Emergency notice

Asia and Australia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia

Portrait photo of Anne Southwell
Anne Southwell is the Senior Curriculum Support Officer for HSIE K–6.

Asia literacy

The NSW K–10 syllabuses incorporate Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asiaasa ‘Learning across the curriculum’priority embedded in the content of each syllabus. This priority ensures students learn about and recognise the diversity within and between the countries of the Asia region.

Students’ develop knowledge and understanding of Asian societies, cultures, beliefs and environments, and the connections between the peoples of Asia, Australia, and the rest of the world. Asia literacy provides students with the skills to communicate and engage with the peoples of Asia so they can effectively live, work and learn in the region (ACARA, 2011). This understanding underpins the capacity of Australian students to be active and informed citizens working together to build harmonious local, regional and global communities, and to build Australia’s social, intellectual and creative capital (Asia Education Foundation, 2011, p.4

The Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asialearning across the curriculum priority is about the region of which Australia is a part: its diverse histories, geographies, societies, cultures, literatures, economies, languages and more. It is the story of engagement that may be told through the personal experiences of authors, historians, artists or individuals in some studies, but these simply provide a medium for understanding about the Asia region, not the reason for studying it (Asia Education Foundation, 2011, p.3).

The rationale for the inclusion of ‘Asia and Australia’s engagement’with Asia is diverse and significant. It takes into account that the pace and scale of Asia’s rise has been staggering. In a region rich in cultural, social, political and economic diversity, peoples’ lives have been transformed, just as the world has been transformed.

Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, parts of the region have experienced a halving in their infant mortality rates and decades have been added to life expectancy. Nearly all the high-performing economies in Asia have deliberately set out to support prosperity by reforming policy and institutional settings. Many economies within the region have invested heavily in people and created a climate that has supported capital investments.

With the benefit of a good education, growing numbers of young people have found jobs when they have reached prime working age.

Open global trading systems and infrastructure to reduce transport costs have driven regional and global integration. More broadly, a global system of rules has allowed for greater stability and spurred increasing levels of interdependence (Australian Government, 2012, p.35

A picture of Australian society fact sheet
A picture of Australian society fact sheet

So what is life like now in Asia and how has it changed?

An example: How life has changed in Indonesia?

The experience of a child living in Indonesia tells the story of what has happened across large parts of Asia.

While there is room for improvement, access to immunisation, sanitation and nutrition means an Indonesian child can now expect to have a life expectancy into their late 60s, compared to just 45 if they’d been born in 1960 (World Bank, 2012d).

Around 18 per cent of Indonesians are living in poverty today, compared to 68 per cent in the late 1980s (World Bank, 2012d). The size of the Indonesian economy is now larger than Australia’s (when adjusted for purchasing power parity) (IMF, 2012).

Young children today will have had at least nine years of compulsory schooling, with plans for 12 years of compulsory education from 2014 (Yudhoyono, 2012).

Nearly a quarter of students who recently completed their secondary school education are enrolled in tertiary study (World Bank, 2012d).

With economic growth and education, job choices have been transformed. As recently as 1990, a young Indonesian was most likely to have a job in agriculture. Now, the prospect of a city-based career in a professional service industry is a reality—and lifestyles are changing rapidly as a result (Australian Government, 2012, p. 33).

Indonesia’s education system, the fourth-largest in the world, has more than 50 million students and 2.6 million teachers in more than 250,000 schools. While average primary school enrolment rates are reasonably high, they vary across the country. Net primary school enrolment rates are about 60 per cent in poor districts compared to almost universal enrolment in more well-off districts (World Bank, 2012c).

The region’s investment in its people has gone well beyond education. Governments have also invested heavily in improving access to sanitation, housing and clean water.

A virtuous circle has been created in which social development has accompanied and supported higher rates of economic growth, and these in turn have contributed to further improvements in broader indicators of wellbeing (Box 1:2 in Australian Government, 2012, p. 35

Celebrate connections

The Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asiapriority provides the opportunity for students to celebrate the social, cultural, political and economic links that connect Australia with Asia. This priority has been developed around three key concepts:

  1. Asia and its diversity

    This concept highlights the diversity within and between the countries of the Asia region, from their cultures, societies and traditions through to their diverse environments and the effects of these on the lives of people.

  2. Achievements and contributions of the peoples of Asia

    This concept examines the past and continuing achievements of the peoples of Asia, identifies their contribution to world history and acknowledges the influences that the Asia region has on the world’s aesthetic and creative pursuits.

  3. Asia-Australia engagement

This concept is about the nature of past and ongoing links between Australia and Asia, and develops the knowledge, understanding and skills, which make it possible to engage actively and effectively with peoples of the Asia region (ACARA, 2011).

