Educating today’s minds for tomorrow’s challenges

Asia Education Foundation, Executive Director, Kathe Kirby explores the current trends of Indonesian language studies in schools across Australia.

Imagine arriving from bustling Jakarta, or the remote island of Flores in Indonesia, to stay for a week in the tiny Australian towns of Swifts Creek or Lake Charm in country Victoria.

Swifts Creek P-12 and Lake Charm Primary School communities welcomed their Indonesian teacher friends with open arms in November. The teachers are recipients of the Australia Awards in Indonesia program. Over the next 6 months 136 top Indonesian teachers will travel to Australia for an intensive professional learning program facilitated by Asia Education Foundation and funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Lake Charm’s future focused school mission is ‘Educating today’s minds for tomorrow’s challenges’. School Principal, Jeff Millard, told the local Gannawarra Times, “this is a fantastic opportunity for our students and the community to develop a deeper understanding of Indonesian history, society and culture.”

Swifts Creek Principal, Robert Boucher, told the Bairnsdale Advertiser that the focus of the visit was on “developing our students’ intercultural understanding and global competencies.”

Both schools offer Indonesian language. 

In Victoria, the number of students studying Indonesian is growing, especially in primary schools. Fifty-four new schools took up Indonesian in the past year, making it one of the four most popular languages taught in Victorian schools. There has also been a significant increase of students studying Indonesian in the Australian Capital Territory where it is the second most popular language taught. 

However, we can’t assume this growth is a national trend. Many states don’t publish languages data. What data we do have access to, indicates there is a huge difference in language uptake between states, between schools and especially between city and rural Australia. 

Let me give you an example: in Victoria 92 per cent of primary schools offer a languages program. But in New South Wales under 40 per cent of primary schools teach a language, with the majority located in the Sydney metropolitan area – a situation that a recent BOSTES review of languages education in NSW identified as requiring action. Other states fall somewhere in between. No state makes languages compulsory continuously from Year 1 to 10. 

National student data on languages hasn’t been collected since 2008. That’s eight years ago. That data showed that Indonesian was in steep decline in Australian schools – dropping 10,000 students a year for five consecutive years. In 2008 a scant 1,300 students across Australia chose to study Indonesian in Year 12. By 2012 that had declined to fewer than 1,000 students. 

This doesn’t add up. Young Australians need to communicate with and understand our closest neighbor, Indonesia. How else will the next generation work together to solve the big global challenges of our time like sustainability, refugees and security? Indonesia is also an emerging economic powerhouse. Our two-way trade already stands at $16 billion annually with wheat, beef, sugar and honey as major Australian exports to Indonesia alongside education and tourism. 

We live in a data driven world. Just this week Australia has been reeling at the release of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) student achievement data on science, reading and mathematics that show a further decline in our students’ knowledge and skills. 

Where is the national data on our students’ languages learning? 

To host an Indonesian teacher in 2017 as part of the Australia Awards in Indonesia program, please register here.

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Natasha Redden

T: 8344 3569