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Innovation in education
To be different is normal
Our students must acquire a far different set of knowledge, skills and perspectives than previous generations to succeed in this increasingly interconnected world. Allan Goedecke explores the education challenge of engaging with Asia.
I was on the phone trying to arrange a late payment for a freeway day pass. It wasn’t looking good—a hefty fine was looming. The man on the other end of the phone asked where I worked and when I said, ‘the Asia Education Foundation’, he responded by asking ‘So, what would you say if I said ...’ and he broke into fluent Mandarin. While we were waiting for the computer to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to my bid to avoid the fine, he informed me that he had been studying Chinese since he was 12 years old and had taken it through to university. This makes him one of the less than two per cent of all Australian year 12 students who study Chinese and one of only three per cent of our university students who study any Asian language at all.
He proudly informed me, and rightly so, that he was able to communicate with the largest group of native speakers on the planet. The British Council website says that with 1.52 billion native speakers, Mandarin is the most widely spoken first language followed by English (508 million), Hindi Urdu (487 million) and Spanish (417 million).
This young man was looking at the future.
Asia is now the region of the world whose current re-emergence is one of history’s greatest catalysts for worldwide change. Predictions indicate that by 2040 China is set to become the world’s largest economy and the students currently in our nation’s classrooms will be at the peak of their working lives. Whether they’re consumers or producers, artists or politicians, shareholders or tourists, no one can question that China will be part of our children’s future.
What an enormous challenge the rise of Asia poses for our society. How are Australian educators and systems shaping up to meet it?
Innovative teachers are doing excellent work all over the country.
At a recent international conference about computers in education, three sessions focused on our Asia engagement. They demonstrated innovative uses of information and communication technology (ICT) designed to switch students on to studies of Asia across the curriculum. Meegan McGuire from Education Queensland had us flying through space from Australia to Asia, gliding over the tsunami ravaged areas pointing out the geography and the effects of the disaster on the communities and their industry from Indonesia to Thailand. Lisa Hayman from the Victorian Department of Education and Training and Jenny Kenny from the Department of Education in Tasmania showed how easily teachers could use interactive formats such as hotlists, WebQuests, blogs and wikis to support a rich inquiry approach to studies of Asia and Australia. And their students are embracing it.
I put down the phone and turned to the TV where Maxine McKew was interviewing Barry Jones, one of Australia’s most famous and popular political and academic figures, about his new book A Thinking Reed. Jones was explaining his inclusion of a poem by Yeats in the book: ‘Yeats was looking at a world which had simply fallen apart. I think we face a danger now of the world being really split between ideology.’ He said that the important question for us is, ‘Can we only deal with people who are essentially like ourselves or we can reach across a divide and talk to people who are from a different kind of background.’
Today’s Australian students are looking at Cronulla, at Bali, Iraq and Afghanistan and the economic rise of India and China. They must acquire a far different set of knowledge, skills and perspectives than previous generations to succeed in this increasingly interconnected world. A major education challenge now is to engage our children with Asia.
In Australia a survey of primary school children in one state showed that 100 per cent of students recognised a map of the United States of America but only 27 per cent recognised a map of Indonesia—right next door to us (Reynolds). And a recent study by the Australian Catholic University indicated that most students in one state viewed all Muslims as terrorists and two-thirds had learnt little or nothing about Muslims and Islam at school. I think of Cronulla. I think of the words of Dr Joseph Lo Bianco, ‘Learning to live with difference is crucial, because today, difference is normal.’
The Australian Government is taking the lead to promote intercultural understanding and knowledge of the countries and cultures of Asia. All government Ministers of Education have endorsed the new National Statement for Engaging Young Australians with Asia in Australian Schools. This represents significant educational innovation on a national scale. States and Territories are taking the initiative. A significant strategy emerging from the Asia Education Foundation’s national forum to launch the National Statement in April 2006 saw senior representatives of all State and Territory Departments of Education establish a national group to meet twice each year to propel the agenda forward.
Subsequent cross-sector forums to launch the National Statement have been held in ACT, Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory and Victoria. Queensland and NSW will follow early in 2007. There is a sense of excitement and commitment to this agenda. Key issues focus on embedding studies of Asia and Australia in curriculum guidelines at system level, building teacher capacity, engaging principals and school leaders, and linking studies of Asia with other national priorities including Values Education and Civics and Citizenship.
South Australia and Western Australia are leading the way with the production of curriculum support documents to assist teachers to include studies of Asia in the existing curriculum.
So how do schools approach this curriculum innovation and what support exists? According to Dr John Owen, ‘Innovation involves change which is a process, not an event.’ He points out that a commitment to the inclusion of studies of Asia should consist of a policy statement and/or a strategic plan and the teaching about Asia in many areas of the curriculum.
David Cannon, principal of Northern Territory’s Essington School, talked about the school’s approach. ‘A significant trigger for change was the strong belief of the principal and leadership team that studies of Asia were essential. The school began by offering professional learning for teachers. The school audited resources and developed classroom programming guidelines to integrate studies of Asia and Australia across the curriculum. The new Asia Education Foundation (AEF) Teacher and Schools resource has been designed to support school leaders and teachers to undertake this kind of curriculum change.’
Nationally, the AEF provides teachers and school communities with the practical resources to implement the vision of the national statement. The Asia Scope and Sequences for English and 12 accompanying units of work show teachers how they can include the studies of Asian texts in the English curriculum.
English teacher Barbara Wright from Aranmore Catholic College in WA said, ‘Teachers are delighted with these new English units of work based on the Access Asia range of texts. Students are responding really well to the added richness that these intercultural units bring to their studies.’
The new English units for primary and secondary provide plenty of stimulating ideas for teachers to pick up and run with. All units link with existing Access Asia resources. They can be downloaded as a set of units or you can find them embedded in the Scope and Sequence document.
There is excellent support and mentoring available for teachers. Studies of Asia and Australia Advisers in each State and Territory can connect teachers with networks of schools demonstrating exemplary practice. Contact details at www.asiaeducation.edu.au
And if you really want to switch on to Asia, come on one of the AEF study tours or sign up for the AEF Linking Latitudes conference in India in October 2007. These experiences change people’s lives.
Oh yes, my friend on the phone finally told me that the computer said ‘yes’. Relief!
Reynolds, R (2004). Children’s Attitudes to the World, The Social Educator. 22 (3), pp. 52-62.
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