One policy guaranteed to feature in the 'Australia in the Asian Century' White Paper is the take-up of Asian languages by Australians. Yet, as my colleague Mark Thirlwell noted to me the other day, we need to think about whether this problem is one of supply or demand.

Most reports argue for a greater government supply of classes and teachers. After all, that's relatively easy to accomplish. But I suspect the real issue is low interest, which is why its pleasing to see a new initiative to tackle the demand side:

The project will establish a network of parents who can work collaboratively with school leaders to build student demand for knowledge, skills and understanding of Asia and increase opportunities for them to be exposed to high quality and sustainable teaching programs. A network of 225 Parent Advocates from 75 schools will undertake conversations and projects in their school  communities focused on building demand for Asian Languages and studies. The Parent Advocates will attend a one day training program in clusters of approx. 5 schools. Each cluster will  have a mentor who will also receive training to provide ongoing support to the Parent Advocates in their school  communities throughout the project.

For the average Australian, there's little obvious benefit in knowing an Asian language. But for the nation as a whole, the economic and security benefits are significant. One focus of the Asian Century white paper should be explaining how Australians can benefit from higher Asia literacy. Build demand for cultural and social engagement and the language, business and security links will follow.

Photo by Flickr user ShawnMichael.