09 October 2004

The Saga of Asian Language Study in Australia

Macam-Macam has posted a lengthy update on the demise of Asian language study in Australia.
When the Howard Government scrapped the highly-regarded National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools Strategy initiative (NALSAS) in mid-2002, the news received international attention. The CNN:
The Australian government has scrapped a $130 million (Aust. $240 million) 10-year funding program for teaching Asian languages in schools, four years before it was originally intended to end.

The program, introduced to Australian schools in 1996, was designed to promote the teaching of four key Asian languages: Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Bahasa Indonesia/Bahasa Malaysia and Korean.
How bloody short-sighted. Five months later, the Bali bombings happened and South East Asia suddenly moved front-and-centre in the Australian political psyche.

The decision was especially mystifying as it came from the self-professed masters of Australian economic management - could there be anything more valuable in clinching deals and strengthening ties than the ability to speak to East Asians in their own languages?
"How bloody short-sighted" indeed! Fortunately, the program seems to have become an election issue.
Both the Federal Government and the Opposition have promised money specifically to encourage the study of foreign languages at school. The Government has budgeted $110 million for all foreign languages, while the ALP has slated $64 million for Asian language studies.
Macam-macam concludes:
The Howard Government may have done much to tackle terrorism in South East Asia since the Bali bombings of October 2002, but nevertheless I can't stop feeling that a grave mistake in the war on terror was made 5 months earlier when funding for NALSAS was terminated. The full repercussions of that decision may not be felt for some years yet.
Let's hope the newly returned Howard Government wastes no time before reversing this grave mistake.

No comments: