Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Opening pupils' minds to the world

Govt eyes adding ‘international capabilities’ to curriculum as students increasingly interact with other cultures.

About 500 international exchange students and 16,000 full fee-paying international students attend New Zealand schools each year. Photo / APN
About 500 international exchange students and 16,000 full fee-paying international students attend New Zealand schools each year. Photo / APN

How open Kiwi students are to international cultures and opportunities could be measured as an important part of the school curriculum.

A new Ministry of Education report has considered how "international capabilities" could be better taught in schools and how such "soft skills" could be measured.

The capabilities are the knowledge, skills, attitudes, dispositions and values that enable people to live, work, and learn across national and cultural boundaries. The focus comes as other countries include such "international-mindedness" in curriculums and the OECD considers including it in influential testing.

New Zealand's changing economic relationships - with more business being done now with Asian countries in particular - are also behind the Government's interest.

"Research suggests that employees lacking international competence contribute to their firms missing business opportunities," the report says. More New Zealanders "capable of effectively operating in and across other cultures, especially non-English-speaking and non-European ones, are required".

The ministry report, based on findings by the NZ Council for Education Research, listed ways schools could foster an international outlook.

They include cultural events such as festivals, hosting visiting international students and sister-school programmes, and supporting students to learn a second language.

About 500 international exchange students and 16,000 full fee-paying international students attend New Zealand schools each year.

And this year 57 schools have 138 ministry-approved school-to-school exchange partnerships with schools in 18 different countries, allowing Kiwi students to study in a foreign country.

Students at Mangere Central School keep in touch with their sister school in Indonesia through Skype, emails and old-fashioned postcards.

Principal Maria Heron and deputy principal Lorraine Makutu set up the relationship after travelling to Indonesia on an Asia New Zealand Foundation study trip.

Trip fired up student's world view

Frances Yamada describes her eight-month exchange at the end of high school to Japan as a "crash course in empathy".

Now 31 and working at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, Mrs Yamada said the exchange to Nagoya came as a shock.

"It was really a crash course in empathy and non-verbal communication and thinking about other people besides myself," Mrs Yamada said.

"When you are in another culture you realise that it's not really your way or the highway."

Mrs Yamada said she was "fired up" about the world and its possibilities on her return home, and soon found herself back in Japan on a Victoria University exchange. It was during that time that she became fluent in Japanese and also met her future husband.

Now based in Wellington, Mrs Yamada is a deputy-chairwoman of the youth advisory council to the Japan New Zealand Business Council.

She also speaks to schools in the Wellington area about her experiences as part of the Asia New Zealand Foundation's schools programme, having undertaken an internship in Japan herself thanks to the organisation.

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- NZ Herald

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