INTRODUCTION Over the past decade Australia has experienced a shift in the way that it relates to Asia as rising transnational mobility, escalating interconnectivity as well as economic, political and cultural transformations has given rise to the ideal that ‘all Australians are to be Asia literate’. The policy agenda has been centred around the education system, in order to meet future Asia-Australia engagement opportunities. A nationally agreed agenda, the Melbourne Declaration on Education Goals for Young Australians (2008), has identified Asia as a key learning area for schools over the next decade.
Global integration and international mobility have increased rapidly in the past decade. As a consequence, new and exciting opportunities for Australians are emerging… Australians need to become ‘Asia literate’, engaging and building strong relationships with Asia (MCEETYA, 2008; cited in AEF, 2011).
Asia literacy has become a buzzword in political and education policy circles but how should it be defined? The rapidly altering definitions, measurements and chronology of Asia literacy seemed to be interrelated to the changing discourses on globalisation. As difficult as it is to define globalisation, it is equally as difficult to define Asia literacy. As positions on the causes and effects of globalisation has changed, in turn has altered the way in which Asia literacy is perceived. Halse (2015) suggests this as the root of Asia literacy as a "wicked policy problem", referring to policies that were created in the years prior to the implementation, do not align with the the expected outcomes.
Further, philosophical debate in terms of its definition, its scope and how it can be measured keeps policies from being widely accepted. Firstly, there seems to be no clear idea of the concept of ‘Asia’. Halse (2015) questions whether Asia refers to a region, or “an ethnic, cultural or linguistic identity?” (p.1). Fitzgerald (1997) asks a poignant question, “Is Australia an Asian Country?” in his book of the same title. What then, is Asia literacy? The term was first published in the National Strategy for the Study of Asia in Australia (1988) referring an “understanding of Asian history, culture, geography and economies” combined with a knowledge of an Asian language (cited in Halse, 2015, p.2). The Australian Education Foundation (2015) has taken the definition further by referring to it as an Asia capability, meaning an “understanding of the histories, geographies, arts and literature of the diverse countries of Asia, strengthened by learning an Asian language”.
Studies of Asia including a focus on languages has been a component of the education policy setting agenda for almost 40 years. Since the 1970s, Australia has successfully introduced a number of policies aimed at expanding language learning and studies of Asia in schools. In this time, Japanese replaced French and foreign languages were being studied by 40% of high school students (Lindsey, 2010). When global discourses changes so did the policies which were redefined in terms of it potential economic benefits to Australia as a trading partner, a highly criticised element of the education policy discourses. Even in schools today, we talk about the “opportunities” of engaging with Asia rather than the the wider societal and cultural benefits. With each successive political election, there are promises to revive the focus on studies of Asia, only to fail, evident in the decline in the number of students studying a foreign language at 12%, with just 5% studying an Asian language (Lindsey, 2010). Education policy commentators threaten that Australia will be left behind in the rise of Asia.
This paper looks back at the discourses on Asia Literacy policies in the context of a globalising Australia and the focus on engagement with it’s regional neighbours. Highlighting the more significant period of the Asia-Australia engagement, the past 40 years has seen successive governments, each attempting to redefine itself from a previous government, have redefined the Asia-Australia relationship and its impacts on Asia Literacy policies in schools. There are two main parts to the paper, the first addresses the extent to which Australian policies, particularly related to the Asia region, were an expression of and response to globalisation; the second examines the extent to which Australian discourses on Asia changed the implementation of Asia literacy policies. The paper argues that throughout the past 40 years the resulting inconsistencies in Asia-related policy and program funding is as a result of a poor clear, long term view of an Asia-Australia relationship.
Completed as a part of coursework for Globalization and Leadership, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne.
Master of Education Policy (International), The University of Melbourne.