English Literacy Skills Of Primary School Students In Bali: An Evaluation Study


Luh Putu Artini

Ganesha University of Education



In Bali English is thought from grade four to grade five. Despite the enthusiasm of the young learners to learn this foreign language, the limited time allocated for English learning in primary school as well as the poor qualification and experience of the teachers in English for young learner pedagogy may result in unclear direction of the classroom instructions. This study aims at investigating the practice of English language teaching in primary schools in Bali and discussing how much effort has been done in an attempt to equip learners with literacy skills in English. The findings of this study are treated as the bases for a research and development project on “rich language learning environment” to support English literacy skills of the primary school students in Bali.

Key words: English literacy skills, evaluation study.


Primary English Language Education (PELT) has been a popular trend in the non-English speaking countries around the globe since the last two decades. Every country is doing its best efforts to improve the quality of English language teaching and learning for young learners to set up a strong foundation for quality human resources. In the non-English speaking counties proficiency in English can be considered as one of the indicators for the quality as the language is an international language. Proficient English speakers usually have a better opportunity in the labor force competition.

The growing of English language teaching around the world is related to the rhetoric about globalization, technological and economic development (Lee & Asman, 2012). In many countries (including Indonesia) proficiency in English as a foreign language is a global commodity that can be expected to strengthen the country standing in the global world. No wonder that many countries allocated major funds and carefully designed strategies to improve the quality of EFL teaching and learning in their primary schools (Whitehead, 2007). English is no longer viewed a school subject but rather an important component in basic education (Hayes, 2007).

Teaching English in primary school is not only challanging in countries where English is totally a foreign language but also in countries where English is the second or even the first language. Studies by North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (2003) and Southeast Center for Quality Teaching (2003) found that primary school teachers in the United States of America struggled to teach reading and writing in English to the non English speaking students. According to the report, this was due to the quality of the human resources. Teachers were considered having a lack of professional development, especially in effective strategies to teach literacy skills in English. As a matter of fact, English teachers in primary schools (regardless of the countries they are in service) should be equipped with adequate strategies for teaching reading and writing in English (Thompson, 2004).

Report on PELT in India (Piller and Skillings, 2005) indicated that English teachers were lack of knowledge and experience about current methods and practices in teaching reading in English to primary school students. There were also problems about the way teachers approach the curriculum and the textbook, the way to communicate as well as to interact verbally to children (Clark, 2001). As a result, children have limited literacy skills, especially in reading and writing in English.

This article reports the results of the evaluation of the practice of the teaching of English in primary schools in Bali with particular interest in reading and writing. The research was conducted during 2012-2013 period of time in six primary schools in Bali. The methods used to collect data were document study (curriculum, syllabus lesson plans), classroom observations, interview with teachers and English literacy (reading and writing) test.


The Teaching of English in Primary Schools in Bali

The teaching of English for Young Learners (hereafter, TEYL) in Indonesia can be considered as a new trend as it has been popular since 2004.  As a matter of fact TEYL has been introduced world widely since 1992 (Brewster, et.al, 2007: iv). Ever since, many non-English speaking countries did their best for the teaching of English in primary school. In Taiwan, for example, TEYL was practiced in limited schools since 1999. Parents sent their children to expensive private schools that offered English in their curriculum. It means that parents considered it was important for their children to start learning English at young age.

In a number of International conferences on TEYL, the advantages of teaching English when they were still young (i.e. when they are at primary schools) were raised. Those advantages are related to the followings:

1)        It builds positive attitudes towards English

2)        It can be integrated to other school subjects

3)        It provides longer learning experience to learn the foreign language.

4)        It builds stronger foundation for learning English in the following school levels.

Effective TEYL is affected by a number of factors, two of the most important are: teachers and facilities. Firstly, as far as teaching English for young learners are concerned, teachers should have special trainings in teaching English for young learners because children have special characteristics in learning, especially in learning a foreign language. Secondly, learning needs to be supported by appropriate facilities that enhance the achievement of the intended learning goals (Scott & Ytreberg, 2004). While the practice of TEYL in other Asian countries, such as Taiwan and Japan has been reported to be successful, in Indonesia it might be still in its infancy for at least two reasons.

