Make font smaller  Make font larger

Spring 2007

Curriculum for the 21st century

Transcending borders

The cyber generation is keyed into the Internet. Maureen Welch explores their world and the curriculum they will need to transcend borders and be active global citizens.

A young person’s sense of community in 2007 certainly looks different to what it was 30 years ago, even if the foundational values for community may remain the same

Thao Nguyen, Australian Youth Ambassador to the United Nations, was speaking at a launch of the National Statement for Engaging Young Australians with Asia in Australian Schools. Her keynote, ‘Imagining and educating Australians in the 21st century: A view from the Y and Cyber Generation’, built on her experiences as a delegate at the Australian Future Directions Forum. The forum gathered together 90 current and emerging leaders to draft a blueprint for the future of our nation.

This generation has a higher propensity towards cross border travel, friendships, transactions and student and professional exchanges. To them, the world beyond Australia is becoming less of a foreign landscape. Given the high number of inter-racial relationships, migration, cultural diversity, erosion of cross border information barriers, young people now and in the future will have a greater tendency towards global citizenship and engagement than any other previous generation.

Given this ‘new world’ facing our youth, key educators, policy makers and teachers around our nation are asking the hard questions. What will our national future look like, how do we educate our youth and what knowledge, understandings and skills will Australians need to meet the key challenges of 21st century?

The Asia Education Foundation (AEF) recently hosted a National Forum in Sydney and gathered 150 leading educators to discuss progress in implementing the National Statement for Engaging Young Australians with Asia in Australian Schools.

‘As school educators, we share the core goal to prepare our children for their future,’ said Kathe Kirby, executive director of the AEF. Predicting the future was like peering through a looking glass of multiple scenarios to see:

  • technology and the burgeoning of the Internet with personalised communications, such as mobile phones, texting, pod casting, blogs and skype
  • the world of work where 70 per cent of the jobs our children will do haven’t even been thought of yet
  • a future where the environment will determine how we live our lives. Kirby also referred to Thomas

Friedman’s book, The World is Flat, where he states that ‘the world has moved into a third great era of globalisation—people—transcending borders, interacting and appreciating other countries, becoming global citizens.’

This is the world that Nguyen feels our students and young people now interact with. Given these realities and in particular the language of current communications technology, it undoubtedly contributes to the way the students receive, reflect and use information. It essentially shapes the dynamic of their perceptions, thinking and learning.

Cyber and tween generation

Nguyen explains that the generation that Business Week calls ‘the cyber and tween generation’ (0–14 years of age) is a remarkable generation keyed into PlayStation and Xbox, who consider the Internet as the norm, believe in immediate communication and accept massive influxes of information from multiple sources of stimuli.

She feels that as the technological revolution grows, we need to have young people ready and able to engage cognitively and intellectually in the societal languages of the future. Part of Nguyen’s mandate as the Australian Youth Representative to the UN was to communicate to everyday young Australians what the UN does as well as the practical realities facing it in the 21st century.

Building on the concept of immediate and multiple sourced communication, Nguyen, prior to leaving to fly to New York, created a website as a tool for online national consultation and for young Australians to access the electronic newsletters sent from New York City. She then began to create an ongoing documentary. Other youth representatives set up web blogs where millions of young people could read their journal entries live from New York. The Netherlands selected their 2005 UN Youth Representative via an American Idol approach where live debates between potential candidates and real members of parliament were broadcast on MTV, and votes were cast via SMS.

As well as integrating the different languages of engagement as a means of educating the cyber generation, educators need to understand the realities of this generation and therefore their dispositions about life in general: the notion of transcending borders.

Nguyen explains that we have always lived in a very diverse world. Just beyond Australia’s doorstep is a world that is incredibly diverse and rich with arts, culture, philosophy, history. Given that we need to prepare our young people to live in a globally sophisticated way, Nguyen believes the best place to start is to engage our students with Asia.

Asia and Australian education

Not only is this region economically and politically critical to Australia’s future, engagement with Asia allows us a way to introduce our students to notions of difference—whether it be in custodial practice, religion, history or beliefs, it nurtures our students to become comfortable with difference and diversity. To be able to successfully and competitively engage in the world of the 21st century, our young people need the requisite skills to become adaptive, responsive, proactive and creative.

‘Providing our students with intercultural understandings and skills’, she says, ‘will give them opportunities to move not only across those multiple platforms of engagement at national, but at regional and global levels as well.’

The positive outcomes of this engagement may be projected back home, so that young Australians will be able to successfully negotiate the given sociological changes that are occurring and will continue to occur within our country.

How are Australian educators responding to this view of the future?

In November 2005, The National Statement for Engaging Young Australians with Asia in Australian Schools, was endorsed by all Ministers. At the recent AEF National Forum held in Sydney, Kirby quoted from a national Progress Report on the take-up of the National Statement prepared for the chief executive officers of all education systems. States and Territories reported that there were significant opportunities to embed the National Statement in teaching and learning as presented by current curriculum renewal cycles.

To support this renewal, the AEF has developed ‘Asia Scope and Sequences’ for English, Studies of Society and Environment (SOSE), and the Arts. In schools, teachers are making good use of these documents. Of the Asia Scope and Sequence for English, Tim Potter, Kawana Waters college president, says: ‘In our classroom, we’ve found Shakespeare does not have the monopoly on tragic characters; nor are life’s heroes and crises restricted to the western world,’ he said. ‘They’re just as evident in literature from Asia: China, Japan, India.’

Emma White, a year 11 student at Mercy Catholic College who addressed the AEF National Forum, says: ‘Learning about Asia can increase awareness and understanding. It can provide opportunities to forge strong relationships with students in the Region—possible leaders of tomorrow.’

The Scope and Sequence documents, a train the trainer program and curriculum units are available on the AEF website:

Lisa Hayman, Victorian AEF State Adviser, sees the Internet as an opportunity to take students to places that were not previously possible.

‘I had history students sitting in a Bendigo Senior Secondary College visiting the Great Wall of China via a Hotlist of websites ( china/home.html/)

They could listen to supporting lectures via podcasts, chat to students around the world in secure chat rooms and create a class wiki where they could work collaboratively in an online environment. These students were totally engaged, information was immediate and had variety.’

The way ahead

Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, says the new literacies of the 21st century are inclusion, collaboration and participation.

A recently announced AEF strategy aims to explore these new literacies. The AEF and iEARN Australia ( are working in partnership to foster collaboration, participation and inter-cultural learning between students in Australia and Asia via the Internet. The program will involve Australian students in collaborative research projects, with students in the Asian region for a period of around ten weeks.

‘New technologies provide the capacity to ensure that all Australian children have access to an international education that will equip them for an Asia-engaged future. The USA, the UK and countries in Europe are making multi-million dollar investments focusing on Asia in education.’

Students are seeing the future. As Beaver Ratapoom Garland, a student at Randwick Boy’s High School, reminded delegates at the AEF national forum:

‘I urge you to remember that Asia makes up more than half of the world and is now an integral part of Australian culture. The Internet and mobile phones make it immediate, so why would you regard it as “half a world away?”… students need to experience.’

Friedman, T (2005). The World is Flat: A brief history of the twenty-first century, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.

Web references


Asia society

Scope and sequences

iEARN Australia

author picture Maureen Welch is director of Asia Education Foundation.