Canberra to emphasize education, language studies

Updated: 2012-10-29 07:26

By Deng Zhangyu (China Daily)

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To better embrace the Asian Century, the Australian government plans to put a renewed emphasis on Asian studies in schools and universities, according to the white paper Australia in the Asian Century released on Sunday.

All Australian students will have the opportunity, and be encouraged, to undertake a continuous course of study in an Asian language throughout their schooling, said the white paper.

The Asian languages promoted by the Australian government range from those spoken in major countries like China and India, to the languages of smaller countries such as Vietnam and Thailand.

The white paper points out that the number of Australian students studying languages other than English is declining, with less than 6 percent studying Mandarin and other Asian languages in 2008.

To build Australia's capabilities of engagement with Asia, the country is now feeling an urgency to learn Asian languages. The white paper says a curriculum for Chinese is one of the first in development.

Zhang Yuanyuan, former Chinese ambassador to New Zealand, said Australia has put an increased emphasis on working toward better integration with Asian countries in recent years, and language is the best way to get to know a country.

"Many Australian students can speak a little bit of Chinese. I think now the Australian government wants to pay more attention on the teaching quality of Chinese," he said.

"It's natural for Australia to place Chinese on top of its school curriculum agenda," said Zhang, adding that China has played a big role in Australia's immunity from the global financial crisis and Australians are well aware of this.

Coupled with an increased educational focus on Asian languages, the Australian government will finance and boost the number of Australian students studying in Asia to let them better experience Asian culture.

The white paper sets a national objective to have a large number of Australian university students study overseas, with a greater proportion undertaking part of their degree in Asia.

It mentions one of their successful models -the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies. The consortium involving 25 universities aims to assist Australian students to study in Indonesian universities.

In 2011 the University of Sydney opened Australia's largest China Studies Center with more than 150 academic staff working across all major disciplines. The center also helps arrange and provide support to its students studying in China.

The Australian government is working with its universities to forge closer links with Asian institutions. It specifies its future measures in the white paper, which range from dialogues between young people to various exchange programs.

During the 2012 APEC summit in Vladivostok in Russia, APEC members all agreed to examine ways to better facilitate the mobility of students. This is seen as an opportunity for Australia to encourage its university students to step into Asian institutions.

"Australia is actively taking part in many Asian summits. It finally will find its place in Asia," said Zhang, the former ambassador.

(China Daily 10/29/2012 page12)