Asia Education Foundation

National Statement on Asia Literacy

The National Statement on Asia Literacy in Australian Schools 2011-2012, (National Statement) has been provided to the Australian Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs Senior Officials Committee (AEEYSOC) for noting.

AEF National Statement 2011 cover

Developed by the Asia Education Foundation, the National Statement supports the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians which recognises that the growing influence of India, China and other Asian nations, both globally and in Australia, is a major change in the world that impacts on the future of all young Australians.

The National Statement reflects the changes in the Australian educational architecture since 2005. It complements the work of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) and incorporates the organising ideas for the cross-curriculum priority of ‘Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia’.

The National Statement identifies the broad knowledge, skills and understandings required by all students to achieve Asia literacy in the context of existing policies and practices in teaching and learning and sets out six interlinked areas of action required to achieve Asia literacy and deliver on the intent of the new Australian Curriculum.

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4 responses

I'm writing as a middle manager in a coastal NSW high-school. We successfully made the switch from a European language for the Mandatory 100hrs LOTE to Mandarin two years ago. As the result of very hard work by our two teachers of Mandarin (neither of whom are native-speakers) we have built up elective classes in Yrs 9 and 10 and anticipate presenting our first HSC candidates in Chinese Continuers in 2014. We are also involved in a number of projects such as the Australia-China Bridge, the Confucius Classroom, Asia Literacy Ambassadors, a Becoming Asia Literate Grant, and a local project which facilitates meetings between our high-school students and the local university's visiting Asian students. It's all very exciting and parents are right behind us. What made it all possible though was not far-sighted LOTE policy by the state government. What made it possible was the fortuitous availability of first one, and then another, trained Mandarin teacher, a Principal who supported the switch and staffing opportunities arising from resignations and retirements - a fortunate series of co-incidences which we were able to exploit. The point I'm making here is that many high schools in NSW are not in a position to 'jump on the Asia bandwagon' as we have been able to do a) because of the dearth of trained teachers in Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian and Korean (Vietnamese is not one of the 8 priority languages in NSW), b) because the study of a Language Other Than English (LOTE) is not mandated for NSW students for other than 100 hours during the first four years of high school, c) the Mandatory LOTE does not even have to be an Asian one, and d) there is no requirement that the LOTE studied in the feeder Primary schools is the same as that offered in their High school i.e. there is absolutely no guarantee of continuity. I have taught in NSW high-schools now since the early 1970s and despite all the new syllabuses and 'policies', the LOTE situation in this state is still a mess. Not only have successive State governments NOT adequately addressed the issue of a sufficient number of trained teachers of Asian languages, they have not mandated the study of an Asian language anywhere in the secondary curriculum. Students can still study Europeans languages such as French, German, Italian and Spanish. Sometimes Mandatory LOTE courses are delivered by a teacher who is not formally trained in the language but who just happens to be the one member of staff with a smattering of LOTE who can 'deliver' a course. Furthermore, despite the formal requirement that the same language is taught for the Mandatory 100 Hours, there are schools where term-based 'taster-courses' are still taught! This is no criticism of the teachers; they're just doing the best with what they have. NOW, the State government finds itself in a position where the pressure is on to get real about Asian literacies and languages and the where-withall is just not there. The national government, whatever its political persuasion, a) needs to mandate the study of a major Asian language (i.e. Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian) as part of the national secondary curriculum NOW, b) needs to tie funds to compliance by the states on the basis of a five-year plan and c) it needs to mandate continuity of language between feeder Primary schools and their High school. Anything less than this will doom NSW to the same unsatisfactory patchwork of language study that it has now, for an indeterminate period into the future. The people in charge must have not only the vision but the skills and determination to bring the current mess to an end once and for all, and get NSW on a proper footing in regard to the teaching and learning of Asian languages. Our children's futures depend on them getting this right but given their past performance, I am not holding my breath! The 'National Statement on Asia Literacy in Australian Schools' is a nice statement and there's nothing in it I disagree with. My concern is that, given the politicisation of education, it will remain just that: a statement which binds no-one. There are many Asian language teachers out there who are doing a damn fine job in difficult circumstances but they cannot be the ones on whom the responsibility rests for the successful implementation of a 'National Statement' or Policy. That has to lie squarely on the shoulders of the National and State Education authorities. They must supply the structure that makes it happen for Asian languages, despite what will undoubtedly be some entrenched resistance. That is their Asia literacy challenge and the best contribution they can make to creating Asian success stories for our students, future citizens and leaders.
