A Change in Policy; A Change in Direction: An Experience of Changing PhD Research Topic

When coming to Manchester in October 2012, my head was full of ideas about a new developing bilingual education trend in my country i.e. International Standard School (ISS), a type of school which is unique to Indonesia. In other countries, when mentioning ‘International’ concerning education, it usually deals with International students coming from different parts of the world. However, in Indonesia this term refers to a school attempting to achieve international standard by implementing Indonesian National Educational standard plus a standard of excellence from one of OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries or other countries with particular excellence in Education.  

At that time, ISS was a hot topic in Indonesian and was an area with a lot of rooms for improvements and which was widely open for investigations. Therefore, I came forward with my initial PhD proposal under the topic “Socio-culturally Sensitive Methods for Motivating and Joyful ELT in CLIL Context”. Therefore, I devoted the first term of my first year PhD to explore Bilingual Education and Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), a major characteristic of Indonesian ISS.

However, on January 8th 2013, one week before my assignments submission, I got surprising news that ISS policy was dismissed by the annulment of the law supporting the practice. All Indonesian online newspapers released their news about it. My heart sank, and I was really worried that by policy change would mean that I had to re-do my assignments as the issues I raised would be no longer current. Fortunately, this was not the case. In his reply to my panic email, my supervisor told me that I should continue writing my assignments without thinking too much about the changing in the policy, and we could discuss about it after the submission. Phew! What a relief!

Actually, I already had a signal about the possible change of this policy when one of my scholarship interviewers asked me whether I had a plan B should the ISS policy be dismissed. It was due to the fact that there had been an intense dispute about this particular type of school even upon establishment in 2007. However, I was pretty optimistic that this policy would not change that fast, and I believed that I could still work on this area until finishing my PhD.

After submitting my assignments, I directly devoted myself to think of any alternative topics that may substitute my previous one. I came up with two possibilities i.e.: Lessons from Indonesian Good Language Learners, which is totally different from my previous topic and the likely impact of the change of policy on teachers, which was a twist from my previous topic. Actually, at first I had more tendency on the first alternative that was Lessons from Indonesian Good Language Learners, but after a long discussion with my supervisors I realize that a dramatic steering from my previous topic would mean that my hard-work on term one would be a useless effort. Moreover, both my supervisors and I agreed that this change (reversal)  is a unique phenomenon that would be an interesting area to research on.

Finally, after several meetings and intensive discussions with my supervisors, we came up with a topic on how Indonesian teachers survive in the policy reversal.  Formulating a title based on this new topic was not an easy task as well. After writing several alternatives amidst my reading on several books and articles about educational policy and language policy (which are both novel areas for me), finally we agreed my working title “Surviving Language Policy Reversal: Stories of Indonesian Junior High School Teachers”. After this step, another challenging step awaited, that was deciding the Research Questions, which is the trickiest and most sensitive process in research for me. Again, after a long discussion with my supervisors finally I got my tentative RQs. Yippiii! Finally!

Frankly speaking, actually I am happier with my new topic compared to my original one. My original topic was quite complicated and involved multi-layers of areas i.e. Socio-culture, teaching methods, motivation, joyful learning, ELT, and CLIL. It was way too broad. Meanwhile, my new topic is more focused. I would not say that my new topic is easier (as in fact this is not 🙂  ), but this is more doable and feasible.

Another thing I learn from the process was when one of my supervisors’ mentioned “How would somebody from Germany be interested in reading your research about Indonesia? How would it help them learn about their context which should be very different form Indonesian’s?” That was the most important question now I bear in mind when deciding any research topic as it deals with one important aspect of the research that is contribution to knowledge.

In general I would say that the process of topic changing was challenging and not an easy task, but eventually it guided me out of the mist into a more focused and clear research topic.



  • Thank you Richard..yes I now feel more at home with this new topic and is ready to have an adventure with it 🙂

    Hi Bona, yes this is a blessing in disguise actually because I was struggling to sharpen my original main topic as it was a bit too wide and complicated. The policy change was a real ‘surprise’ at first, but with the help from my supervisors, I could refocus and even find the more feasible path for my research 🙂

  • Bona Maandera

    From your last paragraph, Fitri, it also sounds like a change in policy, a focus in direction. . .

    I like the reflection in the second last paragraph . . . and see how your research would serve more than just Indonesia. Many countries do those policy shifts and it would be interesting to read teachers response to it.

  • Richard Fay

    A very useful posting Fitri both with regard to the actual topic change and also the researcher journey involved in the change. It’s good to see that the new/revised topic is beginning to feel like ‘home’ for you 🙂