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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
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Implementing studies of Asia

Asia Education Foundation (AEF)

Leading principals around Australia have taken up the challenge of building their schools' capacities to ensure their students are Asia-literate. Many schools have taken part in the Leading 21st Century Schools: Engage with Asia project: a national initiative led by the Asia Education Foundation (AEF) and involving the peak principal associations of Australia and all State and Territory education jurisdictions. This week Curriculum Leadership publishes a case study of a secondary school participating in the project, which has introduced studies of Asia in the Arts subject area, as a first step toward broader implementation across the curriculum.

Dapto High School is a Year 7–12 school located near Wollongong, New South Wales. It has 950 students and a staff of 80 including 66 teachers. The student population is relatively homogeneous with significant numbers of students coming from third- and fourth-generation central European families. The school's mission is 'to provide a just and caring learning environment which encourages all students to Strive for Higher Things'.

The school recognises that graduating students will be moving into an increasingly globalised world in terms of work and further study. Australia is on the edge of Asia and students require educational experiences that will encourage them to look beyond the local horizon and be prepared for opportunities and challenges in a changing world.  

The school's participation in the Leading 21st Century Schools: Engage with Asia (L21CS) project has challenged it to focus more directly on studies of Asia. This focus has also been encouraged by feedback from local leaders of the business, industry, commerce and community services sectors, and the school executive, consisting of the Principal Andrew Fitzsimons, Deputy Principals and heads of faculties. The school executive devotes one meeting a term to engagement with these local leaders to gain their perspectives on major issues impacting on education. A common thread running through these strategic meetings relates to the global, international and competitive dimensions of companies and business operations.

Getting started

The school leadership team recognises that many teachers have increasing knowledge of Asia. At Dapto HS, Michelle Cooper, Head of Creative Arts, has developed strong, professional connections with the New South Wales' Asia Education Advisor and is acutely aware of the range of Asia-focused resources available to schools.

The Principal participated in the initial L21CS forum in 2008. The school leadership team also participated in a briefing/workshop on the National Statement for Engaging Young Australians with Asia in Australian Schools, at which they gained a deeper understanding of its implications for schools and the importance of including studies of Asia in school programs. Following from these events, Andrew successfully applied for a 2009 L21CS grant to strengthen and enrich the work they had begun toward including studies of Asia in a more comprehensive way in the curriculum. The parents and citizens association was consulted and strongly endorsed expanding an Asian focus across key learning areas.

A focus on the Arts

The leadership team recognised that the incorporation of studies of Asia would take some time, requiring considerable amounts of professional development and a continuing review of teaching and learning programs across the school. It was decided that the initial focus would be on the Arts learning area, and that Michelle would take a leadership role in giving studies of Asia high visibility in the school.

Two important initiatives have been implemented. Firstly, units of work drawing on Asian culture, beliefs, visual symbols and icons have been written for students in Years 8 and 9. Skills, techniques and styles relating to Asian art have been introduced to the students, who have been encouraged to apply their growing knowledge, understanding and skills to their own experiences and artistic expression.

The second initiative has been the creation of an Asian sculpture garden in the school grounds. Work has started on this project which will be a highly visible and prominent school feature. Students have been motivated through exposure to, and study of Asian sculpture to create their own clay models for incorporation into the garden. This has been a highly engaging project and has given Michelle as Head of Creative Arts the opportunity to share with staff the intended outcomes of the project and to suggest possible links with other curriculum areas. A photographic and visual record of this enterprise is also being maintained and shared.

Links across the school

In her studies of Asia leadership role Michelle has had many informal discussions with staff to gauge the extent to which Asian content has been included in their programs. Essentially her role is to encourage, motivate, support and mentor staff as appropriate to look for ways of incorporating studies of Asia into their classroom programs.

As a result there is increasing interest in incorporating studies of Asia in some curriculum areas. For example, she has worked closely with some teachers of Human Society and its Environment (HSIE) and a unit of work on immigration to Australia now has a focus on immigration from Vietnam rather than the traditional focus solely on European immigration.

Increasingly, units of work related to civics and citizenship are now including Asian content.

Planning has been undertaken in relation to including the approved Board of Studies International Studies course in the Year 11 program for 2011.

A chaplaincy program has recently commenced in the school. It provides a significant opportunity to assist students to explore the world's religions. The nearby Nan Tien Buddhist temple has proven to be a useful resource to assist students to gain first-hand knowledge of aspects of Buddhist practice in the context of a study of Asian religions. Visits to the temple have also been part of the Year 9 Arts elective program.

Connecting with Asia

In 2008 Dapto HS established a sister-school relationship with a school in South Korea. Students, teachers and parents from Dapto participated in a study tour earlier this year. A reciprocal visit is planned for 2010.

The school is committed to progressive implementation of studies of Asia and sees the work being undertaken in the Arts as a model for developmental work across the curriculum. It is exploring ways of strengthening the sister-school program, including the development of electronic links to encourage contact between students. The school will continue to encourage and support teachers to incorporate Asian content into their teaching and learning programs.

Schools wishing to participate in the next round of the Leading 21st Century Schools: Engage with Asia project are invited to contact the AEF.

Key Learning Areas

The Arts

Subject Headings

Social life and customs
Educational planning
Education policy
Arts in education