British Council: Culture Before Politics
Paul Smith, British Council Director. Photo by Raditya Fadilla/NOW!JAKARTA

British Council Director Paul Smith talks about the future of bilateral relations between the UK and Indonesia.

Last year, British Council Indonesia celebrated its 70 years of operation in Indonesia. With a number of programs ranging from art to education, the cultural institution has been strengthening international affair to foster mutual understanding between both countries and empower each other.

NOW! Jakarta spoke to the Director, Paul Smith, to discuss about the upcoming plan from British Council Indonesia and share the meaning of cultural understanding to make the world a better place. His opening lines were “culture comes first before politics”.

British Council Indonesia ran a variety of programs last year in conjunction with its 70 years anniversary in Indonesia? What are some exciting things coming up in 2019/2020?

Continuing the growth of the big development programmes and areas we have been working on. It’s a bit different from the other cultural centres in that we cover more ground. We do art, creative industry, language, and we also do the whole area of education, science and research, and we are involved in social enterprises, civic society, and youth engagement, as well as social justice.

The other thing that I want to say on how we’re different is how all the program is based on partnership and relationship building. The main focus is to build stronger relationship in the fields of education, art, creativity, civic affair between the UK and Indonesia, both personally and professionally.

How about the progress of English for Indonesian as an inclusive digital learning platform to teach young generation to speak the language?

Last year, we started English for Indonesian. It is an exciting new concept. It is a massive open online course with six apps. The sites which give English lessons are separate for adults, teenager, and for kids.

The best thing is that it’s free. The British Council spent millions in manpower to develop this material. We are championing the cause for Indonesia, and we are working with Indonesian organizations to create the best user experience.

We started six month ago, and after six month we have 1,8 million Indonesians using this. Over 100,000 uses TeachingEnglish. This is important and valuable because it’s the best material for teachers to plan their lesson. We are running TeachingEnglish to help teachers gain the best advantage in their professions in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Man Power, and Muhammadiyah. We did English for West Java two month ago, English for Jakarta, and we are going to do English for East Java. We’ve tailored the program to fit the need of people in the area and we are very pleased about it.

The UK is one of the most favourite destinations for Indonesians to study in. What exactly do you have to offer in this area?

We try to increase the number of Indonesian that chooses to pursue higher education in the UK. At the moment, there are 3,500 Indonesians studying in the UK. We are trying to get these numbers up. We don't just use it to further the commercial interests of British university. We do it for other main reasons, because British higher education is one of the best in the world. I believe the opportunity Indonesians can choose is fantastic in terms of social, academic, and everything else. In terms of its internationalism, the majority of LPDP Scholarship puts Britain as the most popular. Chevening also provide 200 scholarships a year to go to the UK.

We are starting to link school again in Indonesia so they can really exchange experience with different background, starting with about 20 schools here in Jakarta, and 24 schools in Birmingham. The UK is really interested in Indonesia’s diversity and the way its pluralism works around religion. We are going to expand this program to include more school. Birmingham City Council link to the school here, Getting young people in different part of the world talking and learning from each other is one of the great ways to build and secure a happier future.

British Council Indonesia has been promoting inclusive community over the years. What does your involvement in this area mean?

We’ve been running UK/ID Festival for three years, and it is not about showing off the British art. It is about building new partnership between the UK and Indonesia within the art and creative industry organisation. In the long term, we aim to create 250 new bilateral relationships between existing organisations. We will be working on a number of those in an attempt to sustain the relationship. We develop some particular theme art and disabilities. We think we are pioneering this in Indonesia by help creating Festival Bebas Batas.

We are the thinking beyond that and our support is still there. The festival will take place this year in Solo. It’s moving around. Jakarta Fashion Week is the result of British fashion designer working with Indonesian. For the first time ever in Indonesia, people with disabilities are on the catwalk. That’s a major moment that changes the stereotype of models. We were also invited in Asian Para Games to bring entertainment of sibale artist to the athlete village. We want to have a reputation as the most knowledgeable and supportive to people with disabilities, particularly in art and sports.

We focus on the way the art could liberate disabilities and how people with disabilities could work in the art industry. We have specialities on there because we have experts in Paralympic Games in London in 2012. The thing that we need to change about disabilities in most countries, including Indonesia, is to change the way people with disability see their disabilities; it is not a big problem but a big opportunity.

Do you have programs outside Jakarta to reach more people?

There are a number of programs where we also put representative in other cities to run the projects. The most exciting thing coming up is Wallacea Week 2019, which will take place in November in Makassar. Alfred Russel Wallace is 19th century British artist who spent years exploring the archipelago—before it was Indonesia—mapping the flora and fauna, which then led to the discovery of Wallace’s line. It will be the platform to better understand diversity of Indonesia from its fauna, ethnic, and religions. All kinds of ministry, people, and specialists will be involved. It is really a cause to celebrate the diversity of Indonesia remembering Alfred Russel Wallace. The UK and Indonesia is closely connected historically through Alfred Russel Wallace.

I will be honest I want to get more stuff happening in Aceh, Papua, and Kalimantan, and other parts of Indonesia that we haven’t done much in. At the end of the day, we have big ambition, but we are a small organisation. We’re always thinking about how these programs could really impact people.


Rintang Azhar

Rintang Azhar

Rintang is a previous staff writer for NOW! with experience in hard news and lifestyle journalism. He specialises in art, design, culture, fashion, environmental, and urban issues.