Aussie Indo teachers in Bali learning from their colleagues

One of the many nice things about living in Bali, and one of the more underrated, is that there are so many conferences held here that every now and again there is one that is really interesting. Last year there was a fantastic meeting of children’s writers and storytellers with writers coming from Asia and Australia. And just a few months ago, Indonesian teachers from Australia gathered in Bali for the Australian Society of Indonesian Language Educators (ASILE) conference.ASILE logo

Teachers from all over Australia came to Bali for the two-day conference on 29-30 September, many staying longer to further improve their language skills. I met teachers from South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, ACT and Western Australia who ranged from primary school teachers, to high school all the way to university lecturers. The conference was held at IALF‘s headquarters in Denpasar, a comfortable space with enough rooms to accommodate the many parallel sessions.

Challenges ahead

The theme for the conference was Kobarkan Semangatmu: Working Together to Overcome Challenges. Some of the challenges that were discussed included declining numbers of students and schools taking Indonesian, and the end of Australian government programs that had encouraged more teachers to retrain as teachers of Indonesian.

I noticed one of the presentations, by Wieke Gur about ICT in teaching BIPA, is available online.

The Indonesian Curriculum for Australian schools was also discussed with the curriculum authors presenting on ‘what lies beneath and where to for teachers.’ It was an interesting presentation and a pity that it wasn’t included on the USB stick that was given in the conference pack.

Strong Indonesian presence

Among the conference attendees were many Indonesian teachers including some from Dyatmika (who presented on their literacy program) and the Green School. Many of the Indonesian-born and educated teachers seemed to have trained as English teachers first, and then switched to teaching Bahasa Indonesia bagi Penutur Asing (BIPA, meaning Indonesian for foreign learners). BIPA seems to be gaining momentum in Indonesia. Since 1999, BIPA teachers and institutions have had a professional association, APBIPA, which is working on the development of a certification program for BIPA teachers.

In fact, George Quinn, chair of the Balai Bahasa Indonesia in the ACT, declared in his opening remarks, “the centre of gravity in the teaching of Indonesian as a foreign language has shifted emphatically to Indonesia itself.” This makes it increasingly important for teachers in Australia to have good links with teachers in Indonesia, which would have been one of the aims of the conference.

Sessions were either in English or Indonesian and 18 of the 28 parallel sessions were presented by Indonesians, which demonstrates the eagerness for the Australian teachers to learn from their native speaker colleagues.

Aussie Indo teachers an interesting bunch

IALF in DenpasarThere is an interesting thing about Indonesian teachers in Australia. The majority are Australian-born whose first language is typically English. In contrast, 90 per cent of Chinese teachers in Australia are native speakers of Chinese. That is not to say that one is better than the other. What teachers may lack in accents and cultural knowledge they could make up with shared culture with their students, plus possibly having the advantage of other teaching experience in Australian schools.

I wondered, though, is this another factor as to why most Australian students currently studying Indonesian are doing so as beginners?

I was impressed with the teachers I met who had trained first in another field and later added on Indonesian. One teacher taught IT, another taught science, and both were able to relate their other area of expertise with teaching Indonesian. Learning Indonesian colours through a science experiment sounded very interesting. The IT teacher, Joyce Tabone, was also full of ideas on how to use IT, specifically iPad apps, to make learning Indonesian more fun.

The best sessions I found were the app session and one on Indonesian traditional games. Both were very useful, full of practical tips, and fun for the participants too.

On the last afternoon the Language Learning Space was launched and looks like an impressive tool to use. It includes a tutorial service for Australian schools provided by IALF.

I was sorry not to be able to join in on the trips to the Green School and STPBI, but it was a great experience to join with a group of enthusiastic teachers who loved what they did and were all eager for ideas on how to improve their teaching.


Indonesian language study in Australian schools – Knowns and Unknowns

Indonesian has had numerous promotions by successive Australian governments to encourage more students to study this language. It was given extra funding in the 1980s and identified as a ‘priority’ language back in the 1990s. This has included incentives for teachers to gain an additional qualification to teach Indonesian in the 2000s. And in 2014, Indonesian was the second language after Chinese to have a flash new resource, the Language Learning Space, developed for teachers.

Language Learning Space

Language Learning Space

But despite being identified over and over again as an important language for Australians to learn, the study of Indonesian is in decline in Australia. An intervention was even called for in the 2010 report The Current State of Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean Language Education in Australian Schools Four Languages, Four Stories.

This report is referred to in the brand new and still not quite official Australian Curriculum for Languages: Indonesian (February 2014) which, among many other things, has a good overview of the study of Indonesian in Australia. Figures quoted in both these publications date from 2008 on the most part.