First, TEYL is introduced formally since the commencement of School-Based Curriculum (CBC) in 2006 in which every school has the autonomy to develop its curriculum. Previously English in primary schools was considered as the local content that only a small number of school considered it important to provide English subjects. CBC encourages public primary schools in Bali to include English in their curriculum. This is related to the real need of Bali, the international tourist destination, to prepare for competitive human resources for the globalization era. Most primary schools start English at grade four but some start at grade one or two. It depends on the school readiness in terms of teachers and facilities.

Second, after years of implementation, TEYL in Indonesia did not seem to have clear direction. Lessons were directed by a textbook and student worksheet from a publisher. Teacher follows the textbook closely and instructional methods were not different from other subjects, in which students have been directed by routes (i.e. memorizing words, doing close-answered assignment and the like). The teaching and learning process that encourages creative English language use was hardly found.

Third, the unclear directions as mentioned earlier, motivate policy makers and educators to do something to improve the quality of the TEYL in Indonesia, including Bali. The Department of National Education launched a pilot project on English in primary school in 2008, in which national facilitators were recruited to train English teachers in primary schools in six provinces. The project had been successful to change the mindset of the teachers involved in the project about appropriate strategies for teaching English for young learners. However, the project was resumed in 2010 with unclear reasons. Some efforts were also done by educators or researchers in Bali who believed that it is important to start English in primary school and immediate action is needed to improve the EYL pedagogical practices. For example, Padmadewi et.al (2009) conducted a research and development to produce culture-based English teaching model in primary school in Bali. The model adopts the contextual teaching and learning principle in which meaningful learning should be framed in the closest context of learning (Johnson,2002). The products of the study included the Balinese cultural based materials, manual for teachers as well as the assessment method for English subject in primary schools in Bali.

The efforts in national and local levels as mentioned above indicate that there has been awareness of the importance to have quality TEYL in Indonesia in general and in Bali in particular. According to Artini (2006), the young generation of Bali considers English proficiency as an asset for better future. Bali is an international tourist destination and career in tourist related business and enterprises is considered promising. Therefore, the community of Bali showed positive perception about starting English since children are at young age (in primary schools).

The Concept of Literacy

In general literacy refers to an ability to read and write (Jay & Jay, 1998; Bainbridge, online version). As far as primary school curriculum is concerned, this notion is extended to numeration. Literacy skills used in this article is operationally defined as reading and writing ability of grade 1 to 6 students in primary schools in Bali. In term of reading ability, the contexts involved  awareness of the sounds of language, awareness of print and the relationship between letters and sounds; while writing skills involves vocabulary, spelling, and comprehension (Bainbridge, http://giftedkids.about.com/od/glossary/g/literacy.htm).

Watson (internet) pointed out that literacy belongs to life skills that are needed in real life. In schools, teachers play an important role to help young learners progress in their literacy skills. Besides, literacy skills can be built through school special programs which include not only teachers but also systematic learning materials and structured instructions. According to Watson, the real life materials should be closed to children real life such as:

  1. To write personal information includes name, address, phone number age, parents, etc.
  2. To read  and understand signs found in public places such as ladies and gents (toilet), bus stops, city park, etc.
  3. To read key words in a product’s instruction, such as ‘dangerous!, ‘caution!’, etc.
  4. To read and understand traffic signs such as ‘no stopping’, ‘for pedestrian only’, etc.
  5. To read and understand abbreviations such as  Dr., Mr and Mrs.
  6. To fill in forms about personal details
  7.  To read and understand instructions such as ‘turn right/left’, go straight ahead, etc. kana
  8. To read recipes
  9. To read map and directory.
  10. To read special signs or notices in public places.
  11. To read rules and regulation
  12. To read time from a clock, etc.

The list above demonstrates that literacy skills involve reading a text and working on a written assignment using the real life materials. Dorothy Strickland (NCREL, 2003), defines  English literacy skills  as students’ ability to read and write in English which covers pronunciation, comprehension (reading), and spelling, vocabulary use (writing). This definition is considered to be appropriate to be used in this article for practical reasons. Preliminary observation in two primary schools in Bali found that the practice of teaching English in primary schools in Bali mostly deals with a textbook and the class activities mostly involved texts.