Over many years of teaching languages I have become inured to grandiose statements about the teaching of languages in our schools and the necessity for Australia to know more about our Asian neighbours. Words are cheap but action required to keep languages in the curriculum is virtually non-existent. In NSW the study of languages has virtually collapsed in comprehensive public schools and little concern is shown for the demise of languages. When my LOTE faculty, the last in a non-selective government boys' high school, was closed the teaching of languages in NSW secondary schools and for boys in particular took a large backward step. This evinced no interest from the senior officers in the DEC. Instead, they were running around, throwing money into studies into why only 13% of girls study ICT courses for the HSC. The fact that this is twice the number of boys studying LOTE for the HSC seems of no interest. We had targets set in NSW such as " 25% of HSC candidates to be studying a LOTE by 2005 and all student K-12 to be studying a LOTE by 2010", not one has been met. Even the mediocre mandatory 100 hours is not being met by a number of schools. Tens of thousand of NSW schoolchildren who have not studied a LOTE for the mandatory 100 hours were awarded their School Certificates anyway. The reason is simple: not enough quality teachers. Languages have flatlined at the HSC for about 20 years and anyone who is fluent in an Asian language is not going to want to stand in a classroom of disinterested teens in a classroom in the western and southwestern suburbs of Sydney for the pittance teachers are paid. If Australia is to be 'Asia-literate' then more has to be done to attract people who are fluent in Asian languages into teaching: i.e. raise the salary by about 30%, give them a paid sabbatical year every three years to spend at least six months in the country to maintain their language skills and make the trips fully tax-deductible. My fluency has deteriorated to the point where I am unable to maintain a conversation with a native speaker simply because one four-week sojourn every ten years in the country where the language is spoken is about as much as I can afford. National statements have come and gone but languages continue to die off in schools. There are too many easy options in schools, learning a language is very hard work and few students have the intellectual stamina to pursue languages study. The handful that does soon finds insurmountable obstacles to their pursuit: school timetabling and funding mean that small languages classes are cut. Funding has to be made available to support small elective language classes. There has to be a pool of fully trained LOTE teachers available to ensure the continuity of languages courses in schools: all too often I have seen courses shut down because the teacher left and there was no replacement. Efforts must be made to get more males into teaching, especially languages teaching: it is no mere coincidence that the KLA most dominated by females is also the KLA which has become a virtual no-go zone for boys. Fewer boys are studying a LOTE for their HSC, less than 7% of all male HSC candidates studied a language and virtually all of them were doing a background language. The person least likely to be doing a LOTE is a boy in a public comprehensive school outside the northern and eastern suburbs of Sydney. National statements on languages always seem to be drafted by people who are completely out of touch with the harsh realities of the modern classroom and until I see moves to remedy these problems I will treat such national statements with the contempt they deserve.
Ryszard, all I can say, is 'Right on'! I wrote the first post and you've hit a number of nails right on the head, so 'thank you' for your observations and comments. However, as national (and state) umbrella statements are a fact of life in modern bureaucracies, I don't have a problem with it being there. I just want people in control of education policy who actually understand what it's like trying to teach and develop Asian LOTE programs in our high schools and who actually take the right decisions to practically support Asian languages so we can meet the targets. It's not going to be easy though because it will require a significant re-structuring of the mandatory curriculum in NSW. To be frank, I think that while learning a European language is worthwhile, given that what we need is an intense and immediate focus on Asian languages, the State government really has no option but to mandate a move to Asian languages over the next five years, regardless of the pain it might cause some. As a first port of call, given that teachers of European languages are already in schools and have the expertise necessary to teach LOTE, they should be offered considerable incentives to re-train in an Asian language. In addition, university students should be offered strong incentives to train in an Asian LOTE and your suggestions about what these incentives might be are definitely on the right track. Every state high school has to become a centre for one of the major Asian languages, with their feeder schools delivering the same language. The time to get this structure in place is now. We have the opportunity of getting the backing of the National Curriculum and the money that the Federal Government can either make available or withhold in order to get structural compliance. I think we forget how positive a move towards Asia can be for ALL KLAs in a school, not just LOTE. I can't think of any KLA which could not find a way of hooking into an Asia focus in the school and that's really how it has to be sold: there's something very positive there for everyone. Australians have to become Asia savvy and it is the role of the education policy makers and bureaucrats to make this possible. If they shilly-shally and compromise, they'll come up with something completely unsatisfactory i.e. another version of the mess we have now. I'll be sending my thoughts on the National Statement to the new Director General of Education in NSW and anyone else in the regional bureaucracy whom I think should hear them. I hope you, and every other Asian language teacher, does likewise. These posts are a good start, but we need to make sure our messages are getting to the people who take the decisions.
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The National Statement...

'...outlines the core knowledge, skills and understandings our young people will need to thrive and prosper in the Asian Century.' - Kathe Kirby, AEF Executive Director