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The Current School Language Laboratory Situation

Identifying The Issues

During the course of the SSEP consultancy I visited many Schools in the Yogyakarta, Jakarta, Bandung, Malang, and Lombok regions. I also worked directly with teachers in the field as part of a review and evaluation to help formulate the final design and recommendations for the new language laboratory model.

The following identifies the basic findings relating to the existing "general situation" in schools. Having discussed many of the major problems with teachers in the field, a number of ‘key issues’, which need to be addressed concurrently with the planning for language laboratory facilities upgrading programs are outlined.

Key Issues - From Schools, IKIPs, and PPPG Data


The new Panasonic AA language laboratories frequently being installed do not provide the basic audio active comparative (AAC) requirements and are therefore less effective than their Tandberg predecessors. On the left you can see a typical Panasonic Language Laboratory. It is Audio Active (AA) only - students can not independently review or work at their own pace (less flexible).

Class sizes are too large (48 students) and teachers can not effectively maximise one of the main advantages of language laboratories - providing individual assistance (inadequate time / student).The old Tandberg laboratories have fourty (40) positions. The new Panasonic Language Laboratories have either forty (40) or thirty (30) student positions. What happens to the other eight (8) or eighteen (18) students?

The current layout of the existing language laboratory model does not allow easy physical access to the students (especially in the new Panasonic laboratories). A photo of the Tandberg (1982/3) design which still serves as the current Language Laboratory model (student units are in pairs).

The new Panasonic laboratories maintain the same basic model however student access by the teacher is even more restricted because the student units are in groups of four.

The current design of the language laboratories includes partitions between the students. Both the old Tandberg laboratories and the new Panasonic Language Laboratories have solid partitions separating the student positions. These greatly limit student interaction, flexibility, and access to visual aids (including whiteboards).

The cables for the language labs are being installed above the floor and they are causing a significant safety hazard. Schools have to modify the installations at their own expense before the labs can be used safely. The cables are placed in conduits above the floor
VERY DANGEROUS!
High Public Liability Risk

How much freedom does this teacher have to move on his chair?
  • Air-conditioners are not being installed with the laboratories.
  • Curriculum related audio/ visual materials are not being provided and it is difficult and time consuming for teachers to modify existing materials. Teachers are frequently purchasing materials locally at their own expense.
  • The 1994 curriculum does not adequately define or test listening/ speaking competencies (a major learner motivation issue).
  • Teachers and principals do not clearly understand the procedures for addressing language laboratory maintenance and warranty issues. A central language teacher/ laboratory support service needs to be established to coordinate and process planning and development progress inquiries from teachers in the field. This support service also needs to provide basic technical support and information relating to spare parts availability.
  • Teachers in the field do not have ready access to information regarding:
    • ongoing progress of implementation of language laboratory installations
    • basic technical information (practical laboratory utilisation issues)
    • availability of technical support
    • warranty support information
    • sourcing of spare parts

    Preventative Maintenance (PM) systems are inadequate. Here we have a number of potential hazards to both personnel and equipment (single insulated wiring, exposed terminals, easily damaged by feet). Stabilizers and Variacs should be housed well away from the master console (to avoid audio hum).


    There are insufficient technically trained staff to assist teachers, often resulting in delays or equipment being totally unusable. Many simple repairs to cabling and headphones (some of the most frequent faults) can be performed with a few basic skills, eg. using a multimeter, terminating, soldering, and some basic mechanics.

    Addressing the Key Issues

    1. The new Panasonic language laboratories being installed do not meet the basic audio active comparative (AAC) requirements and are therefore less effective than their Tandberg predecessors (less flexible).

    Audio Active (AA)
    The new audio active (AA) Panasonic laboratories only offer the following options:

  • students - listen to tapes played from the master console
  • students - listen to the teacher speaking
  • teacher - monitor student responses (real time)
  • teacher - intercom with individuals or groups
  • A conventional cassette recorder is being supplied with the installations but nobody seems to understand what it is for. It only offers the facility for recording sound from the master console. It doesn't play back into the sound system so the only way it can be listened to is through its speaker - therefore it is unusable!

    Audio Active Comparative (AAC)
    A true AAC system offers the above features plus it allows the teachers to record a master track on the student recorders which can be listened to by the students. Using appropriate materials (for pronunciation practice) the students can record their responses on a separate track simultaneously (while listening) and later play the tape back and 'compare their pronunciation to the original' (hence - comparative). They can also work at their own pace and repeat exercises as often as required to attain mastery. The student cassette recorders can also be controlled remotely which allows greater teacher control.

    All existing and any planned new language laboratory installations should be upgraded to full audio active laboratories.

    2. Class sizes are too large (48 students) and teachers can not effectively maximise one of the main advantages of language laboratories - providing individual assistance.

