Confucius is being credited for the growth in popularity of Mandarin learning at a top Auckland Catholic boys' school.

With more than 500 of the 1200 students enrolled to learn Mandarin, St Peter's College has the highest number of students in the country between Year 7 to 13 learning the language.

The college in Mountain Rd, Epsom, last year became the first high school in the country to establish a "Confucius classroom" to promote Chinese culture and language.

It received a grant of $12,000 from China through the local Confucius Institute to set it up, and will be getting $10,000 annually to support its Chinese language and cultural programmes.


"Chinese is very popular also because parents of our boys want them to be international learners," said acting principal James Bentley.

"They certainly see languages such as Mandarin as giving a portable ability to be able to work anywhere in the world, particularly up in Asia."

Mr Bentley said languages were very popular among students at intermediate level, but tapered off at senior level when they became examination subjects.

Even then, the number of Chinese learners rose more than 330 per cent in the past four years at senior level, increasing from just 79 learners in 2011 to 263 last year.

Mr Bentley said the funding the school received from Hanban, the Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, had allowed it to expand its Chinese department.

Confucius Institute director Nora Yao said there were 15 schools with Confucius classrooms in New Zealand and two more were recently approved.

Except for St Peter's, all the others were at primary or intermediate levels, with some being shared by a cluster of schools.

In Auckland, these schools include Henderson Intermediate, Willow Park, Parnell District School, Holy Cross and Glenfield Intermediate.


"A Confucius classroom is a hub for Chinese teaching and learning ... they receive special support from Hanban through the local Confucius Institute," Ms Yao said.

To qualify, schools must already offer Chinese as a subject and need to have a plan to further develop Chinese education.

They must also be willing to act as a resource and advisory centre to "showcase and promote" the teaching of Chinese language and culture.

Change in numbers studying languages at school over the last ten years