm of philosophy, learning and language theory. The emerging of post-structural paradigm in philosophy movement influences the theory of how language is learnt and taught which views learning language as medium to deconstruct social life (Connole, Smith & Wiseman 1993; Alawasilah 2008).

Government underlines some characteristics of this curriculum. The first characteristic is based on “competence” of Celce-Murcia, Dornyei dan Thurrell (1995) in which consists of discourse competence supported by linguistic competence, actional, socio-cultural competence and strategic competence. The second is the systemic functional linguistics (SFL) of Halliday (1978) which has ideational, interpersonal and textual function including text, co-text and context. The third is ‘level of competence’ (Wells 1987) whereas the junior higher learner intends to reach functional level; in other hand, senior high learner intends to reach informational level. The last is the development of language competence from spoken to written language.  The goal of ELT for SMP focuses on written spoken language/bahasa lisan yang ditulis with simple sentences such as in descriptive, narrative, spoof/recount, procedure, report, and anecdote. However, it, in SMU, focuses on written language based on more advance genre type such as descriptive, narrative, spoof/recount, procedure, report, news item, anecdote, exposition explanation, discussion, commentary, and review.

The syllabus is skill-based (Krahnke, 1987: 50) in more traditional way of viewing is called competence-based instruction (Richard 2001: 159; Krahnke, 1987: 50) in which competence is viewed as similar as “behavioral objectives defined as what a learner is able to do as a result instruction” (Krahnke 1987:50).

Principles of developing the 2004 competence-based syllabus are scientific based, learner’s needs, systematic, relevant, consistent and adequate (Dekdasmen 2004:11). Furthermore, there are six steps of developing this syllabus; (1) writing subject identity, (2) formulating standard competence, (3) deciding basic competence, (4) deciding material and its explanation, (5) deciding learning strategy, and (6) deciding time allocation and resources (Dikdasmen 2004: 25). However, this curriculum is no longer used. In 2006, government launched School -based curriculum (KTSP). For some instances, KTSP is the development of the 2004 curriculum.

The 2006 ELT / Kurikulum Tingkat Satuan Pendidikan (KTSP) Syllabus

The spirit of decentralization, as showed by Act of local Autonomy No. 22, 1999 revised by Act of Local Autonomy No. 32, 2004 and hand in hand with Act No. 20, 2003, is seen in the 2006 curriculum. In this regard, education is not merely central government’s responsibility; local government also has responsibility in managing and funding education.  Therefore, kurikulum Tingkat Satuan Pendidikan (KTSP) is developed from Standard of content by schools based on their context and potential.

Although KTSP varies between one and other schools, Government gives some regulations stated in Governmental Regulation (PP) No. 19, 2005 concerning National Standard of Education (SNP) at May 16, 2005. It consists of:  standard of content, standard competence of graduate, standard of process, standard of educator and administrator, standard of medium and infrastructure, standard of funding, and standard of assessment. Furthermore, all standards are ruled by PERMENDIKNAS.

English, as stated in standard of content (PERMENDIKNAS No. 22, 2006), is learned at elementary two hours in a week (as Mulok for class IV, V and VI), at junior and senior high school four hours in a week except for language program in SMU – five hours in a week. Moreover, the standard competence of graduate of English (PERMEN No. 23, 2006) for each level is communicative competence in the form of spoken of language accompanying action for elementary school, in the form of spoken and written for achieving functional literacy level for junior high school and in the form of spoken and written for achieving informational literacy level for senior high school.

From the goal and scope above, we can see that every school level is simultaneously ‘variable focus design’ which emphasizes to gradual change (Huda, 1999).

The syllabus, in this curriculum, perceived as the plan of learning process with lesson plan- RPP (PP No. 19, 2005, chapter IV, article 20; PERMEN No. 41, 2007) which consists of standard of competence, basic standard, material, learning activities, learning indicators, assessment, time allocation and resources (PP No. 19, 2005, Chapter IV, article 20; Depdiknas, 2006; PERMEN No. 41, 2007). The syllabus is developed by a teacher or group teacher supervised by department of education based on standard of content, standard competence of graduate and guiding of arrangement of school-based curriculum (Appendix of PERMEN No. 41, 2007).

Furthermore, principles of developing syllabus are scientific, relevance, systematic, consistence, adequate, actual, contextual, flexible and comprehensive (Depdiknas, 2006). Moreover, the steps of development are as follow: (1) investigating and deciding Standard of competence, (2) investigating and deciding basic competence, (3) identifying main topic/material, (4) developing learning activity, (5) formulating indicators, (6) deciding kind of assessment, (7) deciding time allocation, and (8) deciding resources (Appendix of PERMEN No. 41, 2007).

Basically, the 2006 syllabus is as similar with the 2004 ELT syllabus. The difference is in deciding in indicators, theme and in teaching approach.  The 2006 does not focus on theme and indicators are decided based on the necessity of learner’s need and ability. Moreover, the 2006 emphasizes on learning process as highlight in lesson plan and as mentioned in PP No. 19, 2005, Chapter IV, article 19, verses 1 “learning process is performed interactive, inspirable, fun, challenging, motivating learners to involve actively, and given adequate space for initiative, creativity, autonomy based on learners’ potential, interest, psychical and psychological development” however, 2004 which greatly influenced with Systemic functional Linguistics of Halliday (1987).


The syllabus in language teaching and learning indeed depends on how the organization of content (Krahnke 1987: 1).  It can be a table of content or the essence of the course (Parker & Harris 2002; However, some syllabus design relates to language teaching approach; structural syllabus originates GTM, notional and functional syllabus emerges as supporting of CLT and situational syllabus relates to the notion of ESP, but not all (Krahnke 1987). Krahnke mentions skill/competence based, content-based and integrated- based syllabi do not relate to any kind of language approach (1987:50). Rather it is influenced by; “(1) goal and objective of the overall instructional program, (2) Instructional resources available, (3) teachers factors, and (4) students factors” (Sundayana, 2004).

However, the development of ELT syllabus in Indonesia from structural-based (The 1984 syllabus), Thematic-based (The 1994 syllabus), to competence/skill – based (The 2004 and 2006 syllabus) is not followed by the changing of approaching used by teacher in classroom. Teachers tend to teach more grammar and structure separately and explicitly out of their communicative competence (As Hikam as cited by Emilia 2005). Teachers’ habitual and their previous experiences influence the way of their teaching.  Therefore, the government’s policy to certify teacher is very crucial in developing ELT syllabus and further for ‘providing effective teaching’ as part of curriculum development (Richards, 2001).


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14 thoughts on “Development of English Language Teaching Syllabus in Indonesia

  1. M.F. Sri Ekonomi from Banjarmasin

    Thank you for presenting this information. As a lecturer teaching Curriculum and Material Developments this article is very much useful to add what I have thought about the development of the English Curriculum in Indonesia. There are some points that I miss and can be an addition to what I have learned so far. This is also useful for my students who are completing their S1 thesis on Curriculum. Thank you again. I intend to write more on the same topic after I finish reading and learning your article. Thank you again.


  3. Richards? kan bukan richard, David nunan, Sandra J Savignon, Dean dll juga banyak ngomong tentang CA yang lebih majunye. CLT (communicative Language Teaching), Thanks for sharing:)))

  4. Suaidi

    I am now english post grduate of Mataram University, would you, please put the E-Book of your references, since It is hard or impossible find them in MAtaram, Thank you

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