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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Leading in Asia literacy

Jennifer Ure
Manager National Projects, Asia Education Foundation

This article outlines the Asia Education Foundation's professional learning program for school leaders. It then looks at a smaller primary school principal's positive experiences of the program, and the way it acted as a catalyst for further action on Asia literacy.

Australia's future prosperity is inextricably linked with Asia: our children will be poorer if we do not accept the challenge of engaging more closely with the Asian region. The urgent need for citizens to become Asia-literate has been recognised by political, business and education leaders.

The need for Asia literacy is also reflected in the Australian Curriculum. For some years, curriculum guidelines in states and territories generally encouraged the inclusion of studies of Asia, but in most cases little was mandated, and while some forward-looking teachers and schools picked up the opportunity, many did not. Under the Australian Curriculum, 'Asia and Australia's engagement with Asia' will be one of only three cross-curriculum priorities, and various Asia-related content will be mandated at all levels.

In this context, as always, leadership in schools will be crucial.

Leading 21st Century Schools: Engage with Asia

To support school leaders, the Asia Education Foundation (AEF) has developed the Leading 21st Century Schools: Engage with Asia (L21CS) professional learning program. Since 2008, the AEF has been delivering L21CS in partnership with Principals Australia and other peak principals' organisations. Funding has come from the Australian Government.

L21CS aims to build awareness of the current and future global significance of Asia and the need for Australia to engage with the region. L21CS supports the implementation of key national policies on Asia, including the Australian Curriculum, and also supports the development of a whole-school approach that will ensure the development of sustainable Asia-literate policy and programs.

Participants first complete a one-day workshop, which they leave with a specific toolkit of resources and an action plan to use back at school. Ten weeks later they meet again to share and report on outcomes. Over 500 school leaders have so far taken part in L21CS.

Some participants in L21CS have come from very large secondary schools, and have produced quite elaborate implementation plans. At the same time, the program has proved catalytic in much smaller settings.

This article now describes one smaller school's experience with the program from an interview with Angie O'Hare, Principal of a primary school and participant in Victoria's L21CS Program and Australia-Indonesia BRIDGE school partnerships program.

L21CS at Marlborough Primary School, Victoria

Angie O'Hare is Principal of Marlborough Primary School, which has 160 students and 12 staff. It is her first position as principal and she has been at Marlborough less than a year. The school is located in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, close to the Dandenong Ranges. Its population is largely of European extraction.

When she took up the position she was struck by the fact that smaller schools don't have the capacity to run as wide a range of programs as larger ones, and she looked for ways to counter that limitation. Parents at Marlborough PS wanted their children to learn a language and, since the local secondary school teaches Indonesian, Angie felt that Indonesian would be an appropriate choice. However, the school didn't have a LOTE teacher, and no teacher of Indonesian was immediately available.

She therefore looked for other ways in which the school could engage with Asia. In this context, she successfully applied to take part in the 2011 L21CS program.

The presenters at the first day of the program inspired Angie: 'what they were discussing was the future of our children, their lives and how they would benefit from being engaged with Asia. It all made sense.'

Back at school, however, she was conscious of the fact that her small staff was already overloaded, so she wanted to take small steps. The first thing she did was to show her staff the video 2020 Schools: Engage with Asia, which is part of the L21CS toolkit. Angie felt that '…in the discussion that followed the video, studies of Asia were seen as an opportunity to build on existing programs rather than a demand for more work'.

This led to a small-scale audit of curriculum, followed by a preliminary scope and sequence document, which allocated particular curriculum items to particular levels and teachers.

Joining the BRIDGE Project

Another result of L21CS was that Angie found out about the Australia-Indonesia BRIDGE Project, which links Australian and Indonesian schools. It was a perfect fit with her earlier thinking: 'I felt that, with the staff development money available, we would be able to start by building up our cultural studies of Indonesia, then include an introduction to Indonesian language and later build on that. But it was L21CS that opened the doors for us.'

The school made an application to be part of the BRIDGE Project. The application was successful, notwithstanding the fact that the school did not teach Indonesian. She and two of her teachers then attended the BRIDGE training course at the University of Melbourne. There they met two teachers from a government school outside Jakarta, who became their partners in the Project. These teachers attended Marlborough over the next two weeks, a time she recalls very fondly:

'The two Indonesian teachers really became part of the school and participated in everything from day-to-day classes to sports days. They taught some basic Indonesian language and Indonesian culture and the kids really loved it. But the biggest thing was the understandings that the kids developed, and the barriers broken down. Maybe they had received certain ideas about Muslim people from outside the school, or the media, but all that was completely blown away. They saw our partners as people with lives and jobs, in some ways like Australians and in other ways not. But definitely as people first of all. And then our few families of Asian background came to the fore as well and were able to share aspects of culture themselves.'

Subsequently, contact has continued between Marlborough PS and their partners in Indonesia. There have been some Skype sessions between students, but as the Internet connection at the school in Indonesia is often unavailable, ordinary mail is proving an effective supplement. Marlborough students are comparing their lives with their Indonesian counterparts and, as Angie says '…seeing Indonesian kids as people they can learn from, but people with favourite TV programs, likes and dislikes and families as well'.

Plans are being made for two Marlborough teachers to visit their partners in Indonesia in January, and both sides would also like to be able to have student visits. Although there are difficulties because of travel restrictions and finance, Angie sees such visits as the next logical step.

The work to develop Asia literacy goes on in other ways at Marlborough. Online Indonesian classes are being investigated and applications are being made to be part of the Building Asia Literacy Grants to School and Asia Literacy Ambassadors programs through the AEF. Angie sees all this as part of her push to find innovative ways to ensure that students at her small school have access to the widest possible range of programs.

About The Asia Education Foundation

The Asia Education Foundation (AEF) has a mission to support Asia literacy in Australia. It mobilises and builds alliances to raise demands for Asia literacy. The recent AEF Summit in Sydney, for example, provided a forum at which a number of speakers from political, business and education sectors, and their arguments can be found on the AEF website. The AEF collaborates with education systems and jurisdictions to create curriculum resources and to encourage schools to embed Asia literacy in the curriculum

With funding support from the Australian Government and other funders, the AEF offers a range of services and resources to support the implementation of the cross-curriculum priority 'Asia and Australia's engagement with Asia' in the Australian Curriculum. For more information, go to www.asiaeducation.edu.au


Subject Headings

Curriculum planning
Language and languages
Social life and customs