Over the last 2 days I was fortunate enough to attend the Asia Education Foundation’s (AEF) National Conference in Melbourne. Along with close to 500 other educators from around Australia (including some from Singapore and Hong Kong), I had the opportunity to hear from some of Australia’s top thinkers on the topic of Australia and its engagement with Asia.
Keynote speaker John Denton kicked off the conference by providing a comprehensive (and extremely well spoken) overview of what it means for our young people to be a part of the ‘Asian Century’ and the potential ramifications this has in future business (among other areas). Denton clearly outlined the need for students to engage in learning Asian languages and developing their intercultural understanding and awareness. A strong sense of urgency was conveyed in his speech along with an understanding of the enormity of the change that needs to occur in our society in order for us to make the most of the Asian Century.
Yong Zhao presented twice at the conference and, as always, provided an inspiring and thought provoking speech on reimagining how we educate and prepare our students for the Asian Century.
Speaking with other delegates over the course of the last two days, I am sure I am not alone in feeling both the weight of the responsibility of leading this change and the excitement and honour in being charged with this critically important and future shaping task.
There were several key messages that surfaced throughout the conference sessions and I have left the conference with three major take home learnings:
- The critical need for our students (and all people in our society) to become proficient in speaking an Asian language
- The need for our students (and teachers) to dramatically improve their knowledge of Asia- including its various cultures etc
- The role and importance of technology in assisting our young people to learn about Asia and to learn Asian languages in an effective and sustainable manner.
On top of these key learnings I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with other educators from around the country. In particular, I was both surprised and reassured to find that the issues of conveying the relevance of Asian studies and languages that I experience working in a regional (predominantly mono-cultural) area, are not dissimilar to the issues faced by other educators in other states and towns across the nation.
What does this all mean?
As a passionate educator I need to lead my school and network (both online and offline) to become more Asia literate. In the first instance, I need to assess and then build upon the resources currently available to assist with this mission. Building on this, I need to take a good hard look at my symbolic leadership in terms of supporting the (currently struggling) school Indonesian program. (What do my current actions say about how much I value the Indonesian program? How am I going to champion this program and demonstrate the importance of this program for students? What simple actions can I engage in to help raise the profile and convey the relevancy and value of this program?).
As an educational leader, I need to think strategically about how to effectively build the Asia Literacy skills of my staff and of our students. After hearing about it at the conference, I believe that participating in the Asia Education Foundation’s ‘Asia BRIDGE’ program would go a long way in terms of building staff capacity and, perhaps more importantly, the community’s understanding of why this whole Asia Literacy caper is so undeniably important.
Ultimately, the AEF’s conference has reinforced my belief that the underlying mission of all teachers is to educate students to be active and contributing members of a global society. I now have a much wider network of educators who can work with me to achieve this goal and I am looking forward to opening the world to my students.
On a different note- I attended the Indian dinner last night (as a part of the conference’s Night of Australasian Stories) and loved both the food and the company. I particularly enjoyed the stories of the dinner guests- Kirsty Murray and Kylie Bolding and, as a result, shall now consistently stalk the AEF website awaiting the applications to open for the next study tour to India.
On a lighter note- I am wondering why I couldn’t get a cup of green tea within cooee of a national conference on Asia? Also, I would like to point out that Lisa Hayman from the AEF (@LisaHayman1) and I believe we were personally responsible for making #AsiaEd13 a trending topic on Twitter on the first day of the conference- check out the hashtag for loads of great resources, quotes and pics.
A final thought
With the passion, intelligence and wealth of knowledge and experience displayed by all the delegates at the conference, I am confident that our mission of shaping the future by preparing our students for the Asian Century is in safe hands.