The Study of Bahasa Indonesia in Western Australia FSU
in the Limelight
Vol. 7, No. 1
Feb 2000

The Study of Bahasa Indonesia in Western Australia

Natasha Kepert

I apologise for the informal and "un-scholarly" style of this essay. I was invited to write an article for this journal by Raras Kusuma, who teaches at the University and who has been my "email-pal" for several months. I hope this topic may be of interest to language teachers in Indonesia.

The study of Bahasa Indonesia is becoming more and more popular in Western Australian schools. There are a few factors contributing to this. Firstly, the Education Department of Western Australia (EDWA) is currently implementing a policy, "LOTE 2000", which aims to greatly increase the number of school students studying a foreign language. There are 12 languages which EDWA is promoting, but it is up to individual schools to decide which foreign language or languages they will offer. Bahasa Indonesia has proved a popular choice for many reasons. It is perceived as being a language which is "easy to learn", as it uses the Roman script, and is written phonetically. (I think it's quite easy in the early stages but a lot harder later on!) Apart from that, Australians are beginning to perceive the necessity of stronger ties with Indonesia. We are a nation of only 18 million people - Indonesia has over 200 million. In the last few months the number of articles about Indonesia in the Australian media has greatly increased. The events in East Timor and the monetary crisis are strong reasons for this, but there is now so much coverage that many newspapers have moved Indonesian news out of the tiny space it used to occupy on the "world news" pages, and are now giving whole pages over to events and politics in Indonesia. There are increasing business links between the two countries, and each year many thousands of Indonesian students come to study in Australia, particularly in Western Australia.

Indonesian is the fastest growing language in our schools, in terms of the number of students studying it. In 1994, less than 50 schools offered Indonesian as a subject choice. Only three years later, in 1997, the number of schools offering Indonesian had almost tripled. Last year, Indonesian was studied by 30,351 WA school students (in Government schools). It is now second only to Italian, which had 33,741 students last year (remember that Australia has many people of Italian descent living here). Indonesian now has more students than Japanese or French, the next two most popular languages.

The Education Department is pushing for big cultural changes with its LOTE 2000 strategy. Traditionally, few students have chosen to study languages at school. Partly this has been because many schools have not offered languages as a school subject, and partly it is because languages are often seen as being of less use, and less practical than subjects such as maths and science. In addition, those students who have chosen to study languages have often been at quite a disadvantage in their final Year 12 exams. In some languages, there are situations where native speakers compete for marks with students who are learning the language as a second language. (This was the case for me in high school when I was studying German). This can be very discouraging for students who want to learn a second language, but who need high exam marks for university entrance. I was a good student in most other subjects, but how could I compete with students who already spoke the language fluently? (In German, as many as 30% of high school students taking TEE exams are defined as "background speakers". Especially when total numbers of students doing languages are very small - there were only 7 students in my year doing TEE German at my high school - non-background speakers are at a major disadvantage, marks-wise. Like many other students faced with the reality of needing good exam marks, I dropped out of German. EDWA is seeking solutions to this particular problem - I will discuss this in more detail later in the essay.

The LOTE 2000 Strategy aims to dramatically increase the number of students studying languages. The original aim of the policy was to have all students in Government schools in WA, in grades 3-10 (or ages roughly 7-15) studying LOTE, or a Language Other Than English, by the Year 2000. Other educational policies have since taken precedence, and the full implementation has been postponed until the year 2003. However, this year (2000) is the first year ever, in which all primary school children in grades 3-7 will have the opportunity to study a second language. In the new "Curriculum Framework" plan for West Australian schools - which applies to both government and private schools - all students must take subjects in 8 distinct learning areas. One of these areas is LOTE. The deadline for full implementation of the Curriculum Framework is 2005, so theoretically by the year 2005 all West Australian students in grades 3 - 10 will be studying a second language.

There have been a few problems with implementing the policy. One is the shortage of qualified language teachers - language teachers are now the most in-demand teachers of all teaching graduates. Fortunately for me and my fellow students, some schools are now offering very generous packages to attract Indonesian teachers. I know one teacher at a private school who does a 2 week language refresher course every year in Bali, at the school's expense. Others are able to travel to Indonesia accompanying school trips, thus being paid while they travel. Friends of mine who are beginning teaching this year are starting at very desirable schools (private city schools and government schools in cities and large towns, while other teaching graduates often end up in small and isolated country towns.) It will be interesting to see how the politics of teaching change over time. At the moment, there is an ideal situation for a beginning teacher. There are so many jobs that other Indonesian teachers are extremely generous with resources and ideas, and as a student teacher I have been welcomed into informal networks of Indonesian teachers. It would be lovely if this situation continues when the employment situation becomes more competitive!

EDWA is certainly putting money behind the LOTE 2000 policy - in the first 5 years of the project (1995 to 1997), it put in $14 million AUD, or around $56 for every government school student in Western Australia. There are grants available for LOTE teachers to buy resources, especially computer software. EDWA is running training courses so that already qualified teachers can gain qualifications in Indonesian through taking courses on weekends and in school holidays. There is great demand for teachers with any Indonesian language competency; many Indonesian teachers did not study Indonesian at university level. I myself was accepted into an education qualification at university and allowed to take Indonesian as one of my teaching areas, even though I have only studied Indonesian at TAFE (adult night school). The Education Department is also offering heavily subsidised package trips to Indonesia to study at language schools, and other incentives for teachers to upgrade their competency in Indonesian as quickly as possible.

