Low levels of Asia content in secondary schools – report

Media release, 16 March 2010

Only one third of secondary school heads of department say they have included some Asia-specific topics in their teaching programmes over the past two years, says a new Asia New Zealand Foundation report.

But that figure drops to less than a quarter (21 percent) for secondary school programmes that include Asia-specific topics or projects lasting more than a single period of study.

This is despite widespread acknowledgement by schools heads of department that Asia is important or very important to New Zealand.

The Asia in Secondary Schools report, released on 16 March, was commissioned by the Asia New Zealand Foundation and conducted by Colmar Brunton.

Taking part in the study were 258 heads of department from 73 secondary schools. The survey is intended as a stock take of the level of Asia content in New Zealand’s secondary schools system.

Asia New Zealand Foundation education director Vanessa Lee says the report is evidence that Asia content in secondary schools is far too low for New Zealand to engage effectively with the Asian region.

“This is not a pretty picture. While some schools are raising their students’ awareness of Asia, the majority of New Zealand schools are missing the opportunity to equip students to operate effectively in a world where Asia is strategically important.”

The report found Asia-specific topics and projects are concentrated primarily within just two subject areas - history (59 percent) and geography (67 percent).

More than half of all social studies programmes (55 percent) did not include any Asia-specific topics or projects over the last two years, and the incidence of Asia-specific topics or projects is markedly lower for drama, economics, English, media studies, and music.

Contrastingly, the vast majority of schools (97 percent) indicated they had some link or relationship with Asia.

The majority of schools have had visitors to their school from Asia (86 percent) and enrol international fee-paying students from Asia (82 percent). Fifty nine percent of schools have a sister relationship with an Asian school or city.

The majority of heads of departments also believe the Asian region is important (80 percent) and compared with the general NZ population, they are more likely to say the Asia region is very important (55 percent).

In terms of language learning, Japanese is still the most common Asian language being taught in secondary schools, followed by Mandarin. While the majority of large schools offer at least one Asian language, the number of students enrolled in courses is low.

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