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“A lot of students believe that learning a language is not essential”
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“A lot of students believe that learning a language is not essential”

Australia wants to boost its competitive edge by providing Asian language instruction to all students and by making Studies of Asia part of the curriculum, writes Pak Yiu, 19, a journalism student from the city of Brisbane in Australia. The question is whether the public will accept and fund the proposal.

Australia is looking at compulsory education in Asian studies and languages in the bid to become a stronger and more prosperous country.

The Government’s October White Paper, “Australia in the Asian Century”, sets targets to enhance competition with the growing Asian market.

A plan to make Studies of Asia part of the Australian school curriculum and provide Asian language instruction to all students is one strategy outlined in the White Paper. Other plans are to improve Australia’s school system to rank among the top five globally and lift Australia’s GDP per person in the world’s top ten.

But some experts say Australians don’t value the ability to speak another language.

While many welcome the move to teach Mandarin, Hindi, Indonesian or Japanese to all students, there are indicators pointing to a steady decline in Asian languages since 1996.

Dr. Ross Tapsell, a lecturer in Asian Studies at Australia’s National University College of Asia and the Pacific, believes several reasons contribute to this decline but a primary one is the lack of perceived value in multi-lingualism.

“A lot of students believe that learning a language is not essential, is not an important part of our curriculum because we speak English. Speaking languages in general is not something Australians value,” Dr. Tapsell says.

He agrees with the White Paper’s premise for Asian language training, but would like to see support and training for teachers in the cross-curriculum as a priority in the school system.

Among his questions are how to fund the ambitious program.

“The concern is (the White Paper) is going to sound like words on a page; that if we don’t have good training for teachers in Asian studies, if we don’t try and implement Asian studies into the curriculum, then the cross-curriculum priority is going to sound like a hollow statement,” Dr. Tapsell says.

Andrew O’Neil is Director of the Griffith Asia Institute. He echoes the concern that the objectives of promoting Asian studies and languages are clear, but how to reach those specific targets is vague.

“It’s not something you can do on the cheap, or even with just good ideas,” O’Neil says.

Resources are crucial to underpin an engagement strategy, O’Neil argues, and Government will have to invest more in that aspect.

“Australia needs to invest a lot more in funding our diplomatic service (and) the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to undertake a more diplomatic role in the region promoting Australia’s interests.”

While O’Neil wants to see resources devoted to the development of Asian language capabilities, he admits the Government is under the pump financially and will find it difficult to find the funding.

Previous Asian language programs have been implemented, notably the National Asian language and studies program brought in by the Rudd Government two years ago. It was cut just last year.

“These kinds of programs which were meant to drive Asian languages have been way too short and way too sporadic; we need long term funding for this,” Dr. Tapsell says.

 Twitter: @pakwayne

Picture: Children singing at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), Coolum, Australia, 2-5 March 2002 / © Commonwealth Secretariat

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About Me

“I’m a student based in Brisbane, Australia, studying Journalism and Arts majoring in Spanish and Psychology. I’m a photo enthusiast and an adventurer consumed by wanderlust. My dream is to be able to travel around the world to capture different cultures and re-tell their stories through photos.

“I’m also a radio announcer on a news and current affair show called Brisbane Line at 4zzz. I enjoy playing and listening to independent local bands from all over the country as well as unearthing hidden talent around the world. I hope one day I’ll to be a journalist and publish current issues that the world will face.”

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/
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