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Create more Asia study opportunities for teachers: report

The most Asia-literate teachers were those who had had experienced some form of extended cultural exchange in an Asian country, the research found. AAP Image/Dan Peled

Asia knowledge should be included in all initial teacher education, according to a new report released today that also called for more opportunities for teachers and principals to experience Asia through exchange and study programs.

Asia literacy is already a part of the national school curriculum, while the White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century listed Asian languages and studies as national objectives crucial to driving productivity.

The new report, conducted by researchers from Deakin University, included a survey of 1319 teachers and 432 principals aged between 23 and 63 that found that 35% had visited more than four Asian countries, with most staying at least six months.

However, 60% of those surveyed said that teaching and learning about Asia was never mentioned in their initial teacher training.

“The findings show that the most Asia-literate teachers were those who had experienced some form of extended cultural exchange in an Asian country (more than three weeks). On the other hand, teachers with no cultural education experiences had significantly lower overall Asia literacy scores,” the report said.

The report recommended:

  • New ways of measuring and providing feedback on Asia literacy among teachers and principals
  • Extra training on how to use computers and the web to learn about and connect with Asia
  • Provision of opportunities for teachers to do exchange, travel and study programs in Asia
  • A national strategic plan to ensure that principals and teachers at all stages of their careers have access to Asia-related professional learning
  • Asia relevant content knowledge and skills to be included in initial teacher education.

Professor Christine Halse, Chair in Education at Deakin University and a co-author of the report said that so much of the debate about Asia education in schools focused on “what we want kids to learn, rather than what sort of capacity do teachers and principals need to have to accomplish that.”

“What the research found was that for teachers and principals, the critical factor was that person-to-person contact, direct engagement with Asia. That moves your knowledge base from learning in a vacuum to what is important in terms of the curriculum, which is intercultural engagement,” she said.

“One of the things this study revealed empirically is that we have to move beyond some of the strategies that policy makers are keen to latch on to: the notion that there’s a deficit in the teachers and the solution is filling up the knowledge base with more stuff,” said Professor Halse.

Providing opportunities for teachers to engage directly with Asia was more likely to help them teach the skills of intercultural engagement and cultural sensitivity, she said.

“Knowledge is only part of the story. Intercultural skills, knowing how to engage, is actually going to be the key. These are the skills for a global world that young people will take from their school education into the world.”

The report was commissioned by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, funded by the Department of Education, Employment and Workforce Relations, and managed by the Asia Education Foundation.

Important but concerning

David Hill, Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Murdoch University and Consortium Director of the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies (ACICIS), described the new report as an important study.

“It is extremely concerning that 60% of respondents had not been exposed to any teaching about Asia during their university teacher training,” he said.

“This highlights the imperative of ensuring that teachers and educational decision-makers, such as principals, have support to at least visit Asia for professional development programs.”

Ideally, said Professor Hill, their training would involve at least a semester of living and studying in Asia “to provide a meaningful basis for their teaching.”

“There are a range of such programs available, including the Study Indonesia Program run by ACICIS. Let us not forget that competence in an Asian language is a major determinant of one’s ability to be at ease when living and operating in Asia,” he said.

“It is important too for universities to recognise that they need to provide postgraduate professional upgrading courses for teachers seeking to improve their own knowledge of Asia and therefore their capacity to teach on the basis of knowledge and experience.”

Dr Ross Tapsell, Lecturer in Asian Studies at the Australian National University said there was a clear need for teachers and principals to have substantial and ongoing courses in Asian studies and languages, ideally at a tertiary level.

“This would require educational faculties to place more Asianists as staff, and for current teachers to undertake professional development courses in Asian Studies,” he said.

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