One new challenge for teachers is adapting to a situation where all students now have to study a foreign language, whether they are interested or not. Up until now language teachers have had a very privileged position, in that students who have studied languages have normally chosen to do so, as a subject option. The students in the past tended to be very interested and motivated - languages do not tend to attract students looking for an easy class where they can socialise or mess around. Now we have the situation where ALL children have to study a language, some teachers are having a very hard time. At the school where I did one of my practicums, and Indonesian was compulsory for all Year 8 students, the Indonesian teacher confessed to me that he had a very hard time getting the students motivated to do any work. I spoke to some of the students who quite openly said that they did not see Indonesian as important, and liked to mess around in that class. We expect the next few years to be a little difficult, as LOTE is gradually made compulsory in high schools. Many parents and students think that time would be better spent on other subject areas - and our students will all have older brothers and sisters who never had to learn a language, and don't see the point. Another difficulty is co-ordinating language programs between primary and high schools. Often, students move to high school and find that they cannot continue with the language they studied at primary level (especially if they go to a school in a different district, for example a special-entry high school). It will be a few years yet before the transition between primary school and high school language studies is seamless. My university tutor is a Japanese teacher at a private school. Last year, her Year 8 Japanese classes were very mixed - half the students having already completed several years of studying Japanese, while the other half had never studied Japanese at all. Education policies here are also moving towards a situation where the teacher is supposed to be able to teach children of very different ability levels in the same class. I think that the introduction of compulsory LOTE may really put this idea to the test.

One recent innovation in WA is offering upper school Indonesian (Year 11 and 12) in a range of different courses to suit different abilities. TEE Indonesian (TEE courses lead to marks for university entrance) is now offered in two streams - Indonesian as a Second Language, and Indonesian (Advanced). The Advanced course is intended for native or background speakers, and develops the students' skills in Indonesian-English and English-Indonesian translation. A non-TEE stream is also offered, Indonesian (Beginners), for those who wish to study a language but without having the subject count towards university entrance marks. In practice, very few schools offer all these options. The number of teachers who are so fluent in both Indonesian and English, that they can supervise native speakers in translation work, is indeed small! Only one Government school, Tuart College, offers Indonesian (Advanced), although there are nine private schools that do so. There is expected to be a large increase in students taking Indonesian (Advanced) in June this year. A new school, Bina Nusantara, which is located in Jakarta but which follows the West Australian curriculum, will begin offering this course in June. Last year, only 112 students in the whole state sat the TEE Indonesian (Second Language) exam, and 72 the TEE Indonesian (Advanced) exam. Hopefully these numbers will increase dramatically as more students are encouraged to study Indonesian in primary school and lower high school.

What does this mean for Indonesia and Indonesians? Hopefully, West Australians will begin develop a greater appreciation of Indonesian language and culture. We are not alone in this - other Australian states, notably the Northern Territory, are also placing a strong emphasis on Indonesian in their LOTE courses. Hopefully, Australians will gradually lose their inhibitions about learning any other language than English. It is a source of embarrassment to me that the Indonesians I know can generally speak Bahasa, the language of their local area (eg. Javanese or Sundanese), plus English. Meanwhile we struggle along learning our basic Indonesian!

For English language teachers living in Indonesia, there are many opportunities which can be taken advantage of. Australians are keen to experience Indonesian language and culture in Indonesia, opening the door for cross-cultural exchanges and visits, of teachers and students. There are also schools which have set up e-pal exchanges (via email) between Australian and Indonesian schools. (see references below). Even if students do not have the fluency to write to each other individually, schools which are matched up can exchange letters (written as groups), photos, pictures and other information which helps bring the subject to life. Language becomes alive, and has a real purpose. Especially in the current transition stage, where every day we are faced with students who say, "why do we have to do this?", teachers are keen to make language study as interesting and motivating as possible.

In Australia, material in Bahasa Indonesia is not easy to find, except in a few specialist bookshops. On TV, the only offering in Indonesian is the daily Siaran Berita on SBS, and there are a few hours of Indonesian broadcasting on radio each week. I imagine Indonesians have it easier when studying English. You must be swamped by English-language material ! This is another reason why Australian language teachers are eager to make links with teachers within Indonesia. It can be difficult for us to gain access to authentic and up-to-date materials, especially ones which are suited to younger age groups.

I hope that this has given you some idea on developments in Western Australia. So - if you are at all interested in making contact with Australian language teachers, check out some of the sites below!

Note: LOTE = Languages Other Than English.


Education Department of WA website - LOTE


Thanks to Moya McLachlan (Education Department of WA) and Clare Busing (Curriculum Council of WA) for their assistance with this article.


Websites to look at if you are interested in e-mail penpal exchanges:

IndoLinx Email Club. Australia - Indonesia Connections.
This site has rules and guidelines for email exchanges, and appears to have plenty of technical help available too.

Ask Asia E-Pals
This site claims to be the world's largest "e-pals" set up. You can register individually, as a school, or as a class. You can request epals to your specifications. The site seems to explain things very well, and it is a free service to use.

Malang Email Exchange
This site shows an example of an email group (a link between two schools) between a school in Tasmania, and a school in Malang. The site shows student work, photographs, letters and details on how to set up a "key-pal" exchange program.

Natasha Kepert, BA (UWA) is currently studying a Diploma of Education (Secondary) at Curtin University, in order to become an English and Indonesian teacher.

[Home] [Current issue] [Archives] [Staffs] [Submission]