(Our submission, and others, can be viewed on the Australia in the Asian Century web site at: http://asiancentury.dpmc.gov.au/published-submissions )
‘AUSTRALIA IN THE ASIAN CENTURY’ WHITE PAPER
Submission by the Balai Bahasa Indonesia (ACT)
Submission prepared by
Closer people-to-people links with our Asian neighbours are necessary if Australia is to achieve success in pursuing our commercial, political and security goals in the region. A key driver of closer links is awareness of the culture and languages of our Asian neighbours. The forging of stronger education and cultural ties with Indonesia is especially important.
Some commentators have questioned the utility of Asian language skills as a passport to business or employment success. Other observers press for closer engagement with Asian cultures, and more genuine respect for them, while brushing aside Asian language skills as a significant component of that engagement and respect.
BBI ACT recognises two components of the term “Asia literacy”:
- Knowledge of Asia and the history, geography and cultures of important Asian countries
- Command of Asian languages, especially, but not only, Indonesian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
BBI ACT considers that both cultural and language studies are important as well as closely related. In an Asia-centric world all Australians will need to have at least the level of knowledge of Asian countries that generations hitherto have had of European ones. Asian language competence at all levels, especially the advanced levels, also needs to be fostered. This calls for a major program of change. Such a program will require significant resources and cannot be launched, let alone achieve its objectives, without broad community support and high-level support across the political spectrum.
BBI ACT is of the view that promoting Asian cultural literacy within the Australian community, especially the learning of Asian languages such as Indonesian, should be accorded higher priority by Australian policy-makers. BBI ACT’s vision is for an increasingly large proportion of the Australian population that is comfortable with and conversant in the major languages spoken in Asia, with a particular emphasis on the language of our nearest Asian neighbour, Indonesia. BBI ACT calls on the Australian Government to consider policies that will support, in a comprehensive and broad-ranging manner, closer engagement with Asian culture and language, in particular the Indonesian language.
There has been a steady, in some cases disastrous, decline in the teaching of Asian languages, especially Indonesian, in Australian schools and tertiary institutions in recent years.
The decline in the teaching of Indonesian in schools and universities parallels a declining awareness in the broader community of what Indonesia is really like. In spite of a gradual improvement in the commercial relationship, few Australian private sector companies seem capable of fielding in-country executives with a working command of the Indonesian language. A large part of the problem appears to stem from a reluctance to acknowledge the commercial advantages of being able to do business in Indonesia in Indonesian.
Lack of commitment to the study of Indonesian in Australia is not exclusively a matter of ‘supply’ but also one of ‘demand’. There is evidence that the parents of some students of Indonesian at secondary school have a highly negative attitude to their children taking up the study of Indonesian at school.
School and tertiary students need to see cogent reasons for taking on languages, especially given that language study demands major investments of effort and time. Some who have made these investments have experienced bitter disappointment on discovering that their language skills were not much valued by prospective employers. In the immediate future it may be necessary to provide incentives both to students and businesses to foster language skills. Special tax breaks for business costs associated with promoting Asian literacy amongst their staff, including pay supplements recognising Asian language skills, could be considered.
Funding for Asian language development programs, e.g. the National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools (NALSAS) and the National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program (NALSSP) have been beneficial but too modest in scale. This level of funding contrasts markedly with government education programs such as the Building the Education Revolution (BER) program of $16.2 billion.
In the view of BBI ACT, the pre-conditions for an effective and sustainable change strategy include recognition of the urgency – the need to act now – to position Australia in the Asian Century through lifting the level of Asia literacy. A broad coalition of influential stakeholders and interested parties is required that can support coordinated national action to address the issue.
It is important that the direct players in future Asian literacy plans – parents of schoolchildren, schoolchildren and tertiary students, teachers, school principals and administrators –understand the broader policy and derive tangible benefits from participation in programs. Parents need assurance that employment prospects for their children will be enhanced by Asia literacy. Teachers need to feel that they can confidently pursue careers as specialist language teachers and enjoy pay loadings for language teaching skills. Students need to be able to identify job opportunities and a competitive advantage in having Asian language skills (possibly also pay loadings). Employers need to be assured that Asia literacy skills (linguistic and cultural) of prospective employees are relevant to their needs.
A program of broad consultation across jurisdictions and peak industry and professional bodies will be required to develop programs that can deliver these benefits. Proactive attitudes and action on the part of governments and business will be required.
