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Creativity and Crisis:
Teaching Indonesian in Australian Schools


Table of Contents


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.

Indonesia is Australia’s nearest Asian neighbour, a key player in Southeast Asia, a member of the G20 and an emerging economic force fast developing in business, technology and education. During his visit to Australia in February 2020, Indonesian President described Australia as Indonesia’s “closest friend”. With a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and ambitious new Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA), Australia and Indonesia have a strong bilateral relationship. Against the backdrop of rising regional uncertainty and the challenge of COVID-19, the two countries have an important opportunity to deepen ties moving forward.

Sadly, however, Indonesian language learning in Australian schools is at a historic low. There are fewer students learning Indonesian now than in the early 1970s. Without the language skills, knowledge of Indonesia and intercultural capability, Australians will struggle to navigate their relationship with one of Asia’s key players and the world’s largest Muslim population.

Encouragingly, there are pockets of excellence where Australian schools show successful engagement and participation with Indonesia and Indonesian. The Australia-Indonesia BRIDGE program has shown that intercultural learning takes individual and school commitment, passion, and creativity. Teaching, curriculum, policies and system pathways are also key influencers. So too is an understanding of the wider context in which learning Indonesian makes sense for our young people for whom Indonesia will feature in the future as a key regional partner - well beyond holidays to Bali.

And while we have some new data about the current status of Bahasa Indonesia in our schools, almost nothing is known about what students learn, if anything, about Indonesia through other areas of their education.

In the context of Australia’s place in the world, our engagement with Indonesia and Indonesian language (Bahasa Indonesia) is critical.

In 2021 AEF is undertaking a project to develop a national rationale for the study of Indonesia and Indonesian in Australian schools.  Due for launch in October, 'Why Study Indonesian? A Rationale for Australian Education, is funded by the Australia Indonesia Institute of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

AEF has three recommendations that need to be implemented if the current crisis is to be addressed.

Australian education systems must:

  1. Regularly collect, analyse and report on data on Indonesian language and studies across Australian schools to inform progress and planning.
  2. Develop a significant national learning bank of Indonesian language and studies curriculum resources to support schools.
  3. Substantially increase investment in school partnerships between Australian and Indonesian schools.

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