    One of the main advantages of using a language laboratory, like most other laboratories, is that it offers the teachers and students the opportunity for individualised instruction and assistance.However, if we look at the time restriction placed upon the teacher (45 minutes) and divide this by the number of students (48), then take off the time required to introduce the lesson and answer general enquiries, we soon find that we have much 'less than one' (<1) minute per student. This is clearly insufficient.

    We need to reduce the class size considerably, twenty (20) is about the ideal maximum number. However, twenty five is managable.

    3. The current layout of the existing language laboratory model does not allow easy physical access to the students (especially in the new Panasonic laboratories)

    New Language Laboratory Floor Plan

    This language laboratory layout addresses all of the main criteria:

    * Reduced student units - 24 positions.
    * No dividers between the student units - improved student interaction.
    * Teachers have easy access to the students for personal interaction and also for monitoring student work (completing clozes, comprehension exercises, etc.).
    * Teachers have greater flexibility - they can use the centre section for group work, role plays, games, etc. (the chairs can be easily moved to the centre).


    Optional Floor Plan

    U-shaped laboratory with centre aisle for easier student access (because of the larger than usual number of students).

    4. The current design of the language laboratories, using partitions, greatly limits student interaction, flexibility, and access to visual aids (including whiteboards).


    Remove the Partitions


    Portable language laboratories without partitions like the one in the photograph have been used very successfully in many locations throughout indonesia (this one is in Kupang).

    This is a fixed installation in Jakarta which has been used very successfully.
    5. The cables for the language labs are being installed above the floor and they are causing a significant safety hazard. Schools have to modify the installations at their own expense before the labs can be used safely.

    The language laboratory cables should be placed in channels or ducts under the floor. However, they should be kept clean and tidy, and free from rodents (rats) and whiteants.

    (a) Whiteant proof materials must be used to cover the ducts. ie. metal or ceramic tiles. Use small clean channels which do not invite rats (not like the duct in the photo). Notice how the cables in the photograph have been "pinched" by the tile - make a proper entry (hole) for the cables.

    (b) Cables should not be exposed. They should enter and exit from beneath the furniture - not like this example.

    6. Air-conditioners are not being installed with the laboratories. Airconditioners are necessary in language laboratories to:

    Airconditioners should be included in the budget for all new language laboratory installations.

    7. Currently no curriculum related audio/ visual materials are being provided.

    The PPPG Bahasa in Jakarta is probably the best placed institution to assume a key role in addressing language materials production, language laboratory liaison and general technical support. They could act as a central language enquiry centre for all provincial SMUs. PPPG Bahasa could assume the role of "SMU Language Learning Resource Center" for all aspects of training, information, and technical support

    8. The 1994 curriculum does not adequately define or test listening/ speaking competencies (a major learner motivation issue).

    One of the main issues which was repeatedly raised by teachers during the curriculum discussions in Yogya (January, 1998) and also in the schools is the fact that the national examinations place little emphasis upon the testing of listening and speaking skills. This has a very negative affect upon student motivation to develop these skills. Language laboratories are an excellent facility for use in developing and testing listening and speaking skills. Currently there are insufficient language laboratories in SMUs. However, perhaps the sharing of language laboratory facilities amongst schools in each region during the examination periods may be a practical option.

    9. Teachers and principals do not clearly understand the procedures for addressing language laboratory maintenance and warranty issues. A central language teacher/ laboratory support service needs to be established to coordinate and process planning and development progress inquiries from teachers in the field. This support service also needs to provide basic technical support and information relating to spare parts availability.

    The PPPG Bahasa is currently responsible for SMU language teacher upgrading programs. It is reasonable that their role could be expanded (at a minimum cost) to provide information services to schools in the following areas:

    Mrs. Nurwati Adam (Language Coordinator, PPPG Bahasa), and Mr. Didik Hariadi (Technician) could both readily identify with many of the problems including the need to supply language laboratory information updates and materials to the schools. They are very supportive of any development involving the participation of PPPG - Bahasa.

    10. Preventative Maintenance (PM) systems are inadequate.
    I have completed the language laboratory section of the Perawatan Preventif (Peventative Maintenance) manual which outlines the basic procedures that should be conducted by a technician on a regular (routine) basis.

    All preventative maintenance materials should be carefully placed in the technician's work area so that they can be easily accessed.

    This is an example of a practical language laboratory technician's workbench.

    11. There are insufficient technically trained staff to assist teachers, often resulting in delays or equipment being totally unusable.

    Courses in basic electronics and language laboratory maintenance skills need to be extended to a larger number of participants.

    Phillip Rekdale
    Konsultan Pendidikan & Teknologi

    (Ref: SSE Project 1999)