Teaching culture in a competitive market: The introduction of VCE Chinese Language, Culture, and Society

Dr. Jonathan Benney, Lecturer, Chinese Studies, School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics, Faculty of Arts, Monash University


Since the 1990s, the study of the Chinese language at secondary school level in Australia has been consistently contentious. The most important dispute is about the extent to which students with a Chinese cultural and linguistic heritage should be allowed to study the same material as students without this background. This has been amplified by the perceived importance of the final years of education in Victoria (the Victorian Certificate of Education, or VCE) to university entrance.

In response to this context, a new subject, named Chinese Language, Culture, and Society, was introduced to the VCE in 2017. This presentation uses interviews and statistical data to analyse this process and its outcomes. It demonstrates that, while there is some intrinsic interest in Chinese culture from teachers and students, the more important justification for its introduction was to maximise opportunities for non-Chinese-background students. But given the marketized nature of the selection of subjects, the influence of non-day schools, and the commonness of extrinsic motivation for students, there is limited evidence that CLCS has made or can make a substantial difference to this problem.

Chinese language education; Chinese cultural education; Victorian Certificate of Education; secondary student motivation;

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