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Has Australia Lost its Way when it Comes to Indonesian Language Education?


Jakarta. The decline of Indonesian language education in Australian institutions is raising concerns about the potential impact on future relations between the neighboring countries.

In 2020, about 828 Year 12 students in Australia enrolled in Indonesian language classes. However, this marked a 28.7 percent decline from the 1,161 Year 12 students studying the Indonesian language in 2010, according to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment, and Reporting Authority. The same report showed that the twelfth graders in Australia were mostly interested in learning Japanese, with 4,554 students studying the language in 2020.

Clarice Campbell, the national president of youth-led, not-for-profit organization Australia-Indonesia Youth Association, is working in this space to boost participation in programs that encourage youth to get involved in the Australian-Indonesian relationship.

 “[The program] aims to connect young Australians and Indonesia to each other, and to Australian-Indonesian related opportunities,” Campbell recently told the Jakarta Globe.

Following the harsh lockdowns from Covid-19, Campbell said it has been a slow start in getting study abroad programs and youth events back up and running.

 “[Participation] has decreased and the reason for that is largely due to the pandemic,” she said.

“There was a plateau and then a decline.”

With competition from languages other than Indonesian, this could result in a loss of vital cultural awareness, and Campbell said this has impacts on future generations.

“Because we’ve had this lull, you have less people to encourage the next generation to get involved as well,” Campbell said.

Fostering the cultural ties and exchanges between Indonesia and Australia continues to be important for the countries to work together in trade, investment, education, and other avenues. There is anticipated growth and opportunity within these areas, especially with the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) being in effect since 2020. The IA-CEPA also saw the formation of Katalis, a five-year development program to maximize the benefits out of the bilateral agreement.

Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Penny Williams recently spoke on the importance of fostering Indonesian language education in schools and increasing the number of aspiring teachers.

“[It’s about] working with schools … building the cadre of Indonesian teachers,” Williams said.

 Williams said there is increasing eagerness from Australians to travel and learn from their foreign counterparts, which is vital to building intercultural connections.

 “There is a lot of pent-up demand,” she said.

“People-to-people links are the bedrock of the relationships,” she added.

Despite the concern around the declining rates of Indonesian language studies offered across Australia, Campbell said there are many indications that it will rise again.

 “It will grow again because we’ve got increased engagement now that people can travel and are wanting to travel,” Campbell said.

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