About the Project

This project was developed and funded under the auspices of the Australian Government’s National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program (NALSSP).

What will the project do?

The project has been designed to build capacity in parents to influence students and schools to give priority to programs on Asian languages and studies. The project will focus on the four NALSSP target countries (China, Korea, Indonesia and Japan) to:

  • build an engaged, informed and supported network of parents focused on Asian languages and studies for their children and communities.
  • support parents to effectively and positively engage with their school and community to deepen understanding of the personal and social implications of Asian engagement for their children
  • develop parental understanding of what is possible and achievable through highlighting existing examples of good practice in relation to Asian languages and studies programs in schools, and provision of peer examples of parents supporting Asian languages and studies.

The Two Main Focus Areas

  1. Stimulating student demand
    The project will specifically focus upon stimulating student demand for Asian languages and studies through building parental commitment and capacity to influence. Parents influence the subject choices students make. Informed and engaged parents also drive school curriculum choices and pathways that are best for their children.
  2. Supporting Parents to Support Schools
    The capacity of parents to engage in informed discussions with teachers and school leaders will be enhanced through building parental commitment to and engagement with their children’s education about Asia, the capacity of parents to engage in informed discussions with teachers and school leaders will be enhanced. This will assist to create school environments that support and promote Asian languages and studies and foster the building of strategic partnerships with the business and not for profit sectors through the existing activities of parents in the broader community. It is expected that this will in time have effects that will go beyond the school level to help to drive change within systems and jurisdictions.

Why is this project needed?

The decline in the study of Asian languages in Australian schools has been an issue for some time. A 2002 research study found that approximately 50% of schools did not teach about Asia and we now have a situation where fewer than 6% of students complete Asian languages in Year 12.

Yet, a key study among the parents of Australian schoolchildren* found:

  • 91% believe an important skill for all Australians is the ability to communicate across cultures
  • 80% agreed Australian school students should have an opportunity to learn an Asian language
  • 60% would like their child to study an Asian language
  • 82% said that Australians needed to understand China as well as they understood Britain and the USA, although India did not feature as prominently in their thinking.

However, the study also found:

  • less than 50% of schools routinely involve parents in their decision-making processes
  • less than 20% of parents have participated in any discussions about studies of Asia in their children’s schools
  • a significant proportion of parents had difficulty in assessing how studies of Asia could be incorporated into the curriculum, with 58% stating that they would have difficulty in assigning a priority to it.

A 2006 survey of parents and students* which focused specifically on languages education resulted in similar findings. That study included three areas of inquiry that are particularly relevant to this project:

  1. Usefulness and Relevance of Languages
    • 90% of parents and 70% of students said the study of a language other than English helps students understand their world
    • 74% of parents and 66% of students said it improves future employment prospects
    • 63% said the best way to learn about another culture is via a language
    • 50% of parents were worried at low levels of Year 12 students studying languages
    • 66% of parents said that many parents and many students - and Australians in general - do not see the relevance of learning a language. This seemed to suggest that most respondents were personally convinced but were somewhat unsure about the commitment of others.
  2. Should all students study a language?
    • 86% of parents and 60% of students said language study should start in early primary school
    • Nearly 70% of parents and 40% of students said language study should be compulsory in primary school and the early high school years
    • 65% said studying a language helps with English
    • Less than 20% felt that students having problems with English, or special needs students, should be exempted.
  3. Parent involvement & engagement
    • 76% of parents want and expect to be consulted and involved in school decisions affecting languages education (only some 20% felt this was safely left in the hands of subject and education experts).
    • Only 30% of parents felt adequately informed, and
    • Only 15% felt they had been appropriately engaged.

Parents influence the subject choices students make. Informed and engaged parents also drive school curriculum choices and pathways that are best for their children. There is undoubtedly a genuine interest among parents in their children having the opportunity to study other languages and cultures. However, there are also high levels of confusion and uncertainty among parents about how this can be done effectively.

It is critical, if participation rates of students studying Asian languages and studies are to be lifted to any significant extent, that parents are meaningfully engaged as key allies in the process. The project will leverage from the unique understandings and networks of the national parents organisations, the knowledge and expertise of the consortium members and the above data to increase student demand for the studies of Asian culture and languages.

Influencing and enabling parent communities

Research on change management and influence* indicates the provision of information is not enough to engage or persuade communities to change behaviour. To only focus on the reasons for change, or on the negative results from avoidance of change can also result in fear or resistance. In the instance of promoting Asia literacy this could be, “don’t tell me what is best for my children”. Rather, effective influence of communities incorporates an Appreciative Inquiry approach. The project will focus on Asian connectedness within the parent community, support the development and sharing of positive case studies of Asian engagement among parent peers, and leverage existing positive networks.