The teaching of English in primary schools mainly aim to develop language accompanying actions, in the context of direct interactions among students, student(s) to teacher and teacher to student(s) (Depdiknas, 2009). This is detailed in the findings and discussion below.

Evaluating Curriculum and Syllabus

TEYL in Bali is guided by targeted competencies in the four language skills (i.e. listening, speaking, reading, and writing) as follows.

Tabel 01. Targeted competencies of TEYL in Bali



Targeted Competencies
I/1, I/2 Listening

Ability to respond to simple instructions with appropriate actions


Ability to repeat after the teacher accurately, of the language for instructions and simple imformation.


Ability to pronounce vocabulary used in a very simple text accurately.


Ability to copy simple English words.

II/1, II/2









Ability to respond to simple instructions with appropriate actions


Ability to say simple instructions and informations orally and acceptably


Ability to read aloud and understand the information from the simple text


Ability to copy English words correctly

III/1, III/2 Listening:

Ability to respond to simple instructions with appropriate actions


Ability to say simple instructions and informations orally and acceptably


Ability to read aloud and understand the information from the simple text


Ability to spell words and copy simple sentences correctly

IV/1, IV/2 Listening:

Ability to respond to simple instructions with appropriate actions and acceptable expressions


Ability to say simple instructions and informations in daily life context orally and acceptably


Ability to read aloud and understand simple descriptive text in the context of learners’ daily life


Ability to copy and write own simple expression in the context of learners’ daily life.


V/1, V/2 Listening:

Ability to respond to simple instructions with appropriate actions and acceptable expressions


Ability to say simple instructions and informations in daily life context orally and acceptably


Ability to read aloud and understand simple descriptive text in the context of learners’ daily life


Ability to write simple description about things around the learners’ daily life.

VI/1, VI/2 Listening                :

Ability to respond to simple instructions with appropriate actions and acceptable expressions in the context of learners’ daily life


Ability to give instructions and give information in the context of learners’daily life


Ability to understand simple English texts in the context of learners’ daily life


Ability to write simple meaningful text in the context of learners’ daily life.

As seen in the table above, TEYL in Bali is targeted to achieve ability to listen, speak, read and write simple English. The word ‘simple’ refers to limited number of words, language functions and use, most of which elaborate background knowledge with the new knowledge they learn in the English classes. For example, students use their background knowledge achieved in grade 1 and 2 for task fulfillment in grade 3. Only from grade 4 that students start receiving and producing simple text to read or to write. They begin reading a short coherent text and employ strategies to comprehend it. At the same time they start expressing meanings in the form of writing. Before grade 4, they mainly work on the level of words and simple sentences. They were exposed to words and language expressions that they have to read out loud or copy them into their assignment books from the textbook or the white board.

As a matter of fact, since 2012, the time allocation for teaching English in primary schools has been cut off from 2×35 minutes per week to become 1×35 minutes per week. However, grade 4, 5, and 6 students under study have longer experience of exposure to EYL teaching and learning in comparison to the younger learners. Therefore, the data were taken only from grade 4 to 6. It is interesting to analyze these learners’ ability to read and write in English after a relatively longer  time of exposure to English in the classroom in comparison to grade 1 to 3.

Based on previous observation in the classroom, literacy skills are built through the reading and writing activities. In reading lesson, the teacher mostly started with greeting, checking attendance and very short interaction initiated by simple questions by the teacher. For example the questions are: Do you have a dog? Who have a dog? What is your dog’s name? This is followed with reading aloud a very simple text about dog. In writing, the lesson starts in similar way and then followed with ordering words and copying, ordering sentences and copying. Creative language use in which students have freedom or choices to read or write does not seem to occur.

