Language laboratory Upgrade - Instruction Manual

The Rationale

Currently in Indonesian senior secondary schools (SMU) there is a strong desire to upgrade the quality of foreign language teaching and language learning facilities. However, there is considerable scepticism about the effectiveness of using language learning technologies (including language laboratories). This scepticism is perfectly natural if we review some of the problems which have been associated with the introduction of technologies in the past. They have frequently been introduced without appropriate training, materials, spare parts or support services. The problem is even further complicated by the fact that the time allocation for foreign language study is insufficient and class sizes are too large.

Because of the multitude of problems which have plagued the effective utilization of language laboratories in Indonesia I have found that most of the old language laboratories have in fact had very little use. Many of the technical problems that you encounter in the laboratories are due to lack of use rather than wear. In fact my inspections of student recorder audio heads often indicates that the recorders may not have seen any service at all. The most common teaching strategy employed here utilizes clozes and straight listening comprehension exercises which are directly broadcast from the master console. This passive and infrequent usage of the equipment not only results in low learning effectiveness but also precipitates a variety of specific technical failures. I believe that most of the old language laboratories are repairable by existing school staff with a minimum of technical expertise. The first major step towards developing sustainable facilities in schools is the appointment of a staff member to assume responsibility for the facility. The second step is to assist this person to take every opportunity for professional development (not teachers, assistant heads, or headmasters).

Many schools are very conscious of the importance of foreign languages for their students because the majority of them do not continue onto tertiary education. They also realize that after the current economic crisis has passed foreign languages will be even more important to the development of Indonesia's new future than ever before. Some of these schools have introduced extra-curricular classes, provide their students with a higher level of speaking and listening practice in the classrooms, they have commenced partial immersion (using English as the medium in all subjects on certain days) and are maximizing technology to assist their students. The minister for education has acknowledged the importance of the Internet as one means of assisting communication and the the development of education in Indonesia. The Internet which is rapidly becoming the worlds premium source of information has accepted English as the international language and to maximize this resource a working knowledge of English language is essential.

Most teachers are fully aware that their students (and they themselves) need to acquire functional foreign language proficiency to meet both academic and vocational needs. However, because the current curriculum provides litte time and opportunity for developing functional skills and the national examinations (EBTANAS) do not effectively assess these skills the teachers feel that they are unable to give the learning of these skills the high priority they deserve (the current EBTANAS is a serious de-motivator). The new thrust into School Based Quality Improvement (SBQI) and School Based Management (SBM) (the empowering of schools) should allow greater freedom for teachers to address these very real issues at the school level (and address "real student needs"). It is with this knowledge and in consideration of the past and current financial investments made by the Indonesian government into secondary school language laboratories that I have created this manual. I personally have no doubts about the benefits of installing and employing language laboratories for foreign language teaching. Well designed laboratories can contribute significantly. The model which this manual will assist to implement will address the following key issues; large class sizes (high teacher student ratio), the development of practical language skills, student self-confidence, and some of the more significant maintenance issues.

The Objectives

    1. The manual was designed so as to enable schools that already posess language learning laboratories to address the main quality learning issues pertaining to improving practical (active) language teaching and efectiveness.

    2. It will also serve as a useful reference for headteachers, language teachers, and other parties who may be considering the installation of language learning equipment.

    3. It is a realistic attempt to disseminate a concept which is 'practically' implementable in all schools that currently posess language laboratories of any type and model (over 800 schools). The laboratory chosen for this exercise is one of the Tandberg System 500 laboratories. It is one of the oldest and still the most common in SMUs. The basic concepts contained here are equally applicable to any make or model of language laboratory in any school.

    4. This manual will hopefully provide an update and stimulus for re-thinking some of the currently held beliefs about language laboratories in Indonesian schools (and hopefully other learning technologies).

    5. The concepts within this manual encourage and support the concepts of School Based Management (SBM) - school based reolution of issues.