Report reveals need to boost Asia literacy in schools

13 May 2013

Most New Zealand secondary school students recognise the importance of Asia – but feel under-prepared to engage confidently with the region, new research from the Asia New Zealand Foundation has found.

The Foundation’s Asia Aware Students’ Survey has found about three-quarters (74 percent) of year 12 and 13 students see the Asia region as important to New Zealand’s future.  They believe that, compared to other regions, Asia will have the most influence on New Zealand’s international trade and demography.

But more than half of students (55 percent) said they lacked the knowledge and understanding to engage confidently with Asian peoples and their cultures in New Zealand. And even more – 72 percent – felt they were under-prepared to engage with the peoples and cultures of Asia in Asia.

The results show high awareness of North Asia amongst students. Most students could show the locations of China (87 percent) and Japan (83 percent) on a map – and most (81 percent) knew China was the Asian country with which New Zealand trades the most. But only 46 percent could identify Malaysia on a map, and the survey suggests awareness of Southeast Asia was low overall. 
Half of students (51 percent) knew basic greetings or introductions in an Asian language, and 13 percent could hold at least a basic conversation. Japanese was the most commonly studied Asian language (23 percent of students had studied it), followed by Chinese (five percent).

Asia New Zealand Foundation executive director John McKinnon says the findings demonstrate the need to increase Asia-related content across the entire school curriculum.

“For young New Zealanders to succeed in the world and get good jobs, they will need to be global citizens who are comfortable in Asian settings, know Asian business and social nuances, and who can ideally speak an Asian language.

“This survey shows that for those New Zealand students who are not of Asian descent, schools are their primary source of information about the region. The low awareness of Southeast Asian countries is particularly troubling, given that this region is a priority area for New Zealand.
“The Asia New Zealand Foundation is working to make teachers and principals more confident about including Asia content in their classrooms, even when they may not have been taught much about Asia during their own schooling.”

The Foundation’s education programme works with principals, teachers and students to emphasise the importance of teaching and learning about Asia. Initiatives include Asia-themed NCEA resources in six subject areas; Asia-focused professional development for principals and teachers; a Business Education Partnership that pairs schools with companies doing business with Asia; and grants to support Asia Aware initiatives in schools.

A total of 1,011 year 12 and 13 New Zealand domestic students were interviewed for the Asia Aware Students’ Survey, which was conducted by Colmar Brunton for the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

The results are being presented to principals around the country over the next two weeks, at meetings of the Foundation’s Principals’ Asia Aware Network.

The findings follow the Asia in Secondary Schools survey published by the Foundation in 2010.  It found that only one third of secondary school heads of department had included some Asia-specific topics in their teaching programmes in the previous two years.