Program aims to bridge differences
Not many students can boast they are playing a role in developing international relations with our geographic neighbours.
But at Mullumbimby High School this is the outcome of a groundbreaking project aimed at connecting schools in Indonesia and Australia.
Mullumbimby High is one of 46 Australian schools involved in the online Bridge project - Building Relationships through Intercultural Dialogue and Growing Engagement.
However Mullumbimby has now made the cyber relationship tactile with the arrival in March of five students from SMAN 5 Mataram, in Lombok, Indonesia, for a two-week exchange.
The exchange follows on from a live link-up in February with the Lombok school that was attended in Indonesia by Australian Ambassador Greg Moriarty and the Australia-Indonesia Institute Board.
Mullumbimby school principal Ian Graham said although the school had been teaching Indonesian language for many years, the Bridge project added a deeper dimension to the study.
"School education needs to equip our young people to resolve global issues and in particular, breakdown stereotypes," Mr Graham said.
"To do this we need to work with our closest neighbours, speak each other's languages, understand our similarities and differences. BRIDGE aims to go beyond the classroom into communities and families, developing long-lasting connections."
As part of the project, the web and videoconferencing facilities at SMAN 5 Mataram were being upgraded to improve links between the schools, he said.
There was also a web page the students use to chat with each other.
The February link-up gained media attention with a story running in the Indonesian daily newspaper, The Jakarta Post.
Mullumbimby's Indonesian teacher Linda Keyte said the Indonesian students asked five questions of their Australian counterparts.
"When they asked what we did to celebrate our national day, you could hear the 'ooohs' from the Indonesian audience when the Mullumbimby students said, 'we go to the beach and have a BBQ'," Ms Keyte said.
She said the Mullumbimby students were also very excited to be in a link-up with the Australian ambassador, who came on screen to say thanks.
The BRIDGE teachers represent a broad range of communities including remote and disadvantaged schools in Indonesia, rural and city schools across Australia, and religious and government schools in both countries.
Nine of the Indonesian schools are part of the Australian Government's Basic Education Program.
The Australia-Indonesia Institute is currently exploring opportunities to grow the BRIDGE Project in 2011 and beyond.
Initiated by the Australia-Indonesia Institute, the schools partnership project is funded by The Myer Foundation and the Australian Government, through AusAID.
Photo: Indonesian students with Mullumbimby High School teacher Linda Keyte at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo supplied by Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.