Maintaining cultural knowledge and heritage language skills is a challenge for a growing number of under-5 Asian children in New Zealand, a new study has found.
The Asia New Zealand Foundation Starting Strong: Nurturing the potential of Asian under-5s report looks at the rapidly increasing Asian under-5 population, their home environment, as well as the response of Early Childhood Education (ECE) centres to this changing demographic.
Families of Asian ethnicity in New Zealand place great importance on their heritage culture and language, but as soon as children start school, English becomes the main language at home and their heritage language is used less, researchers say.
"It is important to recognise the benefits of having these children with diverse languages and cultures growing up in New Zealand given Asia's growing relevance," says Simon Draper, Executive Director of Asia New Zealand Foundation.
Almost one in five children under 5 in New Zealand are now of Asian ethnicity.
The number almost doubled between 2001 and 2013 from 18,378 to 35,898.
Draper said these children are entering the school system with a head start, bringing cultural knowledge and language skills that could present a real advantage when they enter the workforce.
"There is no reason these children cannot learn English and at the same time retain their heritage language," he said.
An earlier foundation report released in July found only 8 per cent of senior secondary students are "Asia-ready" and six out of 10 did not consider Asia-related skills and knowledge important for New Zealand's future workforce.
Draper said its data suggested not enough support is being given to the development of Asia-related skills for school leavers.
The report found that Asian parents considered it their responsibility to teach their child their heritage culture and language, and did not expect ECE centres to do this.
Many Asian parents requested that English be spoken at ECE centres, even when bilingual teachers were available, because they believed English fluency was essential for children making a smooth transition to school.
ECE centres cited constraints on time, resources and availability of bilingual teachers as some of the barriers they faced.
Draper said a co-ordinated approach was needed to ensure language skills and cultural understanding of these children "are not lost".
He added that an adoption of a National Languages Policy would assist in growing a "languages culture" within New Zealand where children speak more than one language, as it is in majority of countries in the world.