The research, which is a longitudinal survey the Foundation has done for the past 20 years, shows New Zealanders have relatively low levels of self-assessed knowledge about Asia, less than what they claim to know about Australia, Europe, North America and the South Pacific. Six out of 10 continue to say they know little about Asia.
“We thought this was just a confidence thing — that New Zealanders just weren’t backing themselves in what they know about Asia so this year we ran a general-knowledge quiz about Asia, and they weren’t complicated questions, for example — Does the Mekong river flow through India?” says Simon Draper, Executive Director of the Foundation.
“The average mark was two correct answers out of six — that’s a fail. What it is telling us then is that New Zealanders really don’t know much about Asia,” says Mr Draper.
The survey reveals young New Zealanders have particularly low knowledge of Asia compared to the general population. Fifty-two percent of people aged under 30 got only one or no correct answer, compared to 35 percent of people aged over 30.
An inforgraphic from the 2017 Perceptions of Asia survey showing people's knowledge by region
Surprisingly, other research the Foundation released last year shows six out of 10 school leavers think having Asia-related knowledge will be unimportant for New Zealand’s future workforce, which seems counterintuitive according to Mr Draper given that seven out of our top 10 trading partners are in Asia.
Despite low knowledge about the region, New Zealanders’ perception of Asia is generally positive viewing the region as the second most important for New Zealand’s future after Australia, though New Zealanders continue to see Asia primarily through an economic lens. More than eight in 10 were positive about the impacts of Asian tourism, more than seven in 10 were positive about the economic growth of the Asia region, and more than six in 10 were positive about investment from Asia.
“It’s good to get these positive signals, but we should be wary of thinking of Asia solely in economic terms. I’m concerned that less than half of us think that it is important for our future workforce to have an understanding of Asian society, languages and history,” says Mr Draper.
Mr Draper says it is noteworthy that around half of the respondents felt not enough is being done to equip New Zealanders to engage with Asia.
“This research tells us that experiences are really important – be it a trip to Asia or rubbing shoulders with Asian colleagues. The Foundation, through its various programmes, will continue providing those experiences to grow New Zealanders’ awareness and knowledge of Asia.”
The Foundation has been mapping a pathway that would better equip young New Zealanders with Asia-related knowledge and experiences as they pass through the education system and on to early employment.
“We’re calling it #ThinkAsia — a programme we’ll be ramping up in the next couple of months that will help young New Zealanders understand that if they are interested in Asia, want to experience Asia, and keen to equip themselves with Asia-related skills, there is pathway that they can tap into,” says Mr Draper.