Bahasa Indonesia is the national language of Indonesia, and has long been considered the linguistic glue that binds together the many different groups of people that make up the Indonesian nation. However, as educating children in English grows in popularity, an increasing number of Indonesian children are growing up with Indonesian skills that are poor or nonexistent, according to the New York Times.
Although Indonesian public schools teach classes in Bahasa Indonesia, speaking English fluently is considered a sign of high social status. Of course, every parent wants what’s best for their child, so Indonesian families with the means to do so began sending their little ones to English private schools instead of the public schools. At these schools, all lessons are given in English. The schools also encourage parents to expose their children to as much English (and as little Indonesian) as possible.
The result is native Indonesian kids who struggle with the Indonesian language, creating a language divide that cuts family members off from each other and may eventually threaten Indonesia’s sense of unity.
For example, Uchu Riza, the owner of an Indonesian private school that educates its students in both languages, told the New York Times:
“In some families, the grandchildren cannot speak with the grandmother because they don’t speak Bahasa Indonesia. That’s sad.”
To fix the problem, the Indonesian government intends to require the private schools to start offering instruction in both English and Indonesian. Mr. Suyanto, an official at the Education Ministry, told the Times that regulation was needed because:
“If we don’t regulate them, in the long run this could be dangerous for the continuity of our language. If this big country doesn’t have a strong language to unite it, it could be dangerous.”
Fortunately, some Indonesian families are also beginning to realize that sacrificing Indonesian language skills for fluency in English comes at a price. For example, the Times interviewed mother named Della Raymena Jovanka, who said that while she wanted her son to become fluent English, she was considering putting him back in public school, saying:
“He’s Indonesian. He lives in Indonesia. If he can’t communicate with people, it’ll be a big problem.”