James Packer insists his staff have it, Kevin Rudd has already mastered it, and now learning an Asian language will be compulsory for all Australian schoolchildren.
School languages and a national Asian studies curriculum formed a large part of the federal government’s Asian Century white paper, launched by Prime Minster Julia Gillard on Sunday.
The foreign policy plan mapped out how Australia could tap into the massive growth of Asia’s middle class through trade, investment and education over the coming decade.
School Education Minister Peter Garrett announced every school would be made to teach at least one of the four priority Asian languages – Mandarin, Hindi, Indonesian or Japanese – from kindergarten to year 12.
‘‘We will require . . . students to study Asian culture, history and languages, from their first day of school,’’ Mr Garrett said.
‘‘That will give the next generation of Australians the knowledge and capabilities to prosper in the Asian Century.’’
At Corrimal High School, year 7 and 8 classes have been learning Mandarin for the past three years, which teacher John Matthes said would be an advantage in his students’ future careers.
‘‘Even for a student who wants to become a carpenter, or work in any particular field after school, almost a quarter of these [industries] will be Chinese speaking,’’ he said.
‘‘In the news over the weekend [James] Packer was talking about his six-star hotel and the prerequisite for staff was to be bilingual and speak Mandarin – so we’d be crazy not to take on board these opportunities.’’
Corrimal High plans to teach Mandarin beyond year 7 and 8 and Mr Matthes said he supported the government’s plans to make Asian studies a compulsory part of the national curriculum.
‘‘I support the idea because world-wide 94 per cent of the population is bilingual and Australia, for many people, makes up the 6 per cent of people who aren’t,’’ he said.
‘‘We should focus on these opportunities with Mandarin and Hindi, and Indonesian because Indonesia is our northern neighbour and has the fourth-largest population in the world.
‘‘Also, kids get so much out of it.
‘‘Learning a second language helps you to understand your first language by helping you understand your grammar structures and how language works.’’