Open Access College, School of the Air SA
What is the moral imperative for your school to be Asia capable?
I see Asia capability as not only being important in terms of employment or investment but also as an avenue towards a rich cultural interchange with our geographic neighbours. Australia's future will become increasingly involved with the wider Asian region and, as educators who are aware of that, we have a responsibility to provide opportunities for engagement, greater understanding and access to information for our students.
How will your students benefit?
Students will benefit through building their capacity to understand, adapt, accept, share and create in a vibrant and exciting region rich with possibilities.
What is your school's current engagement with Asia?
Two years ago I went to India on an AEF study tour which involved a home-stay and exchange with the principal of a large junior primary school in Delhi. The experience was extremely enriching and inspirational both on personal and professional levels.
Unfortunately, the combination of timing, staff experience and school community readiness did not readily facilitate the consolidation of an ongoing formal relationship. At the time a major mind-shift was taking place within our school community which resulted in a generally positive attitude towards the study of an Asian language and a vote for that to be Japanese (taught online from the Adelaide campus of Open Access College).
Meanwhile, the Language Partnership Program of Open Access College in Adelaide is flourishing and this year has won the Australasian Association of Distance Education Schools 2013 Project Achievement Award. Over 1200 students are now learning a language online through OAC across 20 schools in rural and remote regions of South Australia and Northern Territory. The team of specialist language teachers teach online with 60 school-based class teachers delivering either Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese or Spanish.
What is your personal experience of Asia?
Among my greatest pleasures was travelling in Asia with my two sons; with my eldest to China and also trekking in Sikkim, and my younger son trekking in Nepal.
Also, a few years ago I stayed and taught at two schools in remote and impoverished villages in Nepal, and now I can't seem to shake the Himalayas out of my system.
My son's girlfriend had never been overseas so I took her to Bhutan and it was wonderful to share the experience with her. I have trekked with camels and ponies in far western Mongolia with Kazakh guides, and have also been to India on the AEF principal's exchange.
In what other ways can Australia make a stronger contribution towards building positive relations in Asia?
I think a lot is being done already in business and industry as well as through political relations. Cultural events such as the fantastic OzAsia Festival in Adelaide and the many intercultural arts performances and partnerships are also making huge contributions.
Given the critical role of schools and teachers in building positive relations with Asia, it would be great to see priority given to investment in opportunities for all Australian teachers to train, study or teach in Asia through a range of programs which are flexible in both focus and duration. Ultimately, to encourage and enable teachers across Australasia to teach and learn in one another's countries would be a tremendous way of building positive relations in Asia.