Is this kind of bold educational initiative the result of having a female leader in power? It's still early in the process, but Australia is clearly preparing for an "Asian century." PM Julia Gillard has committed to 25 ambitious goals over the next 13 years for her nation to integrate with the "unstoppable" and "staggering" growth of their regional neighbors.
All schools in Australia will partner with schools throughout Asia, giving every Aussie student an opportunity to learn one of four "priority" Asian languages (Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Indonesian). By the time students graduate high school, they'll be expected to have a solid foundational understanding of Asia, similarly to how most Western educations have up until now focused primarily on a European-centric knowledge base.
Thousands of scholarships for Asian students will be offered, a useful exchange for all of the new diplomatic posts that will be established. In addition, one-third of company higher-ups and senior civil workers will be required to have a "deep knowledge" of Asia. Gillard sounds really serious about this Asia-centric approach.
This is a profoundly progressive way of broadening public student education--so cutting-edge that I wonder if we should attribute such innovation to the fact that the country's PM is a woman. Either way, I predict Australia's image and influence will enjoy a considerable boost as it attaches its values with an Asian perspective.
(Meanwhile in the US, many are still debating if our schools should teach creationism or evolution.)