Australia's closest international neighbour is only a three-hour boat ride from Darwin however less than 1 per cent of ACT college students are learning the Indonesian language, with opportunities to take up such studies diminishing each year.
Just one college in the ACT is offering Indonesian language studies to its year 11 and 12 students as the territory records its lowest enrolment in the course.
Matilda Jenkins was planning to study Indonesian in year 12 but her dream was shattered after Canberra College closed down its program.
Ms Jenkins then tried enrolling through the Canberra Academy of Languages but it also cancelled its language program.
"I thought Indonesian would be the most important language to learn because Indonesia is very close by," she said.
"It's very disappointing, obviously individual colleges don't have the necessary funds to keep classes but it does seem like the education system is really deprioritising Asian languages."
To rejuvenate student numbers and language teacher shortages, the Indonesian embassy has announced a new partnership program with the ACT government which will include language teacher assistants to high schools.
The last time Asian languages received funding was in the 2008-09 budget but since then no Australian government has funded Asian literacy.
This stall in progress has culminated in a Asian literacy crisis, with Dickson College the only school offering the language - and it's struggling to keep the program running for next year.
Una Dee began learning Indonesian in primary school and is now studying Indonesian language as part of her year 12 studies with just six people in her class.
"I'm not sure what's going to happen with the Dickson College Indonesian program, we only have year 12 students who started in year 11," Ms Dee said.
Despite the dismal state of Australians engaging with their closest neighbour, young Australians like Ms Jenkins and Ms Dee are urging students in the ACT to learn Indonesian and other Asian languages.
"It's vital that students appreciate where we are in the world and the government has the resources to build a connection with our closest neighbour," Ms Dee said.
Historically, Indonesian language recorded huge numbers of enrolment in the early 1990s, with former prime minister Paul Keating championing Asian education and urging Australians to accept the geophysical reality of our place in the wider Asian community.
But since then, alongside continuous neglect of federal funding, Asian language learning has witnessed a sharp decline.
Australia already has a track record of low foreign language learning rates, with only 8 per cent of Australian students indicating they are learning a foreign language compared to 50 per cent across the OECD.
In the ACT there are only 26 students in year 11 and 12 undertaking Indonesian studies. This statistic represents just 0.4 per cent of the entire ACT college cohort.
Relations with Indonesia pre-date European settlement with Makassar people from South Sulawesi trading trepang, sea cucumbers, with Indigenous Australians in northern Australia.
Language teachers are also feeling the crunch, with principal dismissals of specialist teachers in the ACT causing a shortage of quality language programs.
Asian languages are considered specialist areas of study in the ACT and principals are allowed to move on such teachers.
Anita Patel spent 20 years teaching Indonesian language programs across ACT high schools and colleges.
She delivered a successful Indonesian language program at Narrabundah College for 20 years which closed last year despite a student petition protesting its closure in 2018.
Specialist teachers are being transferred from one school to another without the coordination or plan by the ACT Education Directorate to use their specialist skills in another school, she says.
"There is very little commitment to the teaching of Indonesian from principals and very little support for Indonesian teachers from the directorate. There's no political will to support this major language in our region," Ms Patel said.
According to Ms Patel, the Indonesian embassy has stood alongside Indonesian language teachers and supported them with materials and specialist workshops.
"The most valuable support comes from the Indonesian embassy. It offers resources and language assistance ... we're so dependent on them because we get no support from the directorate," Ms Patel said.
A spokesperson from the Education Directorate said they are undertaking special measures to have specific language teacher recruitment rounds and have developed a Draft Languages Action Plan, which is currently out for consultation, aimed at addressing these issues.
Ms Patel recalls the early 1990s when prime minister Paul Keating encouraged Asian education and her classes were full of eager students ready to learn Indonesian language and culture.
"There has been an alarming decline in Indonesian programs in ACT government schools for over 20 years," Ms Patel said.
UNSW Canberra lecturer Dr Elly Kent stressed the importance of language learning in fostering a closer partnership with our closest neighbour.
"Language learning isn't just about learning another language. It also gives us access to other ways of thinking and that's something that is really important for our bilateral relations," Dr Kent said.
The Asian Education Foundation released a national pre-budget submission calling for the Labor government to commit to a long-term $245 million investment in order to achieve the Albanese government's aim of Asia expertise.
Indonesian ambassador to Australia Siswo Pramono welcomed the budget proposal and revealed plans with the ACT government to provide Indonesian teaching assistants to ACT high schools.
In a partnership with the ACT government, the embassy will provide Indonesian language assistants to 10 different high schools from universities in Canberra, and the State University of Padang will begin sending Indonesian teachers to school in the ACT.
"It is our hope that through rejuvenating Indonesian language studies in ACT high schools we will guarantee long-term stable bilateral ties among the two nations," Mr Pramono said.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese made Indonesia his first international destination after taking the top job, indicating his commitment to strengthening ties with Indonesia.
This comes as Indonesia is expected to become the fifth largest economy at $6 trillion by 2030.
"Studying Indonesian language is the gateway to better understanding Indonesia's diverse cultures and for building sustainable business relations," Mr Pramono said.
Zara Maxwell-Smith also spent a decade teaching Indonesian in Canberra, passionately building Asian literacy and language with her students.
Ms Maxwell-Smith teaches the Australian National University extension course for year 11 and 12 students and urged the Canberra community to recognise the need for new strategies around language learning.
"Unfortunately, as a community in Canberra we still have a way to go in recognising our need to learn our neighbour's language," Ms Maxwell-Smith said.
"Simple plans which ignore hesitancy in the community and expect droves of students to flock to Indonesian studies are sadly naive," she said.
She said the Australian government needs to implement the funding recommendations by the Australia Education Foundation and recognise that Asia literacy requires ongoing commitment.
"We need funding for an independent teachers' association, both to support principals to find teachers, and to lobby principals who ignore teaching standards and curriculum requirements for their Indonesian programs," she said.
We've made it a whole lot easier for you to have your say. Our new comment platform requires only one log-in to access articles and to join the discussion on The Canberra Times website. Find out how to register so you can enjoy civil, friendly and engaging discussions. See our moderation policy here.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.