Nine in 10 Kiwi school leavers are not equipped to engage with Asia despite a widespread belief that the region will have an increasing influence on New Zealand's demographic profile, a survey has found.
A report Losing Momentum - School Leavers' Asia Engagement 2016 released today found less than 10 per cent of school graduates are "Asia-ready".
The Asia New Zealand survey revealed just 36 per cent are "in the zone" when it came to Asia readiness, and almost two in five did not believe "Asia is important to our future' and 'have no interest in Asia or Asian cultures".
The foundation's executive director Simon Draper said this was a "concerning trend" since New Zealand's present and future are tied to Asia economically, culturally and socially.
"If this continues, our kids will likely miss out on life-changing opportunities brought about by the rise of Asia's influence and relevance to New Zealand," Draper said.
The survey, conducted late last year, interviewed a random sample of Year 12 and 13 secondary school students throughout New Zealand.
It was a follow-up to an initial survey commissioned by the foundation in 2012.
The survey found that general knowledge of Asia has also decreased, with students scoring just six out of nine on basic Asia questions.
Also, the proportion of students who said they "don't know much about Asian cultures, practices and customs" increased from 13 to 22 per cent.
"These trend lines are in the wrong direction," Draper said.
"There needs to be a course correction if we want school leavers to thrive in the Asian century."
Although most students believe Asia will have an increasing influence on New Zealand's demographic profile, 55 per cent felt they were not prepared to engage with Asian people and cultures here.
The survey showed the more students knew about Asia, the more they understood the importance of its languages, cultures, customs and traditions.
However, the number of Asian language learners in schools also dropped from 39 per cent in 2012 to 34 per cent in 2016.
Nearly two in five students, or 17 per cent, were not even aware their schools offered Asian-language courses.
According to the foundation's Asia Readiness Framework, just 8 per cent of school-leavers are classified as "Asia Ready".
Those who felt they knew nothing about Asia are more likely to come from the two lowest deciles.
They are also likely to be Maori or Pasifika, and live in a small town or rural area.
Statistics New Zealand is projecting the Asian population to increase from 0.54 million at 30 June 2013 to 0.81-0.92 million in 2025 and up to 1.26 million in 2038.
New Zealand's trade relationship with Asia and China has nearly tripled over the past decade.
Two-way trade with China rose from $8.2 billion in 2007 to $23 billion last year, and exports to China have quadrupled over the period.
The median projection indicates the Asian population will make up almost 21 percent of New Zealand's population, compared with 12.2 percent in 2013.
"We hope this report prompts schools, parents, students, educators, officials and community groups to engage in a meaningful conversation about whether we should formalise learning about Asia in our education system," Draper added.