To give effect to the change strategy proposed, BBI ACT supports the idea of a National Asian Languages Institute. An Institute would establish collaborative relationships with all federal and state Education Departments as well as with all schools, colleges and universities participating in the Australian Strategy for Asian Language Proficiency. It would be the central body charged with allocating funding and resources for the teaching of target languages across Australia. As a degree-conferring body the Institute would teach the major Asian languages intensively to an advanced level of mastery, developing credit-transfer arrangements and collaborative tuition with existing Asian language tuition programs, especially “endangered” tuition programs. To generate demand for Asian language skills, the Institute would also promote the study of Asian languages through public education and mass media campaigns, especially by working with media personalities, parents, social organisations and government agencies.
Amongst other recommendations, the BBI ACT calls on government to: set a target of achieving at least one in five enrolments in an Asian language at Year 12 level by the year 2020; support development of professional standards and best practice guidelines for teachers of Indonesian, for instance, through the Australian Society of Indonesian Language Educators (ASILE); and incorporate the study of Indonesian Islam into the Indonesian language curriculum as a way of addressing damaging stereotypes within the Australian community about the role of Islam in Indonesian society and cultural life.
Language, religion and the killing of cattle
On May 30th last year, the ABC program Four Corners broadcast a damning expose of the cruelty inflicted on Australian cattle during slaughter in Indonesian abattoirs. Responding to public outrage, a week later the Australian government imposed a ban on the export of live cattle to Indonesia pending resolution of the issues exposed in the program.
The ban had an immediate and, in some cases, devastating impact on the Australian farmers and companies involved in the trade. Amid the many complexities and subtleties of the issue, two realities stood out. First, the livelihoods of an increasing number of ordinary Australians are locked into the Indonesian economy – one of the fastest growing in the world. Directly and indirectly many thousands of Australians had their financial interests damaged in the “live cattle” imbroglio. At a time when job creation is weakening and another Global Financial Crisis looms Indonesia’s role in contributing to employment and incomes in Australia needs to be very professionally nurtured, both in the business community and by government. The Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) currently being negotiated sets out to address this necessity by creating a framework for much greater economic integration between Australia and Indonesia (see http://www.dfat.gov.au/fta/iacepa/index.html).
Second, the crisis was exacerbated by cultural – even linguistic – issues. Australians have been involved as exporters, monitors (for example Meat and Livestock Australia) and in some instances in fattening and slaughtering in Indonesia. Under new regulations Australian exporters are responsible for guaranteeing good practice through the supply chain from loading in Australia through to slaughtering in Indonesia. Slaughtering takes place in hundreds of small abattoirs, many in remote locations staffed overwhelmingly by non English-speaking workers. Many are owned by local governments but come under the general oversight of the national Department of Agriculture. The challenge of improving slaughtering practices thus involves a network of private and public sector bodies most of which cannot be controlled but at best may be influenced by Australian government and industry (AIBC Position…). Increased Australian understanding of Indonesian institutions and culture and capacity to work effectively in this complex cross-cultural environment is crucial to achieving good outcomes.
When the Australian government announced its ban on live cattle exports, it may have been unaware that the maximum impact of the ban would come two months later at the time of the Islamic feast of Idul Fitri (Aidul Fitr) coinciding with the end of the holy Fasting month. The ban would (and did) produce shortages of meat and a spike in prices at a sensitive time of religious and social celebration. It seems possible that poorly informed public opinion in Australia may have overruled the better informed judgements of DFAT officers and politicians. At the very least, a better informed, more “Asia literate” Australian public and mass media might have made a less damagingly abrupt response to the Four Corners program more possible.
It is widely accepted that closer people-to-people links with our Asian neighbours are necessary if Australia is to achieve success in pursuing our commercial, political and security goals in the region. A key driver of closer links is awareness of the culture and languages of our Asian neighbours. The importance of forging stronger education and cultural ties with Indonesia is especially well-documented (see for example, Cook 2009).
Some commentators have questioned the utility of Asian language skills as a passport to business or employment success (see for example, Miller 2011). Even those who press for closer engagement with Asian cultures, and more genuine respect for them, often brush aside Asian language skills as a significant component of that engagement and respect (see for example, Low 2012).
Reflecting these aims, BBI ACT is of the view that promoting Asian cultural literacy within the Australian community, especially the learning of Asian languages such as Indonesian, should be accorded higher priority by Australian policy-makers. BBI ACT’s vision is for an increasingly large proportion of the Australian population that is comfortable with and conversant in the major languages spoken in Asia, with a particular emphasis on the language of our nearest Asian neighbour, Indonesia. We call on the Australian Government to consider policies that will support, in a manner that is more comprehensive and broad-ranging than hitherto, closer engagement with Asian cultures and languages, in particular the culture and language of Indonesia.
