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Reading up for a brighter future

Education

DELIGHTING young children with tales of an echidna going for a swim isn’t the usual image associated with doing business in China, but an Australian state is using these cultural engagements as the cornerstone of its trade with its sister province of Shandong.

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The children’s book reading arranged by the State Library of South Australia isn’t just about feel-good cultural exchanges between two states, either. It’s a nod to the very real need of a modern China for skills and expertise in its rapidly emerging service sector.

A large investment in social infrastructure has led to the development of many libraries, museums, community centre and sporting facilities.

This has resulted in a demand for expert knowledge of how to manage and drive the fledgling service industry.

State Library of South Australia director Alan Smith is one of more than 160 members of a South Australian trade delegation visiting its sister province of Shandong to strengthen mutually beneficial commercial collaborations.

About 50 of the delegates are South Australian representatives from the services, health and education sectors.  

Smith brought South Australian author Phil Cummings to China to help present to staff at the Shandong Provincial Library on how his library teaches the importance of reading and storytelling with young children to develop early literacy skills.

“The reading events are an example of what we do in our public library programs. Jinan (Shandong’s capital) has wonderful facilities and they think we can help them engage with their communities,” Smith said.

“Last year I signed a five-year agreement with the Shandong Provincial Library and at the moment I have two staff from the Provincial Library doing an internship in South Australia.”

Cummings led the two-day reading event at Shandong Provincial Library included a session with children aged four to seven, one with seven to ten year-olds and a session with library staff.

“It’s not just about pop-up books and how they are put together. It’s about creating a lifelong love of reading and an early development of literacy,” Cummings said.

Economically, Shandong is China’s third largest province with a population of almost 100 million and an annual GDP approaching USD $1trillion.

The Chinese Government is developing a proactive strategy in key services sub-sectors such as education and healthcare, and Chinese households spend up to a third of their income on education.

Vice President of the Australia China Business Council Sean Keenihan said China would look to improve their service sector further.

“There is an urgent need to develop a comprehensive service sector in China,” he said.

“What Shandong needs to transform, we have and they have what we need to transorm. It’s a win-win.”

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the South Australia and Shandong sister-state agreement that has seen both parties benefit from a close economic and cultural partnership.

Last year, the two sister-states signed the South Australian Shandong Friendly Cooperation Action Plan that acted as a commitment from both sides to increase trade, investment and cultural ties.

This relationship was further strengthened when the Chinese Government opened a Chinese Consulate-General office in Adelaide in January.

In Adelaide, the South Australian capital, the state’s first bi-lingual school will begin teaching classes in a mixture of Mandarin and English from 2017.

This is a Creative Commons story from The Lead South Australia, a news service providing stories about innovation in South Australia. Please feel free to use the story in any form of media. The story sources are linked in with the copy and all contacts are willing to talk further about the story.

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