Asia language plan ‘central’ to Australian reforms

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 October, 2012, 12:53pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

Every Australian school will be partnered online with one in Asia by 2025 as regional languages become “central” to education reform plans, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Monday.

Boosting so-called “Asia literacy” is central to an ambitious plan to rocket Australia into the world’s top 10 wealthiest economies in the next 13 years by broadening links with fast-growing China and its neighbours.

A policy paper, Australia in the Asian Century, was unveiled on Sunday and contains a number of lofty goals for 2025 focused on education and business with key Asian partners China, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and India.

Australian students would have “priority” access throughout their schooling to Mandarin, Hindi, Indonesian and Japanese languages, with Gillard vowing to link every school with an Asian partner for online classes by 2025.

“I’m going to put access to Asian languages at the centre of [our] national school improvement plan,” she told ABC radio on Monday, promising a “far broader and far more systematic” approach to Asian language learning.

Gillard said it was essential to send “the right message to our kids about how important it is for their future and the careers that they will choose for them to have Asia language capability and general Asian literacy”.

The prime minister said Australia’s national broadband network (NBN) – a huge project working to connect 93 per cent of homes to superfast internet by 2017 – would be key to connecting with Asian classrooms and teachers.

“We live in an age of different learning possibilities and choices,” she said.

“The exchange on the NBN... can truly be two-way, where the language teacher is interacting with every child, and we want those children interacting with kids in a school in Asia.”

Gillard said she had already seen one such programme in action, with an Australian and South Korean school holding joint online sessions and students continuing their friendship outside of lessons on social media networks.

“Kids [are]... actually genuinely getting to know each other and something about each other’s lifestyles,” she said.

“And I think if you can do that then you can help inspire the passion of children.”

According to the latest population census, conducted last year, 76.8 per cent of Australians speak only English at home.

Mandarin is the most common language after English, spoken in 1.6 per cent of homes, followed by Italian (1.4 per cent), Arabic (1.3 per cent), Cantonese and Greek (both 1.2 per cent).