The importance of Australia’s relationship with Indonesia could hardly be over-emphasised. Indonesia is our nearest Asian neighbour with a population of 240 million and with an economy widely expected to become one of the ten biggest in the world within a generation, Indonesia demands our close attention. This is already occurring through the negotiation of the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) already under discussion, and in other crucial partnerships that are being mooted, including a security partnership. The live cattle issue is a microcosm and a harbinger of what we might expect in the next few decades in terms of close and complex relationships across many sectors. In this context the need for Australians to become ‘Indonesia literate’ is compelling.
Interactions with an English-speaking elite
English plays an important role in the commercial life of Indonesia. But, as in most Asian nations, English-based commerce is very new. English only began to impact intensively on Indonesia as recently as the 1970s. In East Timor the intensive presence of English is scarcely more than a decade old. Much the same can be said of several other Asian societies, especially China and Vietnam (exceptions are India, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines where there is a longer history of interaction with English-speaking societies).
Australia’s commercial successes in Asia (and they are many) are mostly rooted in interactions with an English-educated elite. Even in countries with a long history of English-language education, like India for example, this elite is small. Interactions that exclusively take place with fluent English speakers have two major (and many lesser) problems. First, business is not simply the signing of “deals”. Once a deal is done – let’s assume in English in which both parties are probably competent – then the business has to be managed. Both parties are likely to be involved in this and, as the “live cattle” issue vividly illustrates, management will involve interaction with a wider range of people with varying levels of competence in English or, inevitably, with no English at all. Even in the major commercial hubs of Asia – Hong Kong, for example – a working command of English is confined to a minority. And the further one goes from commercial centres the fewer people there are who will be competent in English. There is a strong argument for at least one member from the Australian side of a trade, private commercial, aid, security or cultural relationship having a fluent knowledge of the relevant Asian language.
Second, the decline of foreign language study in Australia threatens to turn Australia into a linguistic “silo”, relatively isolated in the midst of a world in which bilingualism – even multi-lingualism – is already the norm and is becoming increasingly widespread. The governments, business executives and young people of Asia are pouring their energies into the study of foreign languages, and this energy is very far from wholly devoted to study of English. China, Korea and Japan, for example, all have universities of foreign-language studies in which the non-English languages of their Asian neighbours are popular and studied intensively.
The decline of Indonesian in Australia
There has been a steady, in some cases disastrous, decline in the teaching of Asian languages in Australian schools and tertiary institutions in recent years. Nowhere has this deterioration been more marked than in the teaching of Indonesian. A recent study commissioned by the Indonesian Embassy in Australia found that fewer students were studying Indonesian, particularly at late secondary (Year 12) and tertiary levels of education (Passmore 2009). After a steady rise in the number of enrolments in the 1980s, there was a sharp increase in the numbers of secondary school students studying Indonesian between 1991 and 2001, largely as a result of National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools (NALSAS) funding. But with the demise of the NALSAS program in 2002 the numbers of students taking Indonesian dropped by nearly 20 per cent between 2001 and 2005 (Passmore 2009:12-13). Another recent study claims that 99 per cent of Australian students studying Indonesian have discontinued their study before completing Year 12 (Kohler and Mahnken 2010:5). This is very damaging as Year 12 is a significant feeder stream for study of the language at tertiary level. While it is more difficult to quantify, the same negative trend is evident at the tertiary level with fewer students choosing to commence Indonesian language studies over the last ten years and even fewer completing a three-year degree course in the subject.
Indonesian in Australian Primary and Secondary Schools ( see table Kohler & Mahnken 2010:53)
Deterioration in the numbers of students learning Indonesian in each State is mirrored in the particular case of the ACT. Total primary and secondary school enrolments in the ACT peaked in 2000 with 5020 enrolments before a 21 per cent decline in enrolments occurred over the next four years. In the period 1999-2008, there was a 52 per cent decline in total Year 12 enrolments in ACT schools. While dramatic in absolute terms, the drop in enrolments should be seen against a 16 per cent overall decline in enrolments in Languages Other than English (LOTE) over the same period (Passmore 2009:13ff). The trend of declining interest in the Indonesian language in the ACT is all the more harmful given Canberra’s place as the nation’s pre-eminent political, public policy-making and diplomatic centre with substantial educational and applied research assets.
