As very young university students my sister and I made our first overseas trip to Kuala Lumpur.  We met with a number of Malaysian medical students who had studied at Adelaide University in South Australia.  We had a wonderful time with them, we went to street markets and we saw tourist sites and it was just a marvellous introduction to Malaysia.  What I learned at that time, and has stayed with me ever since, is that education is truly the bridge between nations and peoples. Australia and Malaysia have shown the world how student exchanges can be the foundation of enduring friendship. Indeed through the Colombo Plan in the 1950s and 1960s, through literally tens of thousands of Malaysian students coming to Australia to study in our universities and institutions, we have built a connection that I cannot imagine appearing in any other way.

Now the Australian Government is determined to ensure that more young Australians learn about Malaysia, understand your culture, your heritage, build a much deeper appreciation of the importance of the relationship between Australia and Malaysia. So we’ve introduced the New Colombo Plan which will see Australian students come to Malaysia and this year, the first year of the new Plan, 150 Australian undergraduates from Unis of states across Australia will be spending time here in Malaysia. Four of them will be spending at least two semesters, hopefully more, studying more intensively. Next year, we hope that there will be 260 Australians, the year after that more, so over time there will be a significant number of young Australians who will have had the joy and the privilege of spending time in your beautiful country.

The bridge program that we are here to celebrate is also an opportunity for Australian and Malaysian teachers to learn more about each other’s education systems, the way we do things, exchange ideas, perspectives and insights. It’s an opportunity for students to connect with a school in Australia to form connections and networks, and hopefully friendships. And I know this afternoon we’ve seen an example of that in action.

The bridge program is an initiative between the education departments here in Malaysia and the counterpart department in Australia. Through the bridge program 16 schools are connected with similar schools in Australia.  I can’t think of a better way for young students to learn more about another country in the region than through this kind of connection, this type of engagement. 

I want to thank the teachers for the involvement and support you have provided to the bridge program. After all, after parents, the teachers are the single most important factor in a student’s educational outcomes.  So I thank the teachers for being involved as a part of your commitment to nurturing the students that you have in your care.  And to the students may I say, make the most of this opportunity to get to know some Aussie kids. They will appreciate the opportunity to get to know you.  And hopefully you will have experiences, as I did when I was a young student, of spending time in Australia. It will be transformative, it will change your life and as it did for me for it has given me such a deep love and appreciation of the people of Malaysia and of this great nation. 

So it’s my honour to be here today and I’m so delighted to take this opportunity to celebrate all that is positive and strong about our friendship and pay tribute to this BRIDGE program that is connecting our students, our teachers, our schools, our communities, our nations in such a positive way.

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