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A survey conducted by Australia-Indonesia Youth Association (AIYA) earlier this year identified that 40 percent of employers in Australia did not value Indonesian studies.
Indonesian literacy is also less appreciated by employers. In fact, some Australian universities have also ended their Indonesian language studies because of a lack of students.
Curtin, Griffith and Queensland University of Technology have all closed courses and it will not be surprising if other universities will follow suit. Why does it happen? We want to know whether they think Indonesian courses are not important nowadays. Is that really the issue? If yes, what can be done to overcome this problem?
Some years ago, I asked one of my Australian friends who studied Indonesian history for her master’s degree at The University of Queensland, “Why did you choose to study Indonesian?” she answered, “I love languages, and I have studied the Indonesian language together with other languages. I see Indonesia as an important country, so, why not?”
She emphasized two key points — language and Indonesia’s strategic position. In terms of the number of people who speak and understand the language, we can courageously say that Indonesian is a major language in the world.
Australia is Indonesia’s largest neighboring country that has western backgrounds. As such, the existence of Indonesian studies can be seen as representative of the Australian’s acceptance to the importance of Indonesia.
Indonesian Students Association in Australia (PPIA) Western Australia organized the Indonesian Speech Contest 2012 that invited Australian students from high schools and universities as participants.
Some of the students said one of main reasons why Australian students are reluctant to study Indonesian is simply about a lack of job and business opportunities compared to those offered to graduates who master German and Spanish.
Is it really a problem?
I believe that the Indonesian language should be enthusiastically promoted to the world because we want to share our culture and knowledge. Hence, we also need to learn other languages.
However, I also believe that we Indonesians need to work harder to prove that we have something to share. It is good to deliver the message that we have a rich culture as well as a history of being a peaceful and tolerant country. However, we do need to prove that we can be a center of growth as well as a peaceful country nowadays.
The Youth Pledge of 1928 has given us a valuable lesson to learn even today. In my perspective, to declare that Indonesia, even before its proclamation of independence, should have a uniting language is a great achievement.
The language unites us as a nation and I am always proud to see that from Aceh to Papua, people speak and understand this language.
We do, however, need to evaluate ourselves first. Have we used our language correctly and do we see it as part of our national identity?
I have to explain our language to my Australian friends who are confused with ubiquitous Indonesian slang used on Indonesian television. In a broader view, we also need to build our own confidence in our language.
From a long-term perspective, we need to reach an objective to become a center of economic growth. Many foreign researchers are optimistic about the future of Indonesia, while we have less confidence in that regard. This may be related to the fact that we fail to see the bigger picture in our routine experiences.
In the short term, we need to enhance our diplomatic skills. Here we are inferior. For example, sometimes we are too naive to focus on economic issues, while we know that other issues can have a significant impact on both countries. We witness the Australian government, indeed, sacrificing their economy in response to violation of animal rights in Indonesia’s abattoirs.
There are many Indonesian students in Australia (around 18,000 students), but we do not know the number of Australian students in Indonesia. There are some well-known scholarships awarded by the Australian government for Indonesian students every year, but many of us do not know how many Australian students decide to go to Indonesia every year.
I look forward to seeing my dream; that many young Australian lecturers choose to spend some time in Indonesian universities to teach or for publishing joint research, come true.
In addition, I believe that we can lure more Australians to learn the Indonesian language. For example, Indonesian diplomats can work together with Indonesian students. An initiative from PPIA Western Australia is a good example.
Despite their busy schedules, Indonesian students help campaign the language, which is therefore an asset to the promotion of Indonesia and its culture.
Another alternative is to simply ignore the phenomenon of the decline of Australian students who choose to study the Indonesian language. In a free market, the demand will be high if Indonesia’s economy grows.
Let us contemplate our gratitude to Australia for its quick response to the Aceh and Sumatra earthquakes, as well as our condolences to victims of the tragedy in Bali 10 years ago, we simply have a mutual need to develop a stronger relationship in the near future. In line with this viewpoint, language, indeed, does matter.
The writer, a doctoral candidate at UWA Business School in Perth, Australia, is a lecturer in the school of management at Andalas University, Padang.