Failing on Asian languages

The problem is bigger and begins earlier than unis cancelling courses

Last month La Trobe U announced it would teach-out Indonesian (CMM April 13) and the Asian Studies Association estimates only 12 unis still offer the language of our largest near-neighbour (CMM April 14).

In contrast, last December Monash U became the first foreign university to be a licensed HE provider in Indonesia, PG classes start at its campus there in October (CMM April 6).

But for Monash and any uni that follows, success will depend on Indonesians speaking English, because ever-fewer Australians will speak Bahasa Indonesia.

The problem starts before undergraduates having nowhere to learn the language. The number of secondary students studying Indonesian falls off “a metaphoric cliff” according to Hamish Curry, ED of the Asia Education Foundation at Uni Melbourne. It’s down by half over a decade, “with classes potentially in danger of disappearing completely in many schools,” he warns.

The problem, Mr Curry warns, is a broader failure of Asia-literacy, which “is about more than language, it is about developing our mindsets and skillsets across intercultural learning. It’s about ensuring we have a wealth of perspectives and greater sophistication in Asian studies.”

Which is something that clearly did not happen following the Asia-language focus of the early ‘90s.

Mr Curry warns against siloing Asian studies into school language curriculums, “we are again watering down the potential richness and diversity in how teachers and students can discover connections and insights.”