There is little hard data on whether the current supply of Indonesian language teachers in Australia is meeting demand (Kohler and Mahnken 2010: 29). Whether there is an under or oversupply of Indonesian teachers in different jurisdictions, the key point is that there is a diminishing pool of expertise in the teaching of Indonesian with fewer non-native teachers of the language coming through the tertiary system who possess appropriate qualifications. Another problem is the lack of a nationally recognised leadership group to provide advocacy and support to school programs and teachers. The Australian Association of Indonesian Language Educators (ASILE) is an informal, unincorporated network of teachers that, since the early 1990s, has conducted a national conference of Indonesian teachers that is organised on an ad hoc basis every two years. At the moment this is the only national “leadership group” for Indonesian language teachers (see interim ASILE web site at: http://asile.wikispaces.com/). This failing in the Indonesian teaching environment is not found in the other target NALSAS/NALSSP languages of Mandarin, Japanese and Korean which have their own support bases for language teachers.
The decline in the teaching of Indonesian in schools and university is reflected in a growing lack of awareness of Indonesia in the broader community. In spite of a gradual improvement in the commercial relationship, few Australian private sector companies seem capable of fielding in-country executives with a working command of the Indonesian language. As suggested previously a large part of the problem appears to stem from a reluctance to acknowledge the commercial advantages of being able to do business in Indonesia in Indonesian. The reality is that although Indonesian business people and officials are becoming more fluent in English, they remain a very small minority. The vast majority of Indonesians do not have a working command of English, and most do not have even an elementary command of the language.
Lack of commitment to the study of Indonesian in Australia is not exclusively a matter of ‘supply’ but also one of ‘demand’. There is evidence that the parents of some students of Indonesian at secondary school have demonstrated a highly negative attitude to their children taking up the study of Indonesian at school. This has become more pronounced since the Dili massacre in 1991 and the violence that accompanied East Timor’s secession from Indonesia in 1999. The telemovie Answered by Fire (2006) and the film Balibo (2009) were widely viewed in Australia and have contributed to the consolidation of negative attitudes. Terrorist attacks on Australians in Bali in 2003 and 2005 received, and continue to receive, very high-profile coverage in the Australian media.
The travel advisories that the Australian Government has applied to Indonesia over the last decade are now widely ignored by individual travellers, but they continue to exert pseudo-legal authority in schools and universities and have had a substantial negative impact on study visits to Indonesia by school and university students. In the ACT the travel advisory was a key factor in a decision of the Territory Government not to send a trade mission to Indonesia in 2011. The BBI ACT considers that the advisory, which advises Australians to “reconsider your need to travel” to Indonesia on security grounds, represents a serious brake on engagement with Indonesia and the economic integration envisaged in the CEPA discussions. The BBI ACT does not represent itself as expert in matters of security and counter terrorism. It notes, however, that modification of the advisory, if this could be done responsibly, might deliver significant benefits to the study of Indonesia and Indonesian in-country, to commercial relationships and people-to-people relationships generally.
A recent, decade-long, national study conducted by the University of Western Sydney has found that nearly 50% of Australians identify themselves as having anti-Muslim attitudes (“Nearly half of Australians…”) and these attitudes appear to be having especially damaging effects on interest in the study of Indonesian language and culture. These negative attitudes, which have also been extensively documented by the Lowy Institute in relation to Indonesia (see for example Cook 2009 and Cook 2006) and are reinforced by the travel advisory, work against Australia’s national interest in significant ways and need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
A Stark and Disturbing Contrast
When we compare the number of Asian students studying in Australia in an English-language environment with the number of Australian students studying in Asia in an Asian-language environment we find a disturbing contrast. It is starkly evident in the case of Indonesia, but to one degree or another it applies to all Asian countries.
In the particular case of Indonesia between 15,000 and 20,000 Indonesians have been studying in Australia in recent years, that is roughly one for every 14,000 citizens of Indonesia. By contrast, fewer than 50 Australians have been studying in Indonesia in accredited courses in an Indonesian-language environment. This amounts to about one Australian student in Indonesia for every 400,000 citizens of Australia. To make matters worse, most of the Australian students studying in Indonesia have been taking courses that are less than a year in duration, whereas most Indonesian students in Australia take programs that are a year or more in duration.
