Teaching Asia to Australia
29 September 2012
Teaching Asia to Australia: it’s not just about languages.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr has said Australia needs to “know Asia” in order to prosper. Ken Henry, who heads the Asian century taskforce, has also argued that Australians should, from their earliest years, acquire the cultural and linguistic literacy to “operate more effectively in an Asian-centred world”.
The large decline in the uptake of Asian language courses is worrying. But learning a foreign language represents only one part of the puzzle. We need is to incorporate Asia into curricula more broadly, according to Susan Leong and Catherine Gomes in a recent article on "The Conversation" blog.
Despite its proximity, Asia is a foreign continent to most Australian tertiary students. And universities can play a greater role in helping Australians feel comfortable with our place in and relationship to Asia. Understanding Asia means moving beyond compartmentalisation of knowledge about Asia and including Asian topics into all kinds of courses.
For example, lessons on communism and nation-states need to include comparative analyses of how these ideologies and concepts are and were lived in Asia as well as Europe. Australia has some important assets for this task – the many thousands of students at undergraduate and post-graduate level from Asia trained in our higher education institutes. We need to tap into these resources.