One of the key recommendations of the Australia 2020 Summit was the need to build Australians proficiency in using and understanding Asian languages and cultures. The Summit Report which was presented to the government said:
'Asia literacy' ? [needs] to be mainstreamed into Australian society; knowledge of Asian and regional languages and society [is required] to enhance Australias global engagement and national global intelligence of a national strategic plan for mainstreaming Asian studies [is] needed.
Since the late 1980s, there has been a growing realisation in Australia that our increasing integration with, and dependence on the Asian region requires a more comprehensive ability to understand and converse with the societies of Asia. Yet despite this, our levels of monolingualism remain stubbornly high, and our capacity to teach and research the major Asian languages is eroding.
Several participants in the Australia 2020 Summit believed strongly that further work was needed to promote the study of Asian languages and cultures. As a result, the Griffith Asia Institute convened a working group to develop a policy paper outlining a comprehensive plan to build Australias Asia literacy over the course of a generation.
Four phases of research underpin this report. Phase one was an extensive review of the current status of Asian language teaching and study in Australia. Phase two reviewed past programs promoting and funding Asian language study in Australia, including expert assessments of those programs. Phase three reviewed the policies and frameworks used by other countries to promote greater proficiency in foreign languages. Phase four collected impressions, feedback and suggestions from key stakeholders (students, teachers, principals, parents, language specialists, education officials), and tested the proposals in this report among this group.
This Report is not intended as a criticism of the Rudd governments National Asian Languages in Secondary Schools policy; we applaud it for resurrecting a national program to promote Asian language education. We intended to promote discussion of the need for a more comprehensive and extensive program of Asia literacy.
It may seem perverse to propose a major program of government spending in the midst of a global financial crisis. But what we propose is a program of spending on an infrastructure of our human infrastructure that is every bit as important as the infrastructure targeted by the governments stimulus packages. Building Australias Asia literacy offers the chance to position our society to make the most of the post-crisis world, rather than seeking to return to where we were.
28 May 2009