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Creativity and Crisis:
Teaching Indonesian in Australian Schools


The story of Indonesian language learning in Australian schools shows clear patterns of rising and falling. Unfortunately, in the last two decades, the fall has dominated. If current trends continue, Indonesian in Australian schools will be in irreversible crisis – caught between some positive efforts in primary schools and ever-dwindling student numbers in the secondary years.

"Language skills foster literacy, educational attainment, and a confident mindset that views cultural difference with curiosity rather than prejudice. They enhance employability, enabling people to navigate multicultural environments and to be sensitive to cultural difference and better at conceiving events from multiple points of view. They encourage us to be flexible, adaptable, and globally mobile, whether as citizens or as researchers working in pursuit of new knowledge that cannot be bounded by geography."[14]

Is Indonesian in schools seeing creativity or crisis? The data indicates that at present it is more crisis than creativity, but innovation and passion for ensuring Indonesia and Indonesian remain integral in Australian schools will not disappear. Constraints have always been a powerful enabler of creativity, but without a way to amplify the impact of that creativity, it remains localized and fragile.

Without nation-wide policies, funding and collective support, Indonesian could be relegated to a forgotten corner of our education experiences. Such an outcome does not serve our next generations of Australians well. And it would say much of Australia’s lack of commitment to our largest neighbour.

Much of what has been studied and researched about Indonesian in schools has often resulted in a common recommendation – we need a more unique rationale about why Indonesian is an important language to teach and learn. There needs to be a demand for concerted efforts to intervene, much like the International Call to Action on languages published late last year.


Figure 6: Asia Education Foundation, Senior Secondary Languages Education Research Project (2014), p.5

In 2014, AEF published a report with a number of interventions for Asian languages like Indonesian in the senior secondary setting which are still as relevant today; see Figure 6 above. For 2021, the Australia-Indonesia Institute has funded an initiative [15] to develop a contemporary rationale for studies of Indonesia and Indonesian language at a crucial juncture – one where the crisis is pressing. AEF will be working on this to consult as widely as possible to capture a diverse range of experienced, youthful, and passionate voices to articulate a strong and relevant rationale for Australian schools. The rationale for ‘Why Study Indonesian?’ will be launched in October this year.

A rationale that speaks to Australian schools on its own won’t have the impact of national or state policies or funding, but it will be a provocative and reassuring first step in demonstrating to communities in Australia and Indonesia, that Indonesian language and studies is considered an important and essential offering in Australian education. One that must be strengthened nationally and systemically.

The AEF podcast ‘Building BRIDGES’ features some detailed conversation with school leaders about how they have fostered Indonesian language, studies, and networks.

[14] The Importance of Languages in Global Context: An International Call to Action (2020), p.3

[15] Why Study Indonesian? A Rationale for Australian Education, has received grant funding from the Australia Indonesia Institute of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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