Manpower Department: Foreigners Out

There can be few expats in Jakarta who haven’t heard by now: The Manpower Department has announced that by February 2015 it hopes to have a TOIFL (Test of Indonesian as a Foreign Language) in place. If you wish to get a KITAS (work permit) for Indonesia, you will first need to pass a Bahasa Indonesia test, which will be comparable to the TOEFL test for English. You will need to pass this test before you can apply for a KITAS.

If Manpower are serious, then this regulation will be a virtual death-knell for the TEFL industry in Indonesia as we know it. In six years living in Indonesia I probably met one teacher with good enough Indonesian to  pass an academic test in a TOEFL/IELTS style format. Even if you can read a daily newspaper in the language and hold a conversation on just about any topic, there are many low-frequency words which never pop up in conversation which are found in technical and academic texts: How many people working in the TEFL industry as English teachers have mastered Bahasa Indonesia to that level? Hardly any, I would say.

But just to repeat the key point: You will be required to “master Indonesian” (Manpower’s words) before you even start working there. As one comment-poster said on the Jakarta Globe yesterday- how many Bahasa Indonesia courses are there running in Scotland, for example? It will be logistically close to impossible for many applicants to learn Indoneisan, even if they want to. But is it conceivable that anyone would fork out many thousands of dollars or pounds per semester just so they have the privilege of applying for a TEFL job in Jakarta? The cost of the course in your home country may easily be as large as a whole year’s salary at the likes of TBI Bogor or Tangerang. There is literally no logical reason why anyone would even consider “mastering Indonesian” just to apply for a low-paying TEFL job later. The incentive just isn’t strong enough.

What is TBI going to do now? Can anyone really imagine them paying for their prospective teachers to do months and months of Bahasa Indonesia immersion courses just so they can sit a TOIFL test, and maybe work for TBI six months later? This is a company that is so cheap that rather than raise salaries in 2011 to attract teachers with English degrees, they merely decided to employ unqualified expats on VKU (business consultant) visas and pray that they wouldn’t get caught. Paying out for Bahasa Indonesia immersion courses is surely not their style. If Manpower is serious, TBI will be forced to either do without expat teachers (which their customers will hate) or rely even more on illegal labour than in the past.

Yet as if Manpower cares. If they go ahead with this hare-brained scheme, it will be very clear that they want foreigners out. The thinly veiled agenda is to get rid of even more expats (a long-term desire), while probably extracting a few more juicy bribes along the way. This whole madcap scheme is just xenophobia posing as reasoned policy.

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