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Portland Secondary College VIC

Benefits of a flourishing sister school relationship

Fostering intercultural understanding is a key focus for Portland Secondary College. A three-wheeler becak from Indonesia that sits proudly in the school’s new language centre, is testament to Portland’s long standing relationship with Australia’s largest and nearest neighbour.

Portland Secondary College has offered Indonesian for close to two decades and the school has a strong relationship with a school in Yogyakarta. Through a biennial exchange program and, more recently, use of ICT to connect with sister-school students, enthusiasm for Indonesia and the study of Indonesian has grown.

Biennial exchange

The school trips to Yogyakarta have been a key part of the growing appreciation for studying Indonesian at Portland. One year Portland students go to Yogyakarta, and the next year Indonesian students visit Portland.

Twenty-seven students from Portland travelled to Indonesia in 2011 and spent twelve days absorbed in Indonesian culture including a period of full immersion at the Yogyakarta school.

The impact of the connecting with peers in Yogyakarta has been truly wide reaching,” Liz Formby, Languages and Sister-School Coordinator, says. “Not just because we visit there, but because our families also host students from Yogyakarta every other year.”

Some host families have developed ongoing relationships with their exchange student’ families as a result.

Using ICT to enhance relationships

ICT provides students with opportunities for more frequent and meaningful contact with their Indonesian peers in Yogyakarta. The students interview their sister school counterparts via video conferencing about life and friendship in Indonesia. They share occasional projects that enhance their understanding of the language and culture.

While girls concentrate on friendships, boys often focus on sport. Students discovered that the Indonesian students spend a lot more time studying at home than they do, which has been eye-opening. With their Indonesian peers, they share day-to-day experiences and learn about differences in routines. Portland students have learned that Indonesian teenagers are a lot more family-oriented, going out with their own families than they do with their own families.

However, says Formby, it’s not always about the differences. “Perhaps the biggest discovery for Portland students from their visit to Indonesia was that the people there were more similar to them than different. They came back with a totally different perspective.” 

Resources and relationships

Portland’s practical, hands-on approach to language and culture study has been a big contributor to increasing students' enthusiasm for the study of Indonesian.

A large variety of “realia” was purchased to enrich students’ classroom learning experience. These included board games, puppets, traditional clothing, and kitchenware. Elements of an Indonesian teenager’s bedroom were acquired for reconstruction in the classroom to engage students' interest in discussing everyday items in Indonesian.

Another effective strategy has been the coordinated effort to build Indonesian language programs at feeder primary schools. This has resulted in a Languages Assistant working closely with Portland Secondary College to support the delivery of Indonesian lessons at each of the six cluster primary schools.


Gaining an appreciation of another culture has been achieved through the sister-school relationship. Furthermore, Portland is developing metrics to measure how students’ intercultural understanding changes over time. One measure of has certainly been the higher retention rate in the study of Indonesian.

“We have 22 students studying Indonesian at Year 10 level this year, which is unheard of,” Formby says. 

Without a doubt, the forging of links with the school in Yogyakarta has engaged the school community, increased intercultural understanding and built demand for the study of Indonesian.

Some of Portland Secondary School initiatives were supported through funding from the Federal Government’s Becoming Asia Literate Grants Programme.


Images: AEF

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