Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Students lack Asia nous - survey

Young New Zealanders recognise importance of region but many low on confidence to engage with cultures.

Less than half of the students surveyed could identify Malaysia on a map, despite southeast Asia being a priority area.  Photo / AP
Less than half of the students surveyed could identify Malaysia on a map, despite southeast Asia being a priority area. Photo / AP

New Zealand secondary school students realise the importance of Asia, but are not confident they have the knowledge and understanding to engage with Asians.

The Asia New Zealand Foundation "Asia Aware Students Survey" found three out of four Year 12 and 13 students consider Asia as important to New Zealand's future.

However, more than half, or 55 per cent, said they were under-prepared and did not have the confidence to engage with Asian peoples and their cultures in New Zealand.

Foundation executive director John McKinnon said the finding shows a need to increase Asia-related content across the entire curriculum.

"For young New Zealanders to succeed in the world and get good jobs, they will need to be global citizens who are comfortable in Asian settings, know Asian business and social nuances, and who can ideally speak an Asian language," Mr McKinnon said.

"This survey shows that for those students who are not of Asian descent, schools are their primary source of information about the region."

He said it was "particularly troubling" that students had low awareness of southeast Asia, given that the region is a priority area for New Zealand.

Just 46 per cent could identify where Malaysia was on the map, although 87 per cent could point out China.

Manying Ip, a professor of Asian studies at the University of Auckland, said it would be a "high hurdle to cross" but it was important that schools started teaching about Asia.

"School boards and principals continue to remain eurocentric, and they themselves may not have been taught much about Asia in their school days," Professor Ip said.

"But times have changed and the economic power is now with Asia, and those who can engage with the region will emerge the winners."

Despite the Prime Minister's call for more students to learn Mandarin and education expert Dame Wendy Pye suggesting it should be compulsory for schools to offer the subject, just 5 per cent of the respondents studied it at school.

Japanese was the most commonly studied language, at 23 per cent.

Although more than half of students knew basic Asian greetings or introductions, just 13 per cent could hold at least a basic conversation.

"As a country, we just lack a history or tradition to learn another international language," Professor Ip said.

The results of the survey will be presented to principals around the country, where the foundation said it would emphasise the importance of teaching and learning about Asia.

A total of 1011 students were interviewed for the survey conducted by Colmar Brunton.

Asia literacy in schools

* 74 per cent see Asia as important to NZ
* 55 per cent not confident to engage with Asians
* 87 per cent could locate China on the map
* 54 per cent didn't know where Malaysia was
* 13 per cent can hold basic conversation in an Asian language
* 5 per cent studied Mandarin

(source: Asia NZ Asia Aware Students; Survey)

- NZ Herald

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