Teachers make Indonesian connections

Wellington High School teacher Mike Kingston was among a group of New Zealand teachers who participated in Asia New Zealand Foundation’s Indonesia Cultural Connections programme in April 2015. The programme is organised by the Foundation in collaboration with the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies. Wellington High school has an exchange relationship with Al Azhar Islamic School in Jakarta, but it was Kingston’s first visit to Indonesia.

The group held workshops with teachers at the schools they visited to discuss how they could collaborate in the future

The key focus of the trip was building collaboration with Indonesian schools. To this end we visited a range of schools in Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Bali. These schools reflected both the pluralistic nature of Indonesian society and the huge socio-economic differences between regions. Some of the private schools we visited in affluent suburbs of Jakarta were better resourced than many in New Zealand, while some we visited in Bali and in rural Yogyakarta...were not.

Our itineraries varied from school to school. We were twice treated to gamelan performances, which is traditional ensemble music of Indonesia with musicians playing mostly percussive instruments like drums, called kendang, and metallophones - tuned metal bars that are struck with a mallet. At one of these performances we were invited to participate, and did so with pleasure.

In a school in Bali we sat with students and were shown the basics of batik - creating traditional Indonesian designs using heated ink.

A particular highlight was a conference organised in Jakarta with the assistance of the West Jakarta Google group. This event brought together tech-savvy teachers from well-resourced schools with an interest in online collaborations. Several collaborations were planned at this event, and it was exciting to see technology being used in this way.

At the workshop, I collaborated with teachers from Springfield School on a project that will see Wellington High School students learn a little about Indonesian culture, and then make a 'promotional video' of Wellington and our school and send this to the students in Jakarta. They will do the same at their end. We will also endeavour to connect the students directly and establish a pen-pal type arrangement.

Another important aspect of the trip was simply the opportunity to learn about Indonesia. In this we were fortunate to have on hand Associate Professor David Reeve, an entertaining raconteur, and local organiser extraordinaire Dimas Rezki Adiputra, both of the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies (ACICIS).

This meant our experience in Indonesia went far beyond tourism, as we were able to learn in depth about the places we visited and Indonesian history and culture in general. Like New Zealand, colonialism has played an important part in shaping the modern nation state; unlike New Zealand, there are over 700 living languages and 8000 named islands.

One of the most memorable nights was spent in a home stay in a small town at the base of Mt Merapi, a highly active volcano which last erupted as recently as 2010, killing 153 people. As a Wellingtonian, I am somewhat familiar with the idea of imminent disaster but visiting the destroyed remnants of villages in the area was a sobering experience.

Indonesia is a vibrant, young and increasingly powerful country that looks set to play a significant role on the global stage. I look forward to providing our students with opportunities to engage with one of our closest neighbours on our large and watery doorstep.