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Asia Literacy in Australian Schools and the Move Toward Broader Intercultural Understanding  

Emily S. Rudling

Asia literacy is an Australian education policy goal intended to educate Australian school students about Asian languages, cultures, and economies and, in turn, deepen Australian engagement with the Asian region. First defined in 1988, the concept has since been adapted by a suite of Asia education policies with more than 60 relevant policy documents having been published since the 1950s. However, despite being a cornerstone education policy, political vagaries have prevented the widespread and sustained implementation of Asia literacy education in schools. Tied to the broader goal of engaging with Asia, Asia literacy is in conflict with a sense of an Australian national identity and entangled with Australian economic, education, and foreign policies. A thematic review of the extant policy data and scholarly literature reveals several flaws in Asia literacy policy. Namely, it is underpinned by several assumptions: Asia literacy is learned in formal education; Asia is a knowable entity; proficiency in languages, cultures, and economies equates to Asia literacy; and Asia literacy is assumed to resolve national disengagement from Asia. This approach fails to account for everyday Asia literacy enlivened in the multicultural and multilingual Australian society. Scholars have argued that this “others” Asia from everyday Australian life. The implications of this model of Asia literacy play out in the classroom with few teachers reporting confidence in teaching Asia literacy content, and enrollments in Asia-related subjects being perpetually low. Newer policy imperatives which stipulate the teaching and learning of intercultural competencies may help to dissolve the construct of the Asian other and enliven Asia literacy in the classroom beyond knowledge of languages and cultures. If pursued, this can foster dynamic knowledge of Asia in Australian schools, bringing Asia closer to the everyday and enhancing engagement with the Asian region.