Now! people |

Chat with Paul Smith, Director of British Council Indonesia in Fostering the UK-IND Relationship

NOW! PEOPLE | 8 August 2018

Founded in 1934, the British Council represents the British people. Conceived by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth office at a time when adverse political ideology held much of the world in its sway, it focuses on promoting education, culture and the arts. HM Queen Elizabeth II is the patron and it works on its own charter.

Paul Smith, Director of British Council Indonesia. Photos by Raditya Fadilla/NOW!JAKARTA

“We keep the arts, culture, civil society and research [components] free from political affiliation,” Paul Smith, Director of British Council Indonesia says. This year marks 70 years since the British Council Indonesia first opened its doors—in Bandung where it once had a library.

These days, it operates out of a Central Jakarta highrise and no longer has a library (Smith notes the changing need for libraries, especially in Indonesia where most information is accessed via the web and the reading culture isn’t the same as the British Council’s counterparts in South Asia, another region where there is a strong presence) In Indonesia, it  helps provide opportunities for people. “ It’s extraordinarily diverse, and there are many youngsters who need vocations”, Smith notes.

Part of the Indonesian government’s plan for development includes being fluent in English if it has to advance in the ranks of economic progress. The British Council hopes to assist by providing English lessons. Recognising that English is the critical part of socio-economic development, the British Council maintains a language learning centre in  South Jakarta where students can enrol in formal lessons. Also of note is that It has developed an application for mobile-savvy Indonesians to learn the language from anywhere.

The English for Indonesia app is completely free and can be downloaded by anyone with a smart phone and internet access. Essentially, it’s available nationwide, from Java to Aceh. All one has to do is to spend time on the app with its different interface modules depending on one’s age range and develop their English language skills. It is hoped that in a few years, millions of Indonesians will have access to what is essentially an efficient form of learning the language.

In essence, the British Council’s agenda focuses on education, where language learning is core. In addition, it serves as a catalyst for those seeking education opportunities in the UK. It facilitates the English language testing examinations such as the IELTS and also provides students information about university education in the country.

It also facilitates research and capacity building between British and Indonesian universities through such initiatives as the Newton Programme which encourages transnational education.

The British Council also serves as the culture attaché for the UK. It represents the arts and is responsible for the cultural programming between the two countries. The recent UK-ID initiative has seen several cultural events brought from the UK. Again, Smith notes it’s about effective partnerships between artists from both countries.

“Over the past two years via UK ID we have got organisations and artists in both countries aware of each other and got them to work in collaboration,” he says of the approximately 100 collaborations between creative groups between both countries.

One of the creative enterprises programmes is DICE (developing inclusive and creative economies) which develops entrepreneurship skills among people and communities and also helps in developing start-ups. One of the areas the Council excels in is encouraging arts among people with disabilities.

Religion has been at the forefront of contemporary life—and  politics—in recent years and the British council has been working toward fostering better understanding and appreciation for religious diversity through engagement with ICRS (the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies) that brings together four universities in Yogyakarta in a kind of exchange programme to further understand each other.

The British Council, ultimately through its various programmes and initiatives, fosters a two-way engagement and carries forward the directive from the British people to make the world work better.


This article is originally from paper. Read NOW!Jakarta Magazine August 2018 issue “Capital of Culture”. Available at selected bookstore or SUBSCRIBE here.