Promoting “cultural literacy” on Asian societies
School and tertiary students need to see cogent reasons for taking on languages, especially given that language study demands major investments of effort and time. Some who have made these investments have experienced bitter disappointment on discovering that their language skills were not much valued by prospective employers. There have always been some jobs in government agencies concerned with foreign relations, trade and defence, but business has shown limited interest in such skills. Businesses need to be convinced that there is a business case for emphasising Asia literacy in their recruitment alongside studies in engineering, economics, law or business management. The BBI ACT believes that there is a business case. Michael Wesley, executive director of the Lowy Institute says “…just because someone speaks to us in English doesn’t necessarily mean they see the world as we do. Relying on others who speak English, or on interpreters, brings major disadvantages: we may miss crucial nuances or differences in meaning or intent.” (Wesley 2009:6) But business leaders need to be convinced of the case to the point that they will implement the necessary changes to recruitment policies. Economic integration with Indonesia, as envisaged by the IA-CEPA, for example, calls for vastly greater Indonesian language skills both in government and business.
In the field of national security it is axiomatic that high level foreign language skills are important for independent intelligence gathering and for interactions with foreign powers at various levels. This principle should be acknowledged and applied more broadly and seen as necessary for deeper understanding of our neighbours, their cultures, stances on issues and world views in commerce and culture. This knowledge, broadly shared, has the potential to minimise or avoid conflicts that might otherwise occur through misunderstandings. An historical example is Vietnam. There is a widely held view that “The West” including Australia seriously misread the nature of the conflict in that country and that this failure stemmed in large part from a lack of familiarity with Vietnam’s history, culture and regional relationships as well as lack of language skills. By contrast much better mutual understanding with Indonesia, fostered through bilateral diplomatic and military links and good language skills, saw a peaceful outcome of the dramatic events in East Timor (now Timor Leste) in which Australia played a decisive part.
In a recent paper Dr Rod Lyon of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) canvasses several strategic options for Australia. He argues, inter alia, “Australia must think about its options for engaging a set of strategically maturing Asian countries with greater reach and influence, and must do so in a way that strikes a balance both with its alliance ties and with its policy of defence self-reliance.[…] In a power building strategy, Australia would seek to grow a Southeast Asian ‘power core’ at the heart of which would lie a much closer strategic partnership between Australia and Indonesia. […] Among the three ‘power’-related strategies, the paper argues for a much closer focus on the power building option, and suggests that it might be timely for the Australian and Indonesian governments to sit down together for a thoughtful discussion about how they see Asia’s future, and what they might do jointly to shape it”. (Lyon 2011:2-3)
In the immediate future it may be necessary to provide better incentives to students, businesses, government officers and military personnel to foster Asian language skills. Special tax breaks for business costs associated with promoting Asian literacy amongst their staff, including pay supplements recognising Asian language skills, could be considered. Such subsidies can not only offer financial rewards related to language skills but by doing so signal that such skills are important and highly valued by governments, globally focused businesses and the community.
Selling the Asia literacy story
BBI ACT has noted that the former NALSAS program produced improvements in Asia literacy but that the gains largely were dissipated following its closure in 2002 after a review. The consultants, Erebus Consulting Partners, , recommended continuing the program but with diminishing funding on the assumption that programs started with NALSAS funding should be sustained from other sources, but the program nevertheless was closed. Writing in the post- “Asian financial crisis” environment, the consultants noted that the gloss had somewhat faded on the “Asian tigers” and questioned whether or not a focus on Asia in Australian schools was justified in any event (Erebus 2002:viii).
The incoming Rudd Government established a new program, the National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program (NALSSP). This program was designed as a “once-only” stimulus to activities to address Asian literacy in Australian schools (covering Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean language and cultural studies) additional to routine state/territory and federal funding for language education over the period 2007-2011. “The aspirational target for the NALSSP is that by 2020, at least 12 percent of students will exit Year 12 with a fluency in one of the target Asian languages sufficient for engaging in trade and commerce in Asia and/or university study.” (Becoming Asia Literate 2008:2) NALSSP formally closed at the end of the 2010/2011 financial year and the government has not indicated any intention to renew or replace this program. Funding is $62 million over four years or around half the level of the previous (NALSAS) program for the same four languages and cultures – Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian and Korean. Funding applications have been competitive with around 50% of applications being funded. The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians 2008, endorsed by the federal and all state/territory ministers for education, referred to a need for “Australians’ to become ‘Asia Literate’ building strong relationships with Asia” (Melbourne Declaration 2008:2) but the theme is not further developed in this document or in the website of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). However it is understood that the Melbourne Declaration is an important milestone in the development of national curricula.
