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Asia literacy on Aussie agenda

By K.C. Boey - posted Wednesday, 20 May 2009

If Australia were a "torn country" in Samuel Huntington's scheme of the "clash of civilisations", China is understandably dividing public opinion.

Does it represent a threat or an opportunity in its designs on Australian mining resources? Is China's ascendancy as an economic powerhouse in Australia's strategic interest?

These questions were on educator Professor Yong Zhao's mind as he was flying into Melbourne for a conference.


As Zhao told delegates to a national summit of the Asia Education Foundation (AEF), at which he was a keynote speaker, he couldn't wait to get his hands on the defence white paper that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd unveiled the day before he arrived.

China-born Zhao, internationally renowned distinguished professor at the College of Education, Michigan State University, spent the night poring over the 140-page paper, loading additional images to his PowerPoint presentation, before fronting the next morning to speak on "21st Century Global Citizens".

Zhao's facts and figures, graphs and images contrasting global expenditure on arms and defence with money that went to the poor were stark.

"Why do we spend so much in order to kill each other, and not help each other?" he wondered.

Delhi school principal Ameeta Wattal followed, picking up on the theme of global citizenship from the Indian perspective.

As Wattal was telling delegates of the experience of her Springdales School in Delhi, AEF executive director Kathe Kirby leaned over to summit leader Tony Mackay to whisper that "we need to break this colonial mindset (in Australia)".


One hundred and sixty educators, teachers and representatives of parents from every one of the six states and two territories were at the two-day sixth national summit of the AEF, the Melbourne-based foundation of the Asialink Centre at the University of Melbourne and Curriculum Corporation, co-ordinating the teaching of Asia in Australia.

The objective: to enhance Asia literacy for every young Australian in schools.

China - and India - does not Asia make, of course. As an Asialink co-authored index of Australia's engagement with Asia, released in February, shows, Asean as a trading bloc is more vital to Australia than China.

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First published in the New Straits Times on May 10, 2009.

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About the Author

K.C. Boey is a former editor of Malaysian Business and The Malay Mail. He now writes for The Malaysian Insider out of Melbourne.

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