The Indonesian TEFL Scene: The Ugly New Kids on the Block (Part 1 of 4)

Since 2013 there have been a number of high-profile newcomers to the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) scene in Indonesia. Many of these have attracted large bodies of students, showing that there is ever more money to be made from offering English courses to Indonesia’s young population. We will focus on four language chains- Rumah Bahasa, Language and Beyond, Global Language Centre and Global Bahasa– all of whom have appeared on the scene in the past 18 months to 2 years, and two of which now seem to have closed permanently.

Large student bodies notwithstanding, these new schools have been a dismal bunch, and this four part series of articles aims to explore explain what went wrong with these schools, on multiple levels. First of all, we will look at DIKNAS, the Education Ministry, and look at their involvement in the ongoing fiasco of failing schools and flagrant scams.

Who Is Regulating the Regulators?

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. In 2010, DIKNAS marched their officials into every language school in Jakarta and informed the private sector of their plans to ”improve” the private language academy sector. They said that they cared about the future of education in Indonesia and wanted to ensure that the sector developed in an optimal way. Hearing this news, I was immediately suspicious, but most of the Indonesian staff at the place I worked seemed to take it at face value.

The main ‘reform’ proposed by DIKNAS turned out to be a strict new regulation which meant that schools would only be able to hire people with a degree in English (whatever that meant) or Applied Linguistics, or a Masters of TESOL. They wouldn’t even be accepting graduates with a degree in Education unless the course had a strong emphasis on English-based subjects such as English Literature. What it meant in practice was that some schools such as TBI (PT. Titian Buana Ilmu) started hiring numerous teachers illegally on VKU visas and even social visas, which expressly prohibit paid employment. For others, it meant drastically raising salaries in order to try and attract better qualified applicants. Whatever the outcome, it made teacher recruitment a massive headache for every major (and minor) language school chain working in the Indonesian archipelago.

The Taint of Corruption

But has it raised standards? Well, the ultimate failure of these regulations is surely the emergence of a plethora of third-rate schools such as Rumah Bahasa, Global Language Centre and their ilk. As we all explain over the next three installments, these were truly shambolic enterprises employing unqualified teachers (some of them even on tourist visas) and frequently not having a clearly defined system of levels or even a curriculum! These schools are markedly worse than their predecessors in the industry, showing that the new regulations have actually encouraged the appearance of third-rate schools. Why should this have been the case?

The answer is corruption. We have now heard from several sources that some of these schools have been reported to DIKNAS, the Manpower Ministry and the Immigration Department for a variety of offenses: employing teachers who don’t have the right visa, not offering refunds for courses that never started, and not paying promised salaries to teachers and staff. In every case, the authorities have failed to take effective action. The Immigration Department office in North Jakarta was just a few hundred metres away from Rumah Bahasa Kelapa Gading and yet government authorities allowed them to run a school with teachers on tourist visas for 18 months. There were never any visits or raids, even though more respectable schools have often been subjected to these.

In fact people have told us flat out that Frendy Horas, the scam artist behind Rumah Bahasa, has been lavishly bribing various government departments in order to be able to conduct his scam business. Increasingly, it appears that these third-rate schools are flourishing because they enjoy special protection from corrupt government officials who allow them to rip off their customers in exchange for a a cut of the loot. Far from improving the language school sector, DIKNAS, The Manpower Ministry and the Immigration Department are dragging it into the gutter.

Indonesian customers have condemned many of these new schools

Indonesian customers have condemned many of these new schools

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