The language education component of routine Commonwealth transfers to the States and Territories are not publicly available but are understood to be (for each four years) around $180 million for government schools and $62.4 million for non-government schools. States are not required to report on expenditure of the Commonwealth-provided funds and there may be some leakage. In this context the NALSSP funding has been significant. However this level of funding offers an odd contrast with Building the Education Revolution (BER) funding of $16.2 billion including $821.8 million for “Science and Language Centres” (presumably physical infrastructure) and “National School Pride” items for which $1.28 billion has been provided. NALSSP represents around 7.5% of the former figure or 5% of the latter.
The Erebus report said that “about one quarter of schools do not teach about Asia at all, and at least the same number do so in only superficial ways. The greatest barrier to further implementation is teacher knowledge; not only about Asia itself, but also about the existence of resource material, and about how they can ‘fit in’ another subject area…These teachers see no compelling reason why studies of Asia should be given priority, and many see it as not being of relevance to them. These attitudes are reinforced by the lack of unequivocal support given by educational leaders in many jurisdictions, which has encouraged the view that studies of Asia are optional rather than a necessary part of the Australian curriculum” (Erebus 2002: Exec Sum xiv). So teachers, parents, principals and school administrations can be added to the list of people and institutions that need to be convinced about the case for raising Asia literacy.
The issue of “Asia literacy” has two components:
- Knowledge of Asia and the history, geography, and cultures of important Asian countries
- Asian languages, especially, but not only, Indonesian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean
BBI ACT considers that both cultural and language studies are important as well as closely related. In the coming more Asia-centric world all Australians will need to have at least the level of knowledge of Asian countries that generations hitherto have had of European ones. Asian language competence at all levels, especially the higher levels also need to be fostered. This calls for a major program of change. Such a program will require significant resources and crucially cannot be launched, let alone achieve its objectives without broad and deep support. As Wesley says “All elements of Asian languages education must be integrated into a coordinated national plan that has bipartisan agreement among the federal and State and Territory governments.…An essential element of an integrated national strategy must be a sustained public awareness campaign designed to build public acceptance that proficiency in Asian languages is as basic to Australians’ future skills needs as literacy, numeracy, or informational technology skills.” (Wesley 2009: 12) These comments reflect both “supply” and “demand” side issues which are mentioned in other reports including Kohler and Mahnken 2010.
Our Children’s Future in Asia
The challenge of Asia literacy is now urgent. A child who starts Indonesian in lower primary school now will emerge into the workforce around 2030. By that time some estimates see the Indonesian economy as one of the top ten in the world (Hawksworth 2006:16). It will have become a powerful neighbour and a huge market. If the IA-CEPA has been effective, cross border trade and investment between Australia and Indonesia will by then have grown substantially and the need for cross border communication skills and mutual understanding will have grown commensurately. And by 2050, Indonesia will, on these reckonings, be the 8th biggest economy in the world with GDP of US$6.2 trillion based on a GDP (PPP) growth rate of 5.8%.
But neither a sense of urgency about Asia literacy nor about the emerging significance of Indonesia is yet shared across the community or even within the major stakeholder groups: students, parents, teachers, education administrators, politicians and business to mention a few.
There exists, however, a significant number of individuals within all the stakeholder groups who are seized with the importance of Asia literacy. Many of these have felt frustrated as successive reports recommend action but little if any action follows, or if it does, it is not sustained (e.g. NALSAS and NALSSP). The formation of the Asia Education Foundation, Australian Business Alliance for Asia Literacy, and Parents Understanding Asia Literacy provide some focus for these “champions” of Asia literacy but a broader coalition of interests is needed including strong political leadership that is bipartisan at both federal and state/territory levels.
It is important that the direct players in future Asia literacy plans – parents of schoolchildren, school children and tertiary students, teachers, school principals and administrators – understand the broader policy but also derive real benefits from participation in programs; for example:
- For parents: assurance that employment prospects for their children will be enhanced by Asia literacy
- For teachers: that they can confidently pursue careers as specialist language teachers and enjoy pay loadings for language teaching skills
- For students: that there are identifiable job opportunities and a competitive advantage in selection from having Asian language skills (possibly also pay loadings)
- For employers: that Asia literacy skills (linguistic and cultural) of prospective employees are relevant to their needs
A program of broad consultation across jurisdictions and peak industry and professional bodies will be required to develop programs that can deliver these benefits. Proactive attitudes and action on the part of governments and business will be required.
