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New alliance to push Asian languages and study

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A powerful alliance of business groups, unions and corporations is calling for a greater educational focus on Asia.

“Once we come out of this economic downturn Australia will look to Asia as a core driver of our own recovery,” Australian Industry Group head Heather Ridout said. “Understanding Asia, knowing the languages, cultures and traditions and teaching our children about our near neighbours is essential for future prosperity.”

The Business Alliance for Asia Literacy is a coalition of 60 associations and corporations

Only 3 per cent of students are studying an Asian language at university. Just 12 per cent of year 12 students study a foreign language, and only half of those choose an Asian language.

The alliance has called on schools and state and federal governments to ensure that education in Asian knowledge and languages is core to the Australian curriculum, and it launches its message at the Asia Education Foundation national summit in Melbourne today.

“If we don’t focus on Asia literacy, both language and cultural awareness, we’re going to get left behind,” says Kathe Kirby, executive director of Asialink and the Asia Education Foundation.

In the past decade, the number of languages offered at universities dropped from 66 to 29, according to a recent Group of Eight universities report.

Earlier this year Education Minister Julia Gillard launched an “Asia literacy” strategy to double the numbers studying an Asian language by 2015, with funding of $15.6 million a year over four years. But Melbourne University Asian Law Centre director Professor Tim Lindsey said the money, while welcome, was insufficient.

The Age

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