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Creativity and Crisis:
Teaching Indonesian in Australian Schools


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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.

"When we show homage and respect to the people of Indonesia as a society, we gain a very inclusive and positive response because that’s us showing Indonesia that we value their culture, we value their language, and we value their existence.[11]

It would be safe to argue that there would be no Indonesian language or studies in Australian schools if it weren’t for the work of committed, passionate and informed educators and education leaders. Despite the statistics and mainstream decline, it is important to understand and recognize that many schools around Australia are engaging in fulfilling Indonesia-focused programs.

From the teaching of Indonesian language in creative ways, to fostering school partnerships with those across Indonesia, schools in primary and secondary settings have found success and rich relationships through engaging with Indonesian. Perhaps one of Australia’s shining examples is Scott’s Head Public School in NSW. As one of the only bilingual Indonesian schools in Australia, this school has demonstrated that through strong leadership, teacher passion and support, students can thrive in their education and language acquisition that connects them in memorable ways to Indonesia. Indonesian language and culture are embedded using approaches from CLIL (Content Language and Integrated Learning), which have been shown to be highly effective in blending language and culture across the curriculum. Scott’s Head has hosted of a range of high-level visits from Indonesia, including the Indonesian Consul-General. These experiences have helped shape not only this school, but also neighbouring Macksville High School which offers Indonesian, where many Scott’s Head students complete their final HSC Indonesian exams one year early. The AEF podcast ‘Building BRIDGES’ features a more detailed conversation with Scott’s Head school leadership about how they have fostered Indonesian language, studies, and networks.

Central to the creativity of schools with Indonesian is connecting and developing relationships with peers in Indonesia. Time and again stories affirm that investing in school partnerships and student experiences with Indonesia offer long-lasting impact on learning and intercultural understanding. AEF’s BRIDGE School Partnerships program has been one of the most significant investments in this work over the past decade. By 2021-2022, the program will have established over 200 partnerships across Australia with 18 provinces in Indonesia. BRIDGE has survived due to the tenacity and commitment of schools and educators between the two nations, and the ongoing support of the Australian Government. Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Scott Morrison released a joint statement during a 2019 state visit that included recognition that “Leaders welcomed the continuation of programs such as BRIDGE… which enhance interactions among students and teachers from both countries.”

The stories of impact have been numerous over the years with teachers exploring everything from science and sustainability projects, to shared storytelling and recipe books, diverse arts, and traditional practices. Technology has been a very significant enabler between schools. Even during the pandemic in 2020, schools continued their connections in even greater numbers, with hundreds of teachers from Indonesia joining AEF webinars to share remote teaching practices and wellbeing support with Australian peers. Heathmont College in Victoria worked with their partner school Karangmojo SC in Jogajakarta to create a collaborative ‘Stay Safe’ COVID related dance video between Year 7 students. Three years ago, the BRIDGE program introduced even greater technology integration into partnerships. Schools received Google Cardboard VR boxes to use with mobile devices, with many sharing panoramic images and virtual tours. It was a powerful way to almost literally ‘see the world through someone else’s eyes’.


Education and technology are clearly playing a key role in amplifying the approaches between educators and students in the two neighbouring countries. Even back in 2012, Kangaroo Island Community Education (KICE) in South Australia demonstrated a powerful project with their partner in Indonesian aptly titled ‘Two rivers, two islands, one future’.

Hand-in-hand with this are the similarities in the curriculum. Both Indonesia and Australia are looking to balance the emphasis on a range of key capabilities in teaching and learning – with a shared focus on skills in critical and creative thinking, communication, and collaboration. Coupled with a surge in the need for teacher capacity building in teaching with technology, the wider opportunities for educators to work together on pedagogy and curriculum development are exciting and should be amplified. For example, in 2018 Marcellin College (Victoria) ran a design thinking workshop with 60 peers in Indonesia to help support shared work on creative problem-solving.

While many Australian primary schools prioritize second-language learning with it being optional in secondary, Indonesia is the reverse. English is no longer compulsory in Indonesian primary schools but emphasized in secondary. The requirement in most Australian states and territories to study a second language in primary school means that Indonesian remains relatively stable in the primary setting, and in fact this is the only area in which some states reported growth in Kohler’s 2020 study. The framing of Indonesian as the “easy” language seems to be largely effective in maintaining its position in primary schools, however this situation changes in secondary school.[12] Perhaps it is an opportunity to leverage the secondary school sector between Australia and Indonesia and collaborate much more on mutual language support.

Opportunity and optimism are important not to lose sight of amongst the dire data with Indonesian language. Schools can foster meaningful studies of Indonesia in schools. This requires school leadership and teacher capacity to be creative and inventive and understand contemporary orientations to teaching about/with/through Indonesia in order to realize more engaging programs and experiences. Forthcoming updates from ACARA to the Australian Curriculum including with Intercultural Understanding and Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia also present an opportunity for schools to refresh their focus on studies and links with Indonesia. However, it will be important to support schools in moving beyond the common cultural ‘F-words’ of engagement: food, flags, festivals, and fashion. One successful program that addressed this was the Indonesian Language Learning Ambassadors (ILLA) run by AEF from 2017-2019. This supported Indonesian nationals studying education in Australian universities with the opportunity to spend 3 hours per week in a school over 5-6 weeks. There were 148 Ambassador-School partnerships created, with 89% of teachers stating that their students were more motivated to continue their Indonesian language studies as a result. The relationships, sustained connections, and integration made a measurable difference to all participants.

"The students have gained more learning experience by listening and meeting more Indonesian people. They would develop better understanding about multi-culturalism. Not all students have been exposed to the Indonesian community in the area where they live in."

A final consideration within the myriad of ways education can blend between Indonesia and Australia is through the support of other organisations. The Australia-Indonesia Youth Association (AIYA) offers a range of events and network opportunities across Australia with passionate young Australian and Indonesian professionals. Similarly, the National Australia-Indonesia Language Awards (NAILA) have continued to foster communication and language exchange opportunities and awards across education. In Victoria, the Government established the Victorian Young Leaders to Indonesia program in 2019 and is planning to evolve the offering as a result of the pandemic. This has also been the transition approach for ACICIS (Australian Consortium for ‘In-Country’ Indonesian Studies) who have been scaling up the numbers of tertiary students, and some schools, seeking experiences in Indonesia over a number of years, and are now offering a series of digital services and programs. These are all indicators of the great creativity and commitment that education services and sectors are making to address the need for fostering and sustaining ongoing strong relationships between Australia and Indonesia.

In the words of Karl Krause at Scott’s Head, “…the real vision of what we’re doing which is to produce Australian people who are able to engage with Indonesia in the future and are able to communicate with others in that region for our mutual benefit.”[13]


Substantially increase investment in school partnerships between Australian and Indonesian schools.


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