Literacy and Foreign Language Learning in Australia

Literacy and Foreign Language Learning in Australia

The literacy movement in Indonesia cannot be separated from the history of the independence of the Republic of Indonesia. Literacy was so important to the fathers of the nation, that although Indonesia had just become independent and still faced many challenges, on March 14, 1948, President Sukarno enthusiastically launched the eradication program. illiteracy (PBH).

Bung Karno drew an analogy with the PBH program with the struggle for independence. He said, “Not only have we won on the battlefield, but also by eradicating our illiteracy. Bung Karno immediately became the first teacher of the PBH program. The initial meaning of literacy is the ability to read and write. But this meaning has evolved and developed with the advancement of time and technology. Literacy covers various areas of life. According to the Oxford Dictionary (2018), “Literacy is (1) the ability to read and write, but also (2) skill and knowledge in a specified area.”

This means not only the ability to read and write, but also skills and knowledge in certain areas. We therefore know the 6 literacy bases of UNESCO; literacy, numeracy, digital, scientific, financial and cultural literacy. The literacy that we master in our mother tongue is an important basis when learning a foreign language. It’s because learning a new language uses the skills you have acquired by learning to read and write in your native language. It will be easier for you to learn a foreign language if you know your first language well.

For example, a person who can read and write in Indonesian when learning English, for example, will immediately realize that English is a non-phonetic language. On the other hand, a native English speaker, when learning Indonesian, will realize that there is no word change due to the time difference in Indonesian.

Indonesian in Australia

Indonesian in Australia was first taught at university level at the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne in 1955, and was followed by several other universities when the Asian Studies program was promoted to the 1960s and 1970s. Universities began to open majors in Chinese studies, Japanese, Indonesian and other Asian languages ​​followed. Before that, popular foreign languages ​​in Australia were European languages ​​such as French and German.

Amid the popularity of the Asian Studies program, I came to Australia in 1977 when I was accepted to teach Indonesian language and literature at Monash University in Melbourne. At the same time, secondary schools have started teaching Asian languages, including Indonesian.

The teaching of the Indonesian language developed rapidly and reached its peak in the 1990s. At that time, Indonesian was taught in many schools, from primary to high school. Many schools in Australia have sister schoolsher in Indonesia. Indonesian language teachers are subsidized by the Australian government to improve their proficiency in the Indonesian language at Indonesian universities. Several times in the 1990s, I joined a group of Indonesian language teachers from Victoria State in the Indonesian Language and Culture Program at UGM Yogyakarta.

Since the end of the 90s, the situation started to change. The number of Indonesian language enthusiasts in schools and universities has started to decline. As a result, some schools have been forced to close their Indonesian language program. Even in 2021, La Trobe University in Melbourne closed its Indonesian Studies program. Many factors have led to a reduced interest in teaching Indonesian, such as the currency crisis (1998), the Bali bombings (2002), the execution of two members of the Bali Nine (2015) and a decline general interest in foreign languages. In addition, there is also competition from other foreign languages.

VSL and digital literacy

For many years until my retirement a few years ago, I taught at the Victorian School of Languages ​​(VSL) based in Melbourne, the capital of the state of Victoria. VSL is a public / public school, but it also accepts students from private schools as classes take place outside of regular school hours. VSL offers two forms of learning, namely: face to face (face to face) and distance education (long distance).

Face-to-face teaching takes place on Saturday mornings or on weekday afternoons / evenings. In 2020, there are approximately 13,000 students in face-to-face VSL classes. There are over 50 languages ​​on offer, ranging from familiar languages ​​like German, French, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, to languages ​​that are rarely heard like Amharic (Ethiopia), dari (Afghanistan), Telugu (South India), Karen (Myanmar) and many more. As a host country for immigrants, Australia ensures the preservation of culture, especially the language of immigrants, as evidenced by the different languages ​​taught at VSL.

Distance education offers 6 European languages ​​(French, German, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Latin) and 7 Asian languages ​​(Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Arabic, Vietnamese, Hindi, Punjabi) with student levels of the 7th at grade 12 or SMP and SMA levels according to the Indonesian system. Some language departments also accept pupils from the 5th and 6th years of primary school. In 2020, there will be 1,400 distance education students.

Digital literacy skills are formed and familiar through these distance courses as students access learning materials online. They must download (To download) the lesson work to do and after you finish working on it you need to download it (Download) to send to the teacher. Then the teacher returns the student’s work which has also been verified online. These tasks are assigned weekly (weekly work set).

Oral lessons (oral lesson) takes place once a week or every two weeks by telephone between students and teachers for 15 to 20 minutes. Several times a year there are one-day seminars where all students attend to meet their teachers face to face. During this pandemic, seminars are replaced by webinars. As in other public schools, students will eventually finish their studies and take the final exam of the VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education), a kind of ebtanas (now UN) in Indonesia.

Literacy allows children to develop their capacities in certain areas. Basic literacy, reading and writing in the first language is a useful foundation for learning a foreign language. On the importance of literacy, here are the words of Charlie Carroll, writer, musician and teacher, “Literacy can give our children the most important thing: the ability to become adults and to have the whole world at their disposal. The child who can speak, write well, and read well is the child who can come out into the world with the skills to be successful and happy. “


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