Michael Wesley says “As China’s and India’s influence spreads, and Japan and Indonesia become major players, our region will increasingly conduct its business in the languages of the big Asian powers, and be shaped by their mind-sets and preferences.[…] At the core of our continued national prosperity and security as a global nation must be a capacity to understand and operate in languages, cultures and mindsets other than our own”. (Wesley 2009:4)
The languages selected for support through NALSSP – Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean should continue to be the primary focus with additional languages added over time. BBI ACT considers that Indonesian deserves and requires a special status because:
- Indonesia is our nearest Asian neighbour and by its very proximity, offers unique opportunities for engagement in trade and investment, security, tourism and people-to-people partnerships and exchanges
- Support for the study of Indonesian language lacks specific institutional support.
- Australia has the opportunity to establish a world centre of study of Indonesian language and culture (complementing an already established reputation in the study of Indonesian politics and the economy)
A National Asian Languages Institute as a focal point
BBI ACT supports the broad concept put forward by Wesley of forming a National Asian Languages Institute in the following terms:
”It should be based in Canberra and establish collaborative relationships with all federal and State Education Departments as well as with all schools, colleges and universities participating in the Australian Strategy for Asian Language Proficiency.” (Wesley 2009:12)
One factor in the decline of Indonesian language competence in Australia is the organisational fragmentation of Asian language tuition. To put it bluntly, it is easy to “pick off” and overlook programs of study that are small and dispersed. For example, most Indonesian language tuition programs in universities and schools across Australia consist of just one or two instructors, which makes them vulnerable even when student numbers are viable. A well-funded, prestigious central body would go a long way towards addressing this problem. In Japan, Korea and China, prestigious universities of foreign language studies have played, and continue to play, a vital role in driving dynamic trade performance and cultural outreach of these countries. It should be possible for Australia to learn a lesson from the success of these institutions.
BBI ACT considers that the Institute should comprise two distinct but closely related functions, viz:
- As the central point for policy coordination and program implementation of a national scheme for the teaching of Asian languages as recommended by Wesley
- As a national research and teaching body for Asian languages
Policy coordination and program implementation
The Institute would:
- Be the central body charged with allocating funding and resources for the teaching of target languages and related studies across Australia
- Ensure the co-ordination of all elements and successive phases of an Australian Strategy for Asian Language Proficiency
- Continuously review the implementation of the Strategy in participating schools, colleges and universities to ensure that the standards set by the national curriculum are being met
- Through language-specific Action Groups, visit schools to help “problem solve” issues on the ground, link teachers with supportive resources and other language teachers/associations, and keep teachers up to date with professional development funds and opportunities to improve their practice and opportunities to support each other’s practice
The Institute should be headed by a Board comprising prominent and influential individuals from all stakeholder sectors encompassing government (federal and state), defence and intelligence, peak business and professional bodies the university sector, schools and the general public.
Teaching of Asian languages and related research
The BBI ACT believes a National Asian Languages Institute should, in addition to its role of being a focal point and driver of a national program, be a prestigious degree-conferring body with the following main functions:
- to teach the major Asian languages intensively to an advanced level of mastery, developing credit-transfer arrangements and collaborative tuition with existing Asian language tuition programs, especially “endangered” tuition programs; and to teach, or sponsor, courses in “minor” Asian languages not taught elsewhere in Australia
- to conduct research on the methodology of teaching, and the special problems of learning Asian languages develop and publish tuition material that are innovative, diverse and easily accessible and conduct advanced level training of Asian language teachers to develop, or sponsor, programs of study in ancillary disciplines that feed into the successful mastery of Asian languages, for example the history, geography, religions and arts of Asian nations;
- to promote the study of Asian languages through public education and mass media campaigns, especially by working with media personalities, parents, social organisations and government agencies;
- to develop a program of intensive residential schools for tertiary and school-level students, for people with specialist needs in Asian language study (the business community, aid workers, medical workers etc.) and for the general public;
- to develop and/or coordinate tuition programs delivered on-line and quickly integrate the newest developments in technology into Asian language tuition;
- to train translators and interpreters in a variety of genres and vocational contexts, especially business, security/intelligence and cultural pursuits;
- to nurture close relationships with institutions in Asian countries and develop programs of in-country tuition closely integrated into the Institute’s programs;
- to become a world centre for the study of Asian languages, admitting foreign students to its programs, encouraging joint programs of research and teaching with foreign teachers and institutions, and contributing to the teaching of Asian languages in other countries.