*Study References

Views of Members of the Executives of the Australian Council of State School Organisations and Australian Parents Council on Studies of Asia in Australian Schools: a study commissioned by the Asia Education Foundation in partnership with the ACSSO and APC. Solved at McConchie, 2006

Attitudes towards the study of languages in Australian schools: The national statement and plan - making a difference or another decade of indifference? Solved at McConchie, 2007

Making the emotional case for change: Why change often stalls, Mc Kinsey Quarterly, 2010, no2.

Building on Existing Strategies

The project will engage parents in building student demand for Asian languages and studies by adapting and applying strategies that have been proven to be highly successful in previous parental engagement programs.

The project will complete the circle of school community engagement with Asia literacy; while previous NALSSP initiatives have focused on school leaders, teachers and students this project brings parents into the picture. By doing so, the influence that parents have in supporting student decision-making in relation to the study of Asian languages and cultures will be tapped in a way that will provide rich benefits to the studies of Asia and specifically to the studies of the four NALSSP target languages and cultures.

The project will build upon the existing body of knowledge in respect of parental engagement with schooling and apply existing and new knowledge and understandings to the promotion of and engagement with Asia literacy. In so doing it will build demand for the study of the four target NALSSP languages and cultures.

Previous parental engagement programs have demonstrated that when parents are interested and engaged with their children's education, their own motivation is stimulated to learn about new ways of seeing and interacting with their world. It is therefore likely that through stimulating demand for students to learn about other languages and cultures, many of their parents will be inspired to expand their own knowledge and understanding.

The project has been designed in such a way as to achieve its immediate objectives in ways that lend towards promoting and achieving broader Australian Government aims and objectives in respect of building the interest in and engagement of Australians with our Asian region.

Looking towards sustainability

A key element of the project is deepening the existing institutional resources and tools to strengthen the understandings of parents regarding Asia literacy. These tools and frameworks will be embedded within the online resource bases of the Asia Education Foundation and Education Services Australia, forming a new resource for parents. It is anticipated the two national parent organisations and parents engaged within their networks, including those directly engaged in this project, will continue their work when the project concludes through assisting other parents to build the capacity to engage with schools in this important area.

The structure of the project will ensure that two key drivers are in place to ensure sustainability of outcomes. In the first instance, strategies for building parent capacity will be in place and a pool of experienced parent participants from the project will be able to be accessed. Secondly, the availability of tools and frameworks, such as the “What Works” Guide will provide direct assistance to interested parents and schools to ensure the ongoing continuity of initiatives commenced in this project.

Project plan

Parent advocates

The Australian Parents Council (APC) and the Australian Council of State School Organisations (ACSSO) will work through our national networks and in consultation with the Asia Education Foundation (AEF) to identify and recruit two to three parents from each of seventy-five schools to participate in a train-the-trainer Asia literacy program to become parent advocates for Asia literacy in schooling.

The seventy-five schools will be selected from the government, Catholic and independent school sectors in metropolitan, regional and at least one rural location. The schools will range from those that have strong Asian languages and studies programs supported by their parent communities to schools where there is little interest and activity.

Training Workshops

Parents recruited to train as parent advocates will be brought together in school clusters, each incorporating approximately five schools, to participate in one-day training workshops from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Clusters will reflect the diversity of engagement levels that schools have with studies of Asia, to the extent such is possible. Parent mentors will also attend the training workshops for the clusters they are supporting. State and territory affiliates of APC and ACSSO will organise training venues and plan and attend to logistical arrangements.

Fifteen cluster training workshops will be conducted by Beasley Intercultural, who will liaise with the national parent bodies and the AEF in developing the training content and materials.

The training delivered to participants will be informed by:

  • National parent projects conducted by APC and ACSSO, especially those that have incorporated a train-the-trainer component. These include Successful Learning in the Early Years: the Parent Factor; Families Matter; The Indigenous Parent Factor: Successful learning in the early years at home and school; The Family-School Partnerships Project and the resulting development of the National Family-School Partnerships Framework; the Family-School and Community Partnerships Bureau.
  • Beasley Intercultural’s expertise as an Asia skills consultancy and training company servicing Federal and State Government Departments and the business community and their experience with the development of practical training and PR resources which address common concerns and target key benefits regarding greater Asian engagement in the Australian community.
  • The AEF’s knowledge, understandings, resources and materials derived from their involvement with the Leading 21st Century Schools: Engage with Asia project, the Asia Literacy Ambassadors Program, and the My Future: Asia Skills project. The AEF’s partners, including Asialinkat the University of Melbourne and Education Services Australia Ltd, will add their rich network of education stakeholders, cultural and business contacts as well as their resource development expertise.

Parent mentors will provide a linkage point between the parents from cluster schools and Beasley Intercultural prior to the workshops to ensure that the approach taken to the training in each workshop is relevant to the targeted school parent communities.

The training workshops will comprise a balance between providing information and stimulating dialogue, engaging participants in conversation based on their own attitudes towards and experiences of intercultural learning and interaction, their experience (if any) as parents in their children’s learning about Asia and the engagement of their children’s schools with studies of Asia.

An important element of the training workshops will be assisting parent advocates in the development of strategies to identify and bring on board the relevant teaching staff and leaders within their schools. Engaging with key internal stakeholders (parent groups, teachers, principals, members of school leadership teams) will be an important task for parent advocates. The principle of positive, mutually respectful partnerships will underpin the training and this element in particular.

Training materials

Participants in the training will be provided with a pre-training pack which will include an overview of the project’s aims, objectives and processes, background information and pre-participation ideas and questions.

Guiding concepts for the training workshops and materials will include:

  • How learning one of the target languages and/or learning about those countries' cultures enriches a young person’s personal, social and academic development, such as better neural development, improved brain function, better social skills and self awareness, improved definition of self in contrast to others, how it can be fun, life changing and exciting and open up new worlds, etc.
  • The common needs and aspirations of members of the human family once the barriers of culture and language are broken down - normalising engagement with other cultures as opposed to emphasising and highlighting (and in some cases creating) division based on difference
  • Why Asia literacy, particularly in respect of the four NALSSP target countries, is important for young Australians in today’s global environment, but at the person to person level including the mutual and respectful interaction that occurs between ‘good neighbours’
  • The social capital that ensues from families and communities that acknowledge, value and respect diversity, participation and social cohesion and that actively demonstrate empathy with difference
  • The benefits of Asia literacy, particularly in the dominant employment sectors of the Australian economy such as small business (urban/rural, retail, agriculture, hospitality and services sector), government and not-for-profit sectors. This will be framed in the contexts of the four target languages.

Case studies will be developed in the form of a single A4 page and vodcast – personal photo stories encompassing the Asian engagement experiences of ‘real people like me’, reflecting the diversity of demographics, appearance, motivations, etc., that showcase the arguments being made for Asian literacy in respect of the four NALSSP target languages and cultures. The AEF’s Asia Literacy Ambassadors Program and the My Future: Asia Skills materials will be a valuable resource for the development of the case studies.

Fresh and positive approaches highlighting the benefits of Asia literacy that will appeal to a parental audience will be taken in the development of training and support materials. They will be made available to parent mentors and advocates in hard copy and electronic form. The Family-School and Community Partnerships Bureau (the Bureau) website will host the electronic training materials in a secure area accessible to parent mentors and advocates.

It is important to make electronic versions of such materials available. Past experience has shown that parents trained as trainers will innovate and tailor materials to their particular school communities as they consider necessary (with appropriate authorisation) to ensure that the messages are relevant to and can achieve maximum impact in their local community.

The consortium will provide ongoing support to project participants via an electronic network and relevant project materials will be housed on the Family-School & Communities Partnerships Bureau website.

In school activities

Parent advocates will be equipped with the necessary information, strategies and guidance to:

  • build relationships and enter into informed dialogue with school leaders (principals, senior staff and parents)
  • recruit active support from among their school’s leadership and teaching staff, and
  • undertake advocacy for Asian languages and studies focussed on the four NALSSP target countries.

A key task of the parent advocates will be to organise and lead at least one parent forum that has the objectives of:

  • raising awareness among the broader school parent community of the relevance and importance of Asian languages and studies for their children and all young Australians, and
  • stimulating parental interest in and commitment to their children undertaking study in the four target languages and cultures as an integral element of their education.

Parent advocates will be guided and encouraged to utilise in-school communication resources to further the above objectives.

In undertaking these activities parent advocates will have the ongoing guidance and support of their parent mentors, and through the parent mentors access to the support and resources of their state or territory parent organisation and/or their Beasley Intercultural trainers as considered necessary and appropriate.

Showcase in the general community
As a key element of the project, the project consortium will lead a publicity campaign to leverage project resources and activities. The campaign will focus on influencing parents and the broader community through taking the key project messages to a broader audience, beyond the standard ‘parent audience’. Target media outlets will include:

  • Local newspapers, radio and television
  • Websites
  • Special interest media (e.g. ‘The Land’, ‘Footy record’)
  • Specific (Indonesian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese) community media.