Malcolm Elliott, President of the Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) discusses the importance of building global competence, and how this can benefit students in the future.
Australia’s relationship with neighbouring Asian nations presents a range of outstanding educational opportunities for students, teachers and families right across Australia. The Asia Education Foundation (AEF) has been forging links and intercultural understanding as part of Asialink, Australia’s leading centre for the promotion of public understanding of the countries of Asia and of Australia’s role in the region, and an affiliate of Melbourne University.
Many readers will be familiar with the work of the AEF and have participated in the programmes offered. As a member of the AEF Board I have been privileged to see the excellent work of the Foundation first hand. As Andreas Schleicher, Director of the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills said in 2016, “Schools need to prepare students for a world in which people’s lives will be affected by issues that transcend national boundaries.” This is something we know, but I was genuinely inspired by a presentation from Asialink Business which pointed out the very serious and sustained effort that is occurring in developing international relationships – something in which education plays a very important role. More about that later.
AEF Executive Director Hamish Curry says, “Our goal is to develop a global mindset and skillset for all young Australians.” This is being achieved through an action model based on equipping school leaders to support teachers through evidence-based strategies to establish partnerships which engage students on the pathway to global competence and ever-deepening intercultural understanding.
If you’re an already over-worked school leader trying to manage an already overcrowded curriculum, don’t despair. The AEF has highly developed resources and support with which to assist schools, and of course, long established, solid working connections (and friendships) with international colleagues, schools and systems.
The OECD says, “Young people who develop global competence are better equipped to build more just, peaceful, inclusive and sustainable societies” – and a great deal is happening, including rapidly expanding employment opportunities. In 2016 the Foundation for Young Australians said that employer demand for bilingual skills in Australia grew by 181 per cent, second only to digital literacy.
In his paper ‘Beyond Certainty’, Professor Alan Reid writes about the individual, democratic, socio-cultural and economic purposes of education. While all four purposes are intertwined, it is the economic purpose that is an important focus for Asialink Business. In 2012 the Asialink Taskforce for an Asia Capable Workforce released a strategy paper which, among four major planks, included, “More effectively educate Australia’s future workforce for the Asian Century.”
The strategy paper goes on to say that “government must support the evolution of school, university and TAFE curricula towards Asia capability through funding and policy.” The evolution mentioned is of great interest – one of the main challenges for teachers, schools and other institutional leaders is how to decide exactly what fits into the five-day school week, 10-week term, and 40-week year. There remains a question about equity of opportunity for rural and remote students regarding the availability of Asian language teachers, although this is somewhat offset by developments in digital classrooms in those areas where connectivity is suitable.
Another element of the Asialink Business presentation which really got my attention was its partnership with the mayors and local communities of various rural and remote local councils. Recognising the economic benefit of developed relationships with neighbour countries, for example, mayors and local councils from all across Queensland have been engaging with Asialink Business to develop the cultural skills to engage with Asian businesses, investors, international students and tourist visitors. This has immediate spin-offs for schools – Australia’s mayors have a tremendous record of interest and support for education. Included in this is the growing opportunity for teachers and school leaders to become involved in engagement and enrichment activities. This not only benefits the students – it provides another personal/professional type of engagement and attraction for teachers working in regional areas. This is where Asialink Business and the AEF most obviously intersect – and it is this intersection which has provided so well for Australia and its neighbours and which holds so much potential for the future.
High quality work in intercultural understanding has been going on in Australian schools for many, many years. It is very important to recognise this. As the Asian Century progresses, so too does our engagement deepen – with education clearly a leading element in that engagement. I can strongly recommend connection with the Asia Education Foundation and exploration of the many exciting, high quality opportunities for students and staff the Foundation makes available.