Recommendations specifically concerning Indonesian
The BBI ACT recommends that a National Asian Languages Institute:
- provide an early policy response to the recommendations outlined in Kohler and Mahnken’s report The Current State of Indonesian Language education in Australian Schools;
- set a target of achieving at least one in five enrolments in an Asian language, including Indonesian, among students enrolled in the four NALSSP languages at Year 12 level by the year 2020 (currently the level is one in 10, according to Kohler and Mahnken);
- support development of professional standards and best practice guidelines for teachers of Indonesian, for instance, through the Australian Society of Indonesian Language Educators (ASILE);
- revive a summer studies program focussed on Indonesian. One possible model for such a program is the Southeast Asia Summer Studies Institute conducted annually in the United States by a consortium of universities (see: http://seassi.wisc.edu );
- support initiatives to ensure sufficient resources to assist parents of students studying Indonesian;
- incorporate the study of Indonesian Islam into the Indonesian language curriculum as a way of addressing damaging stereotypes within the Australian community about the role of Islam in Indonesian society and cultural life.
The BBI ACT also recommends that Australian Government employees posted to Indonesia be required to attain a minimum competency standard in the Indonesian language, recognised by an appropriate professional body, before taking up their positions in Indonesia.
Conclusion: Renewing a national commitment to Asia-literacy
Many reports and studies over the last two decades, some of which are cited in this Submission, have urged the government and the Australian community to focus more attention and funds on improving what is widely called “Asia literacy” in our country.
In an address to Australian students in Jakarta on 9 January this year, Australia’s Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd called for a new generation of Indonesia experts to rise to the opportunity represented by the emergence of our northern neighbour as a lively democracy with a strong economy. Mr. Rudd said: “We need a new cadre in Australia of Australian Indonesianists who understand this country comprehensively. My generation has been lazy on Indonesia. Your generation has no alternative but to be energetic on Indonesia.” (“Need for Indonesia Experts…”) Mr. Rudd pointed out that “If you look at the basic economic projections of where this country [Indonesia] will end up by 2050, you’ll find Indonesia will be one of the world’s top 10 economies [and] it will probably be the world’s fifth most populous country. So you’re in the middle of something very big that’s happening.”
The Balai Bahasa Indonesia (ACT) strongly endorses Mr. Rudd’s view and the need for Government leadership to foster Asia-literacy in the Australian community.
AIBC Position on Live Cattle Exports to Indonesia Submission by the Australia Indonesia Business Council to the Independent Livestock Export Review, 19 July 2011.
Becoming Asia Literate: Implementation arrangements for the National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, November-December, 2008.
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Earl, G. 2011 “Valuable lessons in learning an Asian language” Australian Financial Review, 15 December.
Erebus 2002 Evaluation of the National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools Strategy A Report to the Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training. Erebus Consulting Partners, January.
Hawksworth, John 2006 The World in 2050: How big will the major emerging market economies get and how can the OECD compete? Pricewaterhouse Coopers, March.
Kohler, M and Mahnken, P. 2010, The Current State of Indonesian Language Education in Australian Schools, Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
Lane B. 2012 “Need for Indonesia Experts” The Australian 18 January, p.35.
Low, Andrew. 2012 “Learning more about Asia is smarter than lamenting the language gap”. Sydney Morning Herald, 30 January, p.9.
Lyon, Rod. 2011 Forks in the river: Australia’s strategic options in a transformational Asia. Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Available at: http://www.aspi.org.au/publications/publications_all.aspx
Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, December 2008.
Miller G. 2011 “Asia literacy: Is there a jobs pay-off?”, The Interpreter, at www.lowyinterpreter.org/?d=D – Asian Languages in Australia, 31 October.
“Nearly half of Australians are anti-Muslim: study” ABC News, February 23, 2011. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-02-23/nearly-half-of-australians-are-anti-muslim-study/1954194 (accessed February 13, 2012)
“Need for Indonesia Experts” The Australian 18 January 2012, p.35.
Passmore, H. 2009 The National Interest and the Decline and Fall of Indonesian Language Learning in Australia, Australian National Internships Program.
Wesley, Michael. 2009 Building an Asia-Literate Australia: An Australian Strategy for Asian Language Proficiency Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University. Available at: http://www.griffith.edu.au/business-commerce/griffith-asia-institute/publications/australian-strategy-asian-language-proficiency