By Joel Backwell, Executive Director, International Education Division, Early Childhood and School Education Group, Department of Education and Training.
A globally oriented education system is crucial to the economic future of Victoria, and to ensuring that our young people have the skills they need to succeed in an increasingly inter-connected world. International education is central to the aspirations of Education State to “equip all students with the personal and practical skills to live the lives they want to live, and get the jobs they need”.
The modern workplace is increasingly globalised and employers must find employees who are not only technically proficient, but also culturally astute and able to thrive in a global work environment. Globalisation of jobs, trade and economies mean that young Australians will increasingly work globally, and have to navigate expanding cultural diversity both at home and abroad. While learning about other countries and cultures has always been a feature of education, in the 21st century schools should really be thinking about how to “internationalise”, so that a global outlook is at the core of their endeavours.
The importance of international education for all Victorian learners has been explicitly acknowledged by the reinforcement of languages and the inclusion of intercultural capabilities in the Victorian Curriculum F-10 and a focus on global citizenship in the Framework for Improving Student Outcomes (FISO). If properly harnessed and embedded into a school’s daily life, the different perspectives that come from studying alongside people from other countries, and learning about other cultures, will also stimulate critical and creative thinking, another key element of the Victorian Curriculum. DET’s International Education Division, which I lead, together with the Languages Unit, are jointly responsible for supporting schools to build the intercultural capabilities of their teachers and students and allow them to engage deeply with other countries and cultures. And what better way to do this than through learning another language.
Across the course of my career I have benefitted both personally and professionally from having been able to speak both Indonesian and Spanish and I am very proud to live in a State that values the importance of language learning. In 2016, through the inspiring work of Victoria’s language teachers and assistants, 22 languages were taught in mainstream government schools, and the Victorian School of Languages provided programs to students in 49 languages.
Whether it is Chinese, Indonesian, French or in this case Karen, learning about other cultures through the lens of a second language will not only enhance the employability of Victorian students; it will also build the cohesiveness of a multicultural Victoria and allow us to better leverage the many benefits of cultural diversity. In the words of contemporary psycholinguist Frank Smith, “One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way”.