Federal Politics

License article

Long way to go before we can even talk the talk

REMEMBER the 1980s, when Japan was going to take over the world? In a business and cultural sense, at least.

A girl was taken out of my primary school by her parents and enrolled in a Japanese school because, apparently, if you didn't learn Japanese you were going to spend the rest of your life cleaning the homes of those who did.

From what I hear, Japan has struggled economically for large parts of the intervening 25 years and those of us who didn't learn the language have managed to eke out an existence regardless.

I was reminded of the Japanese panic when Julia Gillard launched the government's Asian Century white paper, calling for all kids to learn a language - Mandarin, Hindi, Indonesian or Japanese - during the 12-year course of their schooling.

It's a noble aim and makes sense as we slowly (very slowly) come to accept that our future lies in this region, not Europe or the US.

But what chance of this bold plan ever being achieved in NSW?


The PM wants about 800,000 pupils in the state to be taught one of those four languages by 2025.

The scale of the task is clear when you consider that just 17 students sat the HSC exam for Hindi last year. Clearly, offering every student in every school the right to learn Hindi is going to take much more teacher power.

And not just in inner Sydney. Kids in Condobolin and Moree must be given the same chances to learn.

So far, no price tag has been put on providing Asian languages, and there's been no hint as to whether traditional languages such as French and German will be scrapped to make way for them.

The best estimate is that it would cost an extra $100 million a year nationally - so perhaps about $30 million in NSW. That comes on top of the extra $6.5 billion a year it will cost to deliver on the reform recommendations of David Gonski.

The NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, has been set the task by the Treasurer, Mike Baird, of stripping nearly $2 billion from the education budget, with - as this column has noted in the past - mixed success.

But on the Asian Century issue, Piccoli has a point. He says the Commonwealth plan ''sounds great but isn't grounded in reality''. It's another wish on a growing wish-list.

Piccoli, along with his state colleagues, meets the federal minister, Peter Garrett, in a fortnight. With little progress being made on Gonski, it isn't expected any headway will be made on the new languages plan before the federal government begins to mobilise for the 2013 election and a potential change of government to a cost-cutting Abbott-led Coalition.

It doesn't look good for the language plan. Is there a Japanese expression for Buckley's chance?