The National Statement on Asia Literacy in Australian Schools 2011-2012 states that;
“Global integration and international mobility have increased rapidly in the past decade. As a consequence, new and exciting opportunities for Australians are merging... India, China and other Asian nations are growing and their influence on the world is increasing. Australians need to become ‘Asia literate’, engaging and building strong relationships with Asia.” (The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians).
The VPA, working together with the Department of Educational and Training (DET), intends to encourage more schools to become Asia literate and engage with Asia. This means promoting the teaching and learning of Asian languages and culture in school curriculum and communities.
An Asia literate school acknowledges;
“...the importance of including Studies of Asia (SOA) in the school curriculum and has a policy for ensuring students will connect Asia and Australia (as outlined in the National Statement for Engaging Young Australians with Asia in Australian Schools).”
For leaders developing and establishing Asia Literacy in your school, this involves;
The Asia Education Foundation is a great resource for schools in supporting Asia literate curriculum through in sourcing, creating, assessing and disseminating high quality curriculum materials that cater to all year levels and subject areas.
Sister Schools Provide Students With Purpose
"... The main thing is that it centres on development of the kids as a whole; being able to appreciate other cultures, to be able to talk and meet with people from other countries, learn about life in other places." - A school principal, VIC
Sister schools: findings from research in Victoria
The report about sister schools commissioned by the Victorian Department of Education and Training (DET) was written for an internal departmental audience, but key aspects relating to student demand for Asian languages are summarised here, as several of its research objectives relate to this directly:
Researchers used a combination of qualitative approaches (interviews with people involved) and quantitative approaches (online surveys) and also delivered a set of nine detailed case studies. Most sister school partnerships were found to exist with schools in Japan or China. One in five partnerships were established within the last year, but almost half had been established for more than five years.
General benefits for students
The report finds intercultural understanding to be the most commonly reported general benefit of sister school partnerships, followed by a range of personal development and awareness benefits. As one principal put it:
'When the Chinese kids come out here they are embraced as part of the culture and provide a kind of richness to our school. The main thing is that it centres on development of the kids as a whole; being able to appreciate other cultures, to be able to talk and meet with people from other countries, learn about life in other places.’
Motivation for students to learn languages
DET’s guidelines for sister school partnerships include increased enthusiasm to learn a language, among a range of expected benefits for students, and the report confirms this outcome. It is reported in two-thirds of cases that benefits for students include:
One principal said that:
'The relationships are really motivating for learning a language; students will continue a language until Year 12 having had that sort of experience, travelling to the other country, really enjoying it, feeling like they could communicate. However, when they travel over to us it probably has an even greater effect on the quality of the language skills of our students ...'’
Conditions for success
Challenges noted about sister school partnerships included costs of travel between countries and being able to devote the necessary time to making the partnership work. Importantly, the report also points to the necessity of having the right people involved. One principal commented:
'I cannot make a teacher have a relationship with another school, they have to want to do it.'
This dovetails with another finding, which is that having a champion of the sister school relationship on staff is a very positive indicator of likely success. At the same time, however, it is suggested that the loss of a champion from staff is a risk to the relationship. A consequent recommendation of the report is that the role of sister school champion’ be promoted as a leadership opportunity.
The report notes a number of key elements for the success of sister school relationships. It is not suggested that all of these are necessary, but rather that all should be considered when setting up a relationship:
The report makes a substantial contribution to describing what works in sister school partnerships and why. In particular, it confirms the positive contribution of well-run sister school partnerships in creating student demand for Asian languages.