Director on the board of the Australia Indonesia Business Council
Despite the best intentions of a small stalwart of Indonesian language experts and educators, Queensland schools and universities are not adopting the language as a priority. (Shutterstock/-)
The dire situation of Indonesian language learning at Queensland schools and universities is, in a way, a microcosm of what is happening more broadly in Australia. It has been on a downhill trend for a long time now and educators and advocates of Indonesian language literacy have become completely disillusioned by a trend that seems inevitably veering toward the end of Indonesian being taught across Queensland.
A striking contrast is the relatively upbeat rhetoric of state governments and policy makers about what is deemed the “Asian Century” and the importance of relations with countries such as Indonesia. We hear ubiquitous statements of how Indonesia is a priority to Australia and that the case for increased and better engagement with Indonesia is a compelling one.
Despite existing initiatives, such as the Australia Awards and the New Colombo Plan, which are to be commended, there remains very little commitment to or the prioritization of the Indonesian language. The problem is that the learning of Indonesian at Australian educational institutions is not seen by governments and local education decision-makers as an asset to that relationship. Despite the best intentions of a small stalwart of Indonesian language experts and educators, Queensland schools and universities are not adopting the language as a priority. There is no interest.
The situation has become ominous with the disbanding of more than 70 percent of the Indonesian language programs in secondary schools in Queensland since 2003. In addition, despite the Brisbane Languages Alliance, which allows cross-institutional enrollment at the two remaining universities in Queensland that still offer Indonesian, there has arguably been a 60 to 70 percent overall decline in the tertiary numbers since 2008.
Changes to the university executive, school principals, or heads of department have led to changes in university and secondary school language programs. Indonesian has been disbanded predominantly in favor of Chinese and Japanese programs and even French and German, with some schools citing the large influx of African refugees with French-speaking backgrounds, or the local German populations.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade travel advisories have admittedly played a significant role in undermining the Indonesian language and potential sister-school arrangements, with school and university administrators deeming it all too hard and parents naturally averse in the context of the perceived volatility of the country.
Schools and universities alike also seem to find it challenging to make the tangible connection with learning Indonesian and career options, rendering the business case difficult as a marketing sell to students. The current saturation in the media of our trade and investment relationship with China is unfortunately obscuring the many legitimate facts of a country that is destined to surpass Australia as the 13th largest economy in the world by 2030. Following the submission of a Business Partnership Group report late last year, negotiators of the Indonesia Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (IA CEPA) are keen to have the free trade agreement finalized as soon as possible. Ratification of IA CEPA will critically open doors to significantly greater two-way trade in goods and services between the two countries.
The case for learning Indonesian is obvious to a few who have made exhaustive efforts to extol the virtues of being proficient in the Indonesian language in the face of our growing economic and trade relationship and foreign policy priorities. However, more needs to be done to promote Indonesian if it is to survive in the future and avoid extinction in the state of Queensland.
Dr. Kathleen Turner is a director on the board of the Australia Indonesia Business Council and an ambassador for Asia literacy and Asian language learning in Australia. She was the recipient of the prestigious Australian Institute of International Affairs 2016 Award for her work promoting Australia's engagement in the region.
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