Kathe Kirby, Executive Director, Asia Education Foundation
Our students’ future success has never been so dependent on their ability to negotiate the economic and strategic power shifts occurring now across the world. Globalization of jobs and markets, new digital technologies and increasingly culturally diverse societies, provide opportunities for our students. But they also present challenges.
Our young people’s future well-being is threatened by complex environmental, political, security and health issues that cannot be solved by one nation alone. The ability to successfully interact with people from many faiths and countries is fundamental to Australia’s ongoing economic growth, social cohesion, security and sustainability.
The global economic shift, from established economies in North America and Western Europe, to Asia, is gaining momentum. If the last 25 years for Australia has been digging up and shipping resources to Asia, the coming decades will be a story of services and consumption fuelled by a rapidly expanding Asian middle-class. Right now, increasing numbers of Australians work in a wide range of occupations with and across Asia. For instance, our farmers’ produce fills supermarket shelves from Singapore to Seoul and this is set to increase.
Our schools must address this new reality because the skills required of previous generations are no longer sufficient. STEM, creativity and enterprise skills are receiving greater attention in schools to respond to the changing world. But as well as these important capabilities our students must also have cross-cultural knowledge, language skills and deep intercultural understanding to be successful in today’s world.
AEF’s submission to the Gonski Review on Achieving Educational Excellence in Australian Schools applauds our Australian Curriculum policy settings that include a cross-curriculum priority on Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia and identify intercultural understanding as a general capability to be achieved by every student by the time they leave school. However, there are the significant gaps in our knowledge of whether students are actually achieving these global competencies because we collect little or no data on it.
There are no mechanisms in place to ensure that schools and teachers do actually include intercultural understanding and a focus on Asia in their classrooms. And since we don’t assess these capabilities, we don’t know if our children are achieving them. New Zealand recently collected data on what their school leavers knew and understood about Asia. While 75 per cent of young New Zealanders view Asia as important to New Zealand’s future, 1 in 5 students feel they know nothing about any Asian country and 42 percent believe Buddhism is the major religion in Indonesia. Only 30 percent of students knew that Islam was the correct answer. Similar results in Australia would be of high concern for our future. We have had little appetite to invest in such data collection in Australian schools and we simply don’t know what our young people know and understand in this global domain.
Despite Languages being included in the Australian Curriculum as one of eight core learning areas, a national policy review undertaken by AEF indicates that in most states languages are elective after Year 8. And, no national data on student participation in Languages (with the exception of Year 12 data) has been collected in Australia since 2011, making it almost impossible to assess national progress, or gauge positive trends and gaps to inform future evidence-based policy making.
Success of our students’ global readiness requires a deeper response from our educational leaders.
Business leader, Andrew Parker, is clear: ‘Australians at all levels require the ability to conceptualise, design, and execute strategies with Asian colleagues. Future generations will not mark us kindly if we do not get this right.’
AEF recommends building on existing policy and work in schools to: 1. Develop a bi-partisan National Plan for Global Competence and Asia Capability. 2. Strengthen the Asia Capability and Global Competency of Australia’s education workforce. 3. Build an evidence base to monitor and assess student and school performance against Asia Capability and Intercultural understanding. 4. Increase the value of Global Competency, Asia Capability and Asian Languages within the general community.
In 2018 the OECD will assess ‘Global Competence’ for the first time as part of the Program for International Student Assessments (PISA). Internationally, Global Competence now stands alongside Literacy, Numeracy and Science as internationally recognized essential capabilities for all students.
We all know that a nation’s PISA scores are a globally accepted indicator of the effectiveness of that country’s education system.
In 2018 the question will be: how globally ready are young Australians?
To read the full AEF Submission to the Gonski Review on Achieving Excellence in Australian Schools (November 2017) click here.
To download the most recent paper on OECD’s Global Competence for an Inclusive and Sustainable World (December 2017) click here.
To view the Asia NZ study, Losing Momentum – School leavers Asia Engagement (July 2017) click here.