With Australia's economic future increasingly aligned with our regional counterpart, China, our top educators are now rightly focusing on how to improve our Asian literacy. For our country to benefit fully from closer business, leisure and education relationships, Asian literacy must be built into school curricula at every level.
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Starting in earliest primary school and continuing through every grade, students should be exposed to Asian culture, history and language. It's only through a deeper understanding of these topics that the workforce of tomorrow will be ready to take advantage of the huge opportunities ahead and learn how to engage most productively with our closest neighbours.
China's booming middle class
Of course, this need hasn't arisen overnight. Since the 1990s, Australia's place in Asia has been evolving as economic and trading links blossomed. The mining boom of the past decade helped push this process into overdrive.
Asia - and in particular China - has also been experiencing a period of fundamental change. By 2020, around 20 per cent of the Chinese population will have joined the middle class. This shift will bring unprecedented demand for new goods and services and a growing desire for travel.
The need for language skills will be at the core of Australia's preparedness for this shift. Only by speaking a country's language can a person understand those nuances of culture that are so important for forming strong business relationships.
One of four priority Asian languages
For this reason, Mandarin is one of the four priority Asian languages targeted by Australian schools. The Australian Government has a goal of ensuring that at least 40 per cent of Year 12 students are studying a language other than English within the next decade.
There are also plans to make the study of at least one foreign language compulsory between Years 5 and 10 over the same period.
Achieving these goals will not be easy, but it's critical for Australia's future economic prosperity.
For more details, see the first paper in our Learning Mandarin in Australian Schools series.
I will be speaking on this and other sector relevant topics at two Education conferences in June.
The EduTECH conference runs from June 3 - 4 in Brisbane, where Optus will also be sharing an exhibition stand with our partner, Verso. For more details see: www.edutech.net.au/index.html
The Asia Education Foundation conference runs from June 16 - 17 in Sydney, for more details see: www.asiaeducation.edu.au/national_conference_2014_landing_page.html
By Katrina Reynen, Industry Manager, Education. More from Katrina on Twitter: @ReynenKatrina