When I was in my final year of uni (in 2006, if you must know) the Indonesian language program was cancelled at my campus. I was attending Monash University, Churchill, a country campus in Victoria an hour from my little country town. Years later, Asian Studies in Australian universities are still under threat, and I would argue that this is a problem not just for Indonesian language and culture teachers like me, but all of us.
Obviously, I have a dog in this fight. If students can’t go on to study Asian languages at uni, they’re less likely to study in Year 11 and 12, and schools are less likely to offer it at junior levels. On a personal note, Indonesia is a beautiful country, with a fascinating culture, and a vast majority of lovely, kind, people. But it’s not just that. Asia is our neighbour. And, we’re a multicultural country with many Asian-Australian citizens – many of whom can trace their families history in Australia back to the goldfields. Taking an interest in the cultures and languages of Asia benefits us all.
Do I think it’s more important to learn an Asian language than Italian or French? Not at all. I think learning any language is valuable. But I don’t think learning an Asian language is less important than learning other languages (you would not believe how many colleagues told me it was during my time in the classroom).
If you’re a teacher of an Asian language, hang it there. Keep teaching with innovation. Keep engaging young people, so that they want to keep showing up in your classroom and so they see the worth of what they’re learning. If you’re not a language teacher, support your language teaching colleagues. Language-teaching is a tough gig. The last thing language teachers need is for their co-workers to suggest their program be dropped (yep, happened to me in a staff meeting), or that it would be better to learn Spanish because Dora the Explorer is popular (yep, that too. Spanish is a wonderful language – Dora the Explorer is not a valid reason to learn it).
If you’re interested in what’s happening in universities around the country, check out these links: