Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced a commitment to making Australia the most Asia literate nation in the western world last week. It's not a moment too soon. The fact that Asian languages are currently on the decline in our schools and no state curriculum in Australia explicitly requires the study of Asia has left us in dire shape for the emerging Asian century.
Only 5.8 per cent of Year 12 students currently study an Asian language and close to 80 per cent of students studying Mandarin come from Chinese backgrounds. A 2006 study found the majority of children surveyed in one Australian state believed all Muslims were terrorists, with most saying they had learned little or nothing about Islam in school. We live in a complex region yet currently only half of Australian schools teach anything about Asia.