Research shows Kiwi school leavers not equipped to engage with Asia

Asia New Zealand Foundation research has found less than 10 percent of school leavers are ‘Asia-ready’ and only 36 percent are ‘in the zone’ when it comes to Asia readiness*.

The Foundation’s Losing Momentum – School Leavers’ Asia Engagement report also finds that while 69 percent of senior secondary school students believe Asia is important to New Zealand’s future, only 37 percent believe Asia-related skills and knowledge will be important for the country’s future workforce. In 2012, when the Foundation first surveyed school leavers, 46 percent believed it would be important.

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High School students studying Asian languages discuss why more students aren't taking an interest in learning about Asia and what could be done to raise the numbers. 

The survey also reveals 18 percent either ‘do not believe Asia is important to our future’ or ‘have no interest in Asia or Asian cultures’.

“This is a concerning trend given New Zealand’s present and future – economically, culturally and socially – are tied to Asia,” says Asia New Zealand Foundation executive director Simon Draper.

“If this continues, our kids will likely miss out on life-changing opportunities brought about by the rise of Asia’s influence and relevance to New Zealand,” Mr Draper says.

He noted businesses are increasingly looking for employees who have Asia-related skills and knowledge – and they are not getting those skills. 

“All indicators show Asia will play a critical role in young New Zealanders’ careers, their personal relationships, and their life experiences. Developing Asia-related competencies will be a necessity for their future.”

The survey also shows general knowledge of Asia has decreased. Students scored less than six out of nine on basic Asia questions, a small drop from 2012.

“These trend lines are in the wrong direction. There needs to be a course correction if we want school leavers to thrive in the Asian century,” says Mr Draper.

Asia New Zealand Foundation executive director Simon Draper discusses the report's findings.

The survey revealed an urban-rural and socio-economic divide. Those who feel they know nothing about Asian countries - about one in five students - are more likely to come from the two lowest deciles, are likely to be Māori or Pasifika, and live in a small town or rural area.

“We don’t want a two-tier system when it comes to Asia readiness. This is a bad outcome and is unfair,” says Mr Draper.  

“We hope this report prompts schools, parents, students, educators, officials, and community groups to engage in a meaningful conversation about whether we should formalise learning about Asia in our education system.”

On the positive side, the survey reveals those who say they cannot describe anything about any Asian country tended to answer four out of nine Asia-knowledge questions correctly.

“These kids obviously know more than they give themselves credit for and this is similar to what we found in our annual Perceptions of Asia survey released earlier in the year. Too many of us are not backing ourselves in what we already know about Asia and this inhibits our ability to ‘give it a go’,” says Mr Draper.

The survey also shows that the more students knew about Asia, the more they understand the importance not just of language, but also of culture, customs and traditions.

Languages are one pathway to learning about Asia, but the signs are not positive here either. The proportion of Year 12 and 13 students learning an Asian language fell from 39 percent in 2012 to 34 percent in 2016. Surprisingly, we estimate 17 percent of students in schools with Asian language courses were not even aware their schools offer them.

However, more than half (59 percent) of students not currently learning an Asian language were interested in doing so in the future.

Asked how prepared they felt to engage with Asian people and cultures in New Zealand, 45 percent felt prepared.

Asia New Zealand Foundation Leadership Network members talk about why they chose to study an Asian language and how speaking an Asian language and knowing about Asia has benefitted them.

Since the initial 2012 survey, the Foundation’s education programme has undertaken various initiatives to increase students’ Asia awareness.

“Last year, we ran workshops for over 100 school leaders throughout New Zealand, produced additional Asia-focussed teaching resources (there are now over 50 downloadable teaching resources available on our website), organised eight ‘Asian Language Learning in Schools’ workshops across the country, funded over 50 Asia-focussed events in schools, and led two trips to Asia involving 27 educators, with two more planned in 2017,” says Jeff Johnstone, the Foundation’s education director.

“We have an Educators Network that has grown to over 700 member schools and we encourage more schools to join. You can visit the Education programme’s webpage for information on how to sign up."

Mr Draper says, “This research tells us that Asia New Zealand Foundation’s work alone is not enough to give current New Zealand school leavers the skills they need to engage in the world’s most prosperous, dynamic and exciting region – Asia. We collectively need to do more and do better.”

BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope talks about why employers are increasingly looking for people with knowledge of Asia and Asian language skills 

* based on the Foundation’s Asia-Readiness Framework


Key Findings

  • Only 8 percent of school leavers are classified as ‘Asia Ready’ according to Asia New Zealand Foundation’s Asia Readiness Framework.
  • Only 37 percent believe Asia-related skills and knowledge will be important for New Zealand’s future workforce. This figure has decreased since 2012 when 46 percent of students believed Asia-related knowledge and skills were important.
  • Since 2012 there has been a decrease in the proportion of students who are learning an Asian language (or have studied one in the past) from 39 percent in 2012 down to 34 percent in 2016.
  • Eighteen percent either ‘do not believe Asia is important to our future’ or ‘have no interest in Asia or Asian cultures’.
  • We estimate 17 percent of students in schools with Asian language enrolments are unaware their schools offer an Asian language.
  • A growing minority of students feel they know ‘nothing’ about Asian countries. Seventeen percent of students feel they know ‘nothing’ about any Asian country compared to 12 percent in 2012. These students are more likely to: attend schools in the two lowest deciles in New Zealand (22 percent compared to 7 percent in 2012); be Māori (22 percent) or Pasifika (29 percent); live in a small town or a rural area (22 percent).
  • Students were asked nine general knowledge questions about Asia and the average student answered 3.37 questions incorrectly compared to 2.94 in 2012.
  • A higher proportion of students say they ‘don’t know much about Asian cultures, practices, and customs’ (22 percent in 2016 compared to 13 percent in 2012).
  • Since 2012, the proportion of students learning an Asian language has decreased, as has the proportion of students with knowledge about Asia.
  • Although most students believe Asia will have an increasing influence on New Zealand’s demographic profile, over half (55 percent) of all students surveyed feel they are not prepared to engage with the people and cultures of Asia in New Zealand.

About the survey

This report presents the results of a survey of Year 12 and 13 secondary school students, conducted in late 2016 by Colmar Brunton for the Foundation. The survey interviewed a random sample of more than 1,000 students throughout New Zealand. It is a follow up to the initial survey commissioned by the Foundation in 2012.

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24 July 2017