Bonnie Hermawan, Senior Project Officer, Asia Education Foundation
In January 2016, 21 Australian teachers embarked on an AEF study program and BRIDGE partner school visit to Indonesia. The program was designed to support the teachers to develop deeper knowledge of Indonesia and intercultural understanding amongst their students.
Halfway into the first day of our program, our itinerary was abruptly altered by the shocking ISIL affiliated terrorist attacks in Jakarta. Luckily, our group was safe and secure throughout the incident. In fact we were at the Australian Embassy at the time, receiving a briefing on Australia-Indonesia bilateral initiatives. This allowed us to experience the attacks from an entirely different perspective.
The Internet and social media coverage of the attacks meant that there were live updates quickly spreading around the world. People were able to consume online content and contribute to it as well. On the positive side, the Twittersphere was flooded with messages of support and solidarity aggregated by #WeAreNotAfraid and #PrayForJakarta. In contrast, citizen reporting and commentary also meant there was a lot of unchecked and often incorrect information flying around as well. This provoked both positive and negative reactions and debate – much of it underpinned by misinformation.
This complex situation highlighted the teachers’ commitment to support their students to develop the tools to navigate the challenges of the world we live in today.
The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008) states that Intercultural understanding is critical to building a culturally diverse and cohesive society and to developing responsible global citizens able to live and work with others. Intercultural understanding is one of seven general capabilities in the Australian Curriculum and is expected to be achieved by all students by the time they leave school. It is described by ACARA as ‘recognising culture and developing respect; interacting and empathising with others; reflecting on intercultural experiences and taking responsibility’ (ACARA, 2015).
There is no doubt of the importance for students to develop intercultural understanding as a life skill; but the question on the mind of many educators is how to go about it. How do we cultivate engagement with different cultures, foster community cohesion and encourage a respectful critique of information? Educators need to be willing to facilitate conversations around local and global events in the media, and teach students to debate these complex cultural topics in a measured and informed way.
Beyond the study of literary texts, media and current social debate, it is essential for educators and students to go beyond the four walls of the classroom to personally interact with diverse cultures and perspectives within and beyond their communities. The formation of partnerships and people-to-people connections, such as this study program and school partnerships are really powerful first steps in this direction.
Despite the tragic attacks in Jakarta, our teachers were not deterred in getting out and about to explore and better understand Indonesia; its geography, history, languages, cultures, traditions and people. The educators finished up the study program in Jakarta and went off to their respective BRIDGE partner schools in provinces across Indonesia for a week-long visit. During this time they deepened their own intercultural understanding, participated in community life, taught classes, facilitated professional learning, planned how to connect their students in Australia with Indonesian peers. All in all, they seriously deepened these meaningful personal relationships.
The ISIL attacks highlighted for our group the importance of building more community and personal relationships between our countries. Their experiences on this program will hopefully equip them with the tools and skills to share that insight and outlook with their students.
Intercultural understanding is a key priority of the Asia Education Foundation. To learn how to lead change in your school, register for our upcoming Intercultural Understanding Masterclass.
Learn how you can get involved with our upcoming BRIDGE-School Partnerships Project.