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Australia invests to promote Asian studies

The Australian government is on a mission to increase awareness of Asian culture and the study of Asian languages in Australian schools. It has announced an additional AUS$4.6m in funding despite past failings of similar initiatives. At the same time, the government has commissioned a White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century to consider the likely economic and strategic changes in the region.

Australian Minister for School Education Peter Garrett

The study of Asian languages has sunk to new lows in Australian schools

Minister for School Education, Peter Garrett, hosted a discussion on Asian literacy last month with business leaders in attendance, focusing on how government and business can work together to promote Asian awareness and languages in schools.

“Australia’s engagement with Asia is crucial to our nation’s future”

The roundtable followed Mr Garrett’s declaration in February that a AUS$62.15m programme to boost Asian languages in schools, introduced by previous Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, was not succeeding.

“Australia’s engagement with Asia is crucial to our nation’s future, which is why we must ensure Australian school students are well informed about Asian culture and are encouraged to study Asian languages,” Garrett said.

The AUS$4.6m will go toward a further four years of core funding for the Asia Education Foundation (AEF) which aims to equip young Australians with knowledge, skills and understandings of the countries and cultures of Asia.

In 2007 then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promised AUS$65m to re-establish an Asian languages and studies strategy for Australian schools that had been abandoned by the previous administration.

Rudd’s programme, the NALSSP, aimed to have at least 12 per cent of pupils leave Year 12 competent in Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian or Korean by the year 2020.

However recent studies by the AEF report that the study of Asian languages has sunk to new lows in Australian schools. As a result the Gillard government did not renew its funding in last year’s budget.

“The programme itself and the monies that were expended did not go anywhere near arresting the trend lines in the decline in uptake of Asian language that we’ve seen,” Garrett told Education Review in February. “That clearly said to me that the previous policy settings weren’t succeeding.”

Motivated by the developing financial strength of Asian countries, the current administration is taking new directions in order to boost Asian studies in Australian schools. Roundtable participants included representatives from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Asia Link, the Business Council of Australia, as well as other businesses with an interest in Australia’s strategic engagement with Asia.

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