Today the Asia New Zealand Foundation has released the latest report in its tracking survey New Zealanders’ Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples. We’ve been doing this survey since 1997 as a way of tracking New Zealanders’ readiness to engage with the Asia region.
New Zealand has clearly changed a great deal since 1997. For one thing, more New Zealanders are themselves Asian. So increasingly we’re talking not only about Māori, Pakeha and Pasifika learning about Asia but also Asian New Zealanders learning about other Asian cultures and countries.
Some of this year’s findings are similar to the previous year. More than eight out of 10 of those surveyed thought it was important for New Zealand to develop economic and cultural ties with Asia. But only a third felt they knew at least a fair amount about Asia. New Zealanders are more confident in their knowledge of Australia, Europe, the South Pacific and North America.
We’ve focused this year’s survey on the theme of confidence – and the opportunities New Zealanders miss out on when they lack this confidence in relation to Asia.
About a quarter of those surveyed for Perceptions of Asia assessed themselves as having high knowledge and interest in Asia. Another quarter identified personal connections with Asia but lacked confidence in their knowledge of the region. We suspect this is because the more personal involvement someone has with Asia and its peoples, their awareness of the region’s diversity increases. Is this a case of the more you know, the less you think you know?
Four in ten New Zealanders say they have low interest in Asia, and low confidence in their knowledge. Perhaps not surprisingly, this group tended to be older, Māori or Pakeha, and living in provincial New Zealand. Their opportunities to interact with Asian people are simply more limited and they’re more likely to rely on New Zealand media for information about Asia.
Education clearly has a role to play in growing confidence; the report identifies demand for more Asia-related competencies. The research found that eight in ten New Zealanders said school children should learn a language other than English. Just over half thought it should be Chinese, closely followed by Te Reo Māori. We think Te Reo is a great foundation for all language learning.
We have further research on the Asia-readiness of our school-leavers coming up and look forward to sharing the findings with you soon.
The Foundation is making a particular effort to extend our education work beyond the main centres. As just one example, last month we took Chinese performers to schools in Whangarei and Ashburton. They were in New Zealand for the Lantern Festivals in Auckland and Christchurch; as you can see from the video below, the students who interacted with them were equally thrilled.
On the Asia capability front, we were pleased with last week’s announcement from Hon Paul Goldsmith, Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment, that a consortium of four universities (the University of Auckland, University of Waikato, Victoria University of Wellington and University of Otago) had secured funding for three Centres for Asia-Pacific Excellence (CAPEs).
The Asia New Zealand Foundation will be partnering with the universities and other agencies for the CAPEs for North Asia and Southeast Asia (the third CAPE is for Latin America).
The Centres for Asia-Pacific Excellence are designed to grow a workforce that is more culturally competent on Asia – an aim that aligns with Asia New Zealand Foundation’s mission.
Finally, I have started a fortnightly column for Fairfax Media’s newspapers and Stuff.co.nz. My first piece looks at the way New Zealand has changed in recent decades.