What does this look like?

For English

The study of English provides learning opportunities for students to explore and appreciate the rich tradition of texts from and about the people and countries of Asia, including texts written by Asian authors. They develop an understanding of the many languages and diverse Asian cultures and how they have influenced Australian culture. Through their study, students will develop an appreciation of the role Australia has played in Asia and the ongoing relationship Australia has developed with the countries that make up the Asian region (English K–10 syllabus).

For Mathematics

In their study of the NSW K–10 Mathematics curriculum, students investigate the concept of chance using Asian games and can explore the way Asian societies apply other mathematical concepts, such as patterns and symmetry in art and architecture. Investigations involving data collection and representation can be used to examine issues pertinent to the Asia region (Mathematics K–10 syllabus, 2012).

For Science

Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asiaprovides rich and engaging contexts for developing students’ science and technology skills, knowledge and understanding. The Science K–10 (incorporating Science and Technology K–6) syllabusprovides students with opportunities to recognise that the Asian region includes diverse environments. Students appreciate how interactions within and between these environments, and the impacts of human activity influence the region, including Australia, and have significance for the rest of the world.

The Asian region plays an important role in scientific and technological research and development in areas such as medicine, natural resource management and natural disaster prediction and management (Science K–10 syllabus, 2012).

For History

History students develop an understanding of the diversity of the peoples of Asia and their contributions to the region and the world, and an appreciation of the importance of the region for Australia and the world. Students understand the dynamic nature of social, cultural and political relationships within the region over time, and the role that individuals, governments and other organisations play in shaping relationships between peoples and countries. Students develop an appreciation of the history of the Australian–Asian engagement and how this influences contemporary Australian society and relationships with the countries of Asia. They understand the long history of migration to Australia by people from Asia, and they acknowledge the contributions made over time by Asian Australians to the development of Australia’s culture and society. They also understand the ongoing role played by Australia and individual Australians in major events and developments in the Asia region (History K–10 syllabus, 2012).

The dramatic shift in orientation towards Asia in the past 40 years has changed the face of Australian society and strengthened our connections with our region. The scope of our ties has been broad, driven by trade, migration, tourism, education and exchanges in business, arts, ideas and information.

Australia’s people-to-people links with Asia grew stronger throughout the 1970s and these connections deepened into the 21st century.

Cultural diversity is at the centre of Australia’s identity. The face of Australia has changed dramatically in recent decades and Asia is now an important part of that identity. This includes the role of Indigenous Australians in defining Australian culture. Indigenous Australians play a leading role in bringing Australia to the world. Contemporary Indigenous visual arts are one example of a highly regarded unique art movement being taken to the rest of the world. This includes frequent exhibitions involving leading Indigenous artists and their art works touring worldwide, including Asia, through initiatives of our national cultural institutions and Australia’s diplomatic missions.

Presentations such as these demonstrate the vitality and uniqueness of Australian culture, which in turn assists Australia’s national interests, including in our region. The inclusion of Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia is an important aspect of educating for the future.

References and further reading

ACARA 2011, ‘Cross-curriculum priorities’, Curriculum, Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), accessed 25 October 2013.

Asia Education Foundation 2011, ‘Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia’, Asia content in the Australian Curriculum, accessed 25 October 2013.

Australian Government 2012, Australia in the Asian Century. White Paper, accessed 25 October 2013.

Board of Studies NSW 2012, ‘Learning across the curriculum’, English K–10 syllabus, NSW syllabus for the Australian curriculum, NESA, accessed 25 October 2013.

Board of Studies NSW 2012, ‘Learning across the curriculum’, History K–10 syllabus, NSW syllabus for the Australian curriculum, accessed 25 October 2013.

Board of Studies NSW 2012, ‘Learning across the curriculum’, Mathematics K–10 syllabus, NSW syllabus for the Australian curriculum, accessed 25 October 2013.

Board of Studies NSW 2012, ‘Learning across the curriculum’, Science K–10 (incorporating Science and Technology K–6) syllabus, accessed 25 October 2013.

World Bank, 2012c, World Bank and education in Indonesia, World Bank, Washington, DC, accessed 25 October 2013.

World Bank, 2012d, World development indicators, database, World Bank, Washington, DC, accessed 25 October 2013.

Yudhoyono, S 2012, Speech to the 67th Anniversary of Proclamation of Independence at Home Joint Session of the DPR and DPD RI, accessed 25 October 2013.

Keywords: diversity; culture; connections

How to cite this article: Southwell, A. 2013, ‘Asia and Australia’s and Australia’s engagement with Asia’, Scan 32.4

Return to top of page