According to Ministry of Education statistics, in 2016 over 52,000 primary school students were being taught Mandarin, up from 33,000 in 2015 and 10 times as many as in 2009. The numbers studying at secondary school level are much lower with about 4700 studying the language in 2016, up from 2000 in 2009.
But it’s not just about learning Chinese language, says the Foundation’s Educators Network manager Sean O’Connor. Learning about Chinese culture is also important.
“As China plays a larger role in world affairs and the number of people of Chinese ethnicity in New Zealand increases, schools are realising the growing importance of teaching their students about Chinese culture,” he says.
“By exposing kids to Chinese culture we hope student’s curiosity will be sparked, leading on to further exploration and perhaps an interest in studying the language.”
To assist with bringing Asian culture into the classroom, the Foundation provides grants towards schools holding Experience Asia Days; the schools use the grants to help pay for performers and artists or to cover the costs of materials.
This year, schools from Tahuna Normal Intermediate (joined by satellite schools) in Dunedin to Takapuna Primary School in Auckland took up grants to hold Chinese Days to coincide with New Zealand Chinese Language Week, which ran from 16-22 Oct.
A Wa Ora Montessori School (Lower Hutt)i student tries his hand at Chinese painting
Juliet Gao, teacher of Mandarin and global studies at Mission Heights Junior College describes their Chinese Day event as “a teacher-led, student-managed, whole school event made possible by members of the local community”.
She describes the Chinese Day as a time to strengthen the connections between New Zealand and China and encourage cultural exchange.
“Events like this raise our students’ interest in learning Chinese and about Chinese culture, enhance their knowledge about an Asian country and increase their awareness about Asia. This is in line with the goal of our school – to foster future global citizens.”
Gao says the kids threw themselves into the Chinese day activities, which included calligraphy writing, “fierce and serious” ping pong games, Chinese square dancing and music lessons. The school also launched a book of stories written by the children and translated into Mandarin.
Local support for the event was invaluable and Gao hopes to see continuing relationships formed that will benefit the school in the future.
“I anticipate that the strengthening relationship between the school and the Chinese community will provide resources and purpose for our students to learn Chinese,” she says.
“This will help to make our Chinese language teaching programme meaningful and sustainable.”
The Foundation’s executive director, Simon Draper, says Chinese Language Week is a great way to expose children to an Asian culture. He says it cannot be overstated what a significant role Asia will play in the lives of children currently going through the school system.
“It’s clear knowledge of Asia is becoming increasing important for New Zealanders, and I don’t just mean through trade, but also culturally. We have an obligation to ensure that our kids have the tools to succeed, and introducing them to the languages and cultures of Asia will be a real benefit not just for them individually but for New Zealand as a whole."