The Australian Department of Education and Early Childhood have released a report for public discussion entitled Emoji – the New Language of Life. The key recommendation is for the social and business applications of emoji to be taught as formal topics in Australian schools through to year 12. Emoji are ideograms and smileys used in electronic messages and across many social media sites. They first gained popularity amongst Japanese schoolgirls during the late 1990’s as a counter-culture derivative hip-hop underground street-movement form of expression. The loose Japanese translation of emoji is ‘ears of puppy-dog’.
Dr. Jim Marin, Chair the Department of Education’s Committee on Emerging Things, is a vocal supporter of bringing emoji into the classroom, “They are the franca lingua of all electronic mediums. Australian children must not only learn the emoji building blocks of facial expressions, common objects, places, types of weather, flags and animals – but they must master the subtleties of the idiom. In Sweden for example there are 7 distinct emoji which express different qualities of snow. In Australia many children would struggle to use even the standard emoji snowflake in its correct context. If Australia as a nation wants to compete internationally we must teach our people 21st century skills and competencies – we should be investing heavily in all five STEME disciplines: science, technology, engineering, math and emoji.
“And we need to start early. By the time most Scandinavian children enter school they are already conversant with over 250 different emoji, including animated variants. Is it any surprise that Ikea now provide alternate assembly instructions for their products fully in emoji, and many people find them easier to follow?”
But the Department of Education’s report is not without its critics. Professor Peter Standage, Head of Linguistics at the University of Melbourne is damning in his appraisal of emoji, “They dumb down our collective emotional repertoire and hamper meaningful communication at all levels of society. Whenever I see an emoji within an email or text I despair… are we losing the fine art of nuanced communication? There are also Orwellian overtones – how can we possibly engage in open political debate concerning the important issues of the day if the voice of the people has been reduced to a yellow facial expression? I don’t support the use of emoji in any context whatsoever – they give me a sad face… a big old-fashioned one.”