Wellington East Girls College teacher Karen Hu with Year 13 student Manisha during mian ren (Chinese traditional craft) class
The initiative was established thanks to China Language Foundation funding, which was matched and managed by the Asia New Zealand Foundation.
Professional development undertaken by the teachers ranged from completing masters-level study in linguistics to focussing on improving language proficiency through language classes.
Some of the teachers also took part in Fun Language workshops in Auckland, where they learnt techniques for making language learning more engaging for their students.
The Foundation’s education adviser, Yasheeka Bertram, says providing language teachers with the opportunity to upskill is vital to their professional development.
“Learning a language is a lifetime commitment that requires ongoing study.”
She says professional development opportunities also allow Chinese teachers to get together with like-minded educators and share resources and ideas.
“Chinese teachers (and other language teachers) are often more isolated than other subject teachers as there is usually only one Chinese language teacher in a school. Professional development opportunities such as the Fun Languages workshops allow teachers to come together, share ideas and collaborate.”
The funding provided two Tauranga primary schools, Oropi and Tauriko, with Chinese language adviser sessions and course materials for six staff.
Raelene Miller, who runs the language programmes for the two schools, says there are very few teachers with language teaching qualifications in primary schools so teachers with an interest in Mandarin, though not necessarily a qualification, are having to learn the basics.
“The biggest challenge is a logistical one...the modern-day teacher has such excessive demands before and after school, being given release time to pursue or focus on language development is crucial.”
While native speakers are confident with their language skills, the Fun Language workshops helped them to improve their pedagogy, says Bingmei Zhang from St Peter's College in Auckland.
"I am a native Chinese speaker; however, how to teach Mandarin to our New Zealand students efficiently is a big challenge for me. Asia New Zealand Foundation generously offered the opportunity for my Masters studies in Teaching Chinese, which is really supportive to improving my Mandarin teaching ..."
Dr Lin Zeng from Dunedin’s Logan Park High School attended one of the workshops and said its value was more than just about upskilling.
“[Teachers] can share their experiences, problems and share their resources and successful practices.”
Mount Roskill Grammar School students showing off their calligraphy skills
Despite increasing awareness of the importance of learning Mandarin, only about 4,200 secondary students study the language in New Zealand, compared to 12,000 studying Japanese and 20,000 studying French.
However, unlike all other foreign languages, the number of people studying Mandarin is steadily increasing.
A report by New Zealand China Council says the number of students wanting to study Mandarin could increase five-fold by 2021.