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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Schools becoming Asia literate – what works?

Eeqbal Hassim
Mario Peucker
Hassim Eeqbal is Senior Manager, and Mario Peucker is Project Officer, in the Research and Curriculum section of the Asia Education Foundation.

This article is based on a recent research study by the Asia Education Foundation (AEF), published in November 2013 under the title What Works 5 – Schools becoming Asia literate: what works?

While the notion of Asia literacy has been on the political and education agenda for several decades, it has recently received unprecedented attention in education policy documents, including the Australian Curriculum with its cross-curriculum priority of Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia. Schools are at the forefront of promoting Asia literacy, facing the challenge of offering young Australians a chance to acquire the knowledge, skills and understandings to engage with Asia.

This article reviews the Becoming Asia Literate: Grants to Schools (BALGS) project, designed to assist Australian schools to become Asia literate. BALGS was managed by AEF on behalf of the Australian Government under the National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program (NALSSP). It provided $ 7.2 million to 335 projects (representing 521 schools) through three funding rounds from 2009 to 2012 with the objective of promoting teaching and learning of Asian languages and/or studies of Asia.

At the conclusion of BALGS, AEF carried out a systematic analysis of the project, utilising quantitative and qualitative data stored in a large, enterprise-class database from 2009 to 2012. The research found that BALGS has served as a sound investment in the promotion of Asia literacy in Australian schools. For example, 93% of BALGS project leaders reported that their knowledge and understanding of the Asia region has increased; 95% of project leaders indicated students’ knowledge, skills and understanding about Asia have increased; and 90% of project leaders considered their projects sustainable beyond the period of funding.

The research identified four themes that summarise how BALGS has enabled schools to develop Asia literacy practice.

Theme 1: Building teacher capacity for Asia literacy

At each school a team of teacher-leaders were appointed to introduce BALGS. They had the opportunity to undertake research into curriculum and pedagogy surrounding Asia literacy. As a result they were able to develop new knowledge about ‘what works’ in Asian languages education and/or studies of Asia, to apply this knowledge in classrooms, and to use these experiences to coach colleagues in applying a coherent approach to teaching.

Huntingdale Primary School (Victoria) is one of the schools that focussed in its BALGS project on building capacity of teachers to lead and effect curriculum and pedagogic change. The school developed an evidence-based and coherent bi-literacy approach for its Japanese language program, which has led to a number of structural, policy and procedure changes across the school, including building capacity of all staff.

Theme 2: Achieve whole-school commitment to Asia literacy

BALGS provided the ideal opportunity for schools to reflect on how, and the extent to which, they were addressing the cross-curriculum priorities outlined in the Australian Curriculum. In some cases, participation in BALGS prompted schools to opt for large-scale, systematic change, in terms of both curriculum and pedagogy, to emphasise Asia literacy. These changes developed the leadership skills of many teachers involved, and developed a shared understanding of the significance and value of the curriculum change throughout the school community.

The BALGS project at Margaret River Primary School (WA), for example, systematically incorporated Asia literacy across the curriculum and increased the school community’s recognition of how vital Asia perspectives are for 21st century teaching and learning. This has resulted in sustainable changes across the school, which demonstrate long-term vision and whole-school commitment to Asia literacy.

Theme 3: Build relationships and partnerships (community of Asia literacy practice)

BALGS provided teachers with opportunities to think and act creatively and innovatively. Professional collaborations inverted some perceptions that exist within and between schools about the roles and responsibilities of teachers. For example, during the project some secondary teachers worked in primary schools to establish a language learning continuum, addressing the problematic nature of language transition between primary and secondary schools. Other teachers designed a curriculum initiative that consciously integrated content learning in science with Indonesian language to reflect creative and authentic language use. A significant outcome of these innovative collaborations for the teachers involved was professional reward, mutual respect and personal nourishment.

For instance, the BALGS project at Lansdowne Crescent Primary School (Tasmania) cooperated with three other schools as well as with its sister school in Surabaya (Indonesia) to develop a learning project that combines the science-focussed issue of biodiversity with Indonesian language. This project facilitated new ways of collaboration not only between the different schools, but also between teachers within Lansdowne Crescent.

Theme 4: Investing in new pedagogies and curriculum design for Asia literacy

BALGS provided teachers with the time and the opportunity to observe and reflect on innovative practices, to assess the impacts on student learning and to consider next steps. Consequently, they were able to reflect on how best to engage students with Asia-related content and capabilities, to develop intercultural understanding and communicative competence, and to help build the critical thinking and research skills that help form a deep knowledge base. Moreover, BALGS helped build momentum for school change as well as the enthusiasm and energy that grow out of creative and purposeful activities.

Several BALGS schools have demonstrated the productive learning outcomes that can result from investment in new pedagogies and curriculum for Asia literacy. The BALGS project at Illawarra Sports High School (NSW), for example, triggered a paradigm shift for teaching the studies of Asia, based on the recognition of the potentials of ICT for student learning. Utilising a combination of ICT tools in the Indonesia language program, the school placed emphasis on students as researchers, with a strong focus on independent investigation within the context of cross-curricular research topics.   

Concluding remarks

It is challenging for schools to develop Asia literacy, Asian language proficiency and/or intercultural understanding. During the BALGS project schools met these challenges. In doing so, BALGS had other positive effects. It helped teachers to effectively cover various dimensions of the Australian Curriculum, while improving students’ learning outcomes and motivation. It also fostered a climate of innovation and enthusiasm within each school community.


Subject Headings

Educational planning
Social life and customs