So, what is the state of Indonesian study in schools in 2008?

Most Indonesian students are found in primary schools

In fact 63 per cent of all school students studying Indonesian are in primary school. Do more primary schools have Indonesian teachers compared with secondary schools? Or is it that Indonesian is not competing with other languages and subjects that students can opt to study. In primary school subjects are usually mandatory for all students. This is supported by graphs showing large numbers of language learners dropping out of languages around Year 9 when many subjects become optional.

Most secondary Indonesian students are beginners

Year 7 Indonesian is, more often than not, the first time high school students are learning Indonesian. Even if they have studied in primary school the chances are not great that they will go to a school which also teaches Indonesian. And in that school, if most students are beginners, they may not be able to run an additional stream of Indonesian that is for continuing students.

Not many study it at a high level

Only about 1 per cent of Indonesian students are learning it in Year 11 or 12. So not surprisingly, anecdotally it seems that most students learning Indonesian in university are also beginners.

Numbers are declining

Numbers of students learning Indonesian in 2008 are double those back in 1994, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. From a peak in 2000 of around 260,000, around 10,000 less students have studied the language each year since 2005. This is matched with schools dropping the program as well.

So, retention is low. Let’s place this in the wider context.

Australians don’t study languages!

Only a small proportion of school students study languages at any point in their education which is a challenge that all proponents of language study have to face. Indonesian is the third most taught language in Australian schools. But still only 5.6 per cent of the total student population studies Indonesian.

Unlike 163 other countries in the world that have more than one official language, Australia is a firmly monolingual country. There are isolated pockets of bilingualism – think Vietnamese and Italian in parts of Melbourne, Arabic and Chinese in parts of Sydney, but we are pretty hopeless when it comes to learning other languages.

All governments seem to agree that more language learning is important for Australia. The latest government has acted by increasing the numbers of language curriculums from 11 to 16 and adding, among others, Latin and Classical Greek. Will this help all languages though? Or spread resources more thinly for ‘priority’ Asian languages such as Indonesian? If the aim is to encourage more students to take a language in Year 12 by offering more choice of language, I’m not convinced this strategy will work.

So send them to Asia

The other publicised move by this present government is the New Colombo Plan which aims to send thousands of Australian undergraduate students to Asian countries as part of their degree. As the Vice Chancellor of Sydney University points out, we can’t send them with no language training or cultural awareness skills. So will this plan (planned to last at least five years) be an incentive for high school students to study an Asian language? It remains to be seen.


One encouraging example is that of a NCP scholar training at Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta to become an Indonesian teacher on her return to Victoria. More examples like her could naturally lead to more high school students wanting to take the language in order to have this travel opportunity in front of them.

Language vs Culture

Even with the figures of schools with Indonesian programs we can’t be sure all these students were learning the language per se. In 2007 there were 306 primary schools with programs in Indonesian in Victoria and NSW. But it is suggested that a third of those might have included Indonesian in language and cultural awareness studies, rather than classes that aim for language proficiency.

The Australian Curriculum promotes language study be done through an intercultural focus. This raises questions like, ‘will students be actually learning the language or just about the culture?’ Give it a few years and I’m sure there’ll be a study that will say, but there is a lot of good stuff to say about the Australian Curriculum – enough for a separate article at least.

Do we know what is being taught?

Short answer: no. The Four Stories report recommended researching primary Indonesian programs to find out the conditions of the program, quality of teachers and what learners were achieving. Why? Because that information just isn’t known. Even quantitative data on Indonesian study “is often inconsistent and in some cases difficult to obtain.”

This is where the Australian Curriculum is so valuable. It has a wealth of information about what should be taught and recommends tools and resources to use. It also specifies what learners should be able to do in the language year to year in terms of achievement level.

And finally, how about the global context?

Australia is, according to the Four Stories report, the only Western country to support the teaching of Indonesian in schools. That makes Australia very significant in terms of pedagogy and providing an example to other countries.

But Indonesia itself may be stepping up more to promote its language outside of its borders. Unlike Chinese with the Confucius Institute, French with the Alliance Francaise, Italian with the Istituto Italiano di Cultura and so on, Indonesia has no funded institution devoted to promoting its language and culture overseas.

There are rumours that Indonesia will open a Balai Bahasa Indonesia in Australia which would be a huge boost to the language in Australia. The two BBIs in Australia that exist in the ACT and Perth were founded independently and do great work promoting the language and developing ties between the two countries.

Semangat guru-guru Bahasa Indonesia!

If you’re an Indonesian teacher, what’s your reaction to the Australian Curriculum? Are you positive about the outlook for Indonesian study in Australia?