Balinese primary schools’ literacy skills in English

The literacy test used to collect data for the ability to read and write in English of the  4th, 5th, and 6th grade students indicate that they mostly show good interpretations in English, however, limited time of exposure to English make them difficult to write. For example, the first part in the test for the 4th grade is labeling pictures. They write kou  instead of ‘cow’, mobille  instead of ‘car’, mookei instead of monkey,  ket instead of ‘cat’. Problem like this consistently occur in the 5th and 6th grade. In grade 5 for example, vocabulary is put in context. In the first part, a picture of an elephant is shown and next to the picture, there are unfinished sentences, like: ‘This is an ………..” The students seemed to know the answer but they spelled the word wrong, for example: elevhent, gajah (which is the Indonesian word), helipet, elefent, elephen, elephent, elepath, etc. In grade 6, spelling of a word is tested through questions. For example, “What is your favorite color?” Students answer with:  ungu (Indonesian word for ‘purple’), ping instead of ‘pink’, oranye instead of ‘orange’, parpel instead of purple, blek instead of ‘black’, etc. These data indicate that students have learnt the words but limitation of exposure to the texts made them use association strategies that refer to how the words are pronounced.

Most students are found to have good understanding to context and meaning, the problems are mostly with spelling and grammar. In the test, grade 6 students are assigned to write sentences about a dog. The picture of a dog appears in the test and next to it there is a column where they can write anything about a dog. Most students seems to have creative ideas, however, they have problems with spelling, punctuation and word order (grammar). The followings are the example of the work.

Table 2: Example of students’ writing in English

Examples Explanation
1# It name is dog Niko color is brown it dog is

male foot four. Your food meat and milk

Have good spelling ability. Problem is in the use of pronoun and punctuation
2# It Dog name: broni, Male it color Brow

Wats’t is animal your fuds to chiken from

gles by work glest father go.

Problem with spelling, pronouns, and punctuation
3# It name my dog is Vedi male dog Blacki is

mother Vedi name Colour Vedi is brown

Vedi is your food faforite rice miet

Problem with spelling, pronouns and punctuation.

The data above indicate the effort of the students to write about their own dog. One may expect that grade 6 students have had background knowledge about punctuation (the use of capital letter, commas and full stop). It is surprising that students have serious problem with this because punctuations in writing are not different from one language to the other. It is beyond the scope of the research to comment on the possibility of inadequate opportunities for students to write in the first or national language. However, this study shows the indication toward it.

The examples presented above are three of the longest writing that students could manage to finish in about fifteen minutes. Many of the writings are much shorter. One student writes: “ It is dog dogi male. It is dog color dogi brown”. Another student writes: “ it dog miller color I brown lo I is femela”. These examples show how serious the problem encountered by students in literacy in English. These students have learnt English for at least from grade 4, or for approximately two years before the test was conducted. Apart from the limitation of time, the steps to build literacy skills may also need urgent attention from the government either in the national language or in a foreign language as pointed out by Dorothy Strickland (NCREL, 2003). This author suggests an integration of five factors as follows:

  1. the construction of meaning from different perspectives which means that students should be facilitated to explore meaning through different activities
  2. the acknowledgement of context in literacy learning, that is, the building of an awareness on the part of the students about the context of learning
  3. the use of language for real communication means that when teaching literacy to students, they must be involved in activities that cover the language function within their language development level and need of language in real life
  4. the use of relevant literacy materials, which is not only a single textbook. Students should have choices of materials that they can read in their leisure time
  5. a focus on higher order thinking skills and problem solving, which imply that the building of literacy skills is not merely about awareness and understanding of meaning but also thinking skills.


Based on the findings above it can be concluded that literacy skills in English in public primary schools may be still in its infancy. Problems occur from the most basic (words) to the most complex (discourse). In other words, primary school students from grade 4 to 6 consistently have problem with spelling words, punctuations, use of pronouns, word order and language expressions. The reasons may be classical, that are, poor instruction, poor supporting facilities and poor teacher qualification. As described in the literature review, EYL in Bali is allocated very limited time and the only learning source is a textbook.

It is likely also that poor literacy skills in English are rooted from poor literacy skills in the first/national language. This is concluded from poor punctuation use that is not different from one language to the other. As a matter of fact, the basis of learning is language. When someone has poor language proficiency, it is highly possible that he/she will find problems in learning other subjects. Therefore, literacy skills either in the first (national) language or in a foreign language (English) need to be built in a systematic way. Dorothy Strickland’s idea might be one of relevant references to be considered as far as literacy skills are concerned.


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