The ‘Asiafication’ of Australia

Under new policy announced by the Federal Government, every child in Australia will be encouraged to learn an Asian language and schools will forge an alliance with a counterpart in the Asian region.  The four languages which are being promoted are Mandarin, Hindi, Indonesian and Japanese and the engagement with Asian schools will support the teaching of such languages.

In the white paper, Australia in the Asian Century, which was prepared by a panel chaired by former Treasury Secretary Ken Henry, the Government is looking to align Australia with the growth of the middle class in Asia. Julia Gillard said, “Asia will become home to most of the world’s middle class by as early as 2025. Not only becoming the world’s largest producer of goods and services – becoming the largest consumer of them.” 

The paper brings together existing policy directions, including funding recommendations from the Gonski report; however, there has been no accompanying announcement about additional money to pay for these initiatives.

There are 25 objectives set out in the paper, which are expected to increase Australia’s GDP per person to be in the top 10 by 2025. The five key areas highlighted are building on Australia’s economic strength, developing capacities suited to dealing with Asia, operating in and connecting to growing Asian markets, promoting regional security and stability and developing and broadening relationships.

Read the full story at 

Find out more about the white paper, Australia in the Asian Century

Opinion: Running before you can walk

I read with interest the interpretation of the Government’s white paper Australia in the Asian Century.  Despite actually being about the parallel between Australia’s economic growth and the growth of middle class Asia, the one recommendation which has been most widely reported is the teaching of Asian languages in schools.

While I applaud the Government’s efforts to improve education from primary school level, I can’t help thinking that the time and effort would be better spent getting grass roots education correct first. Despite the literacy rate in Australia being consistently high, there are remote communities where this sits at less than 20 per cent. And while most schools offer a wide and varied program of study for children, there are some which struggle to provide basic maths and literacy to those who walk through their doors.  Class sizes are getting larger, teachers are under more stress due to increased workload and children are becoming disengaged with learning. Surely before introducing another subject for children and teachers to contend with, the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic should be sound?

Also, with many middle class Asian families already opting to have their children educated in Australia, is there any sign that this trend will cease at any time in the next 10 to 20 years? With a large number of middle class Asian children learning English, is there really a need for Australian children to learn an Asian language?

As the mother of a child who has studied Japanese since prep, I am not impressed by his grasp of the language some eight years on. Despite studying hard and having access to some of the best teaching aids available, his progress has been slow as he simply does not have the means by which to practice the language regularly. All of the children at his school who speak Japanese as a first language are more interested in practising their English. I can’t help thinking that the three hours per week he spends on the subject would be better spent on maths, English or science.

Perhaps I am being too narrow-minded. Perhaps I need to look further than the end of my nose to see the bigger picture. Or perhaps I’m not too far from the truth. What do you think?

Written by Debbie McTaggart