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Language learning in primary school a step for NZ's success

Language learning in primary school a critical step for New Zealand’s success

The Asia New Zealand Foundation welcomes the announcement of a programme to make available at least 10 priority languages in New Zealand primary schools.

“As an Asia-Pacific country, New Zealanders need to have confidence to engage in the region, and language learning is an important way of building that confidence,” says Foundation executive director Simon Draper.

“We know from our Perceptions of Asia research that 80% of New Zealanders believe children should learn a second language in schools. The research in this area indicates that primary school is where important early gains can be made,” he says.

“We know New Zealand businesses see the need for their employees to have Asia skills, including languages. For instance, when Chinese tourists visit New Zealand, the number one thing they ask to have improved is the number of Mandarin speakers available, so this also ties into job opportunities and the domestic economy.

“When the number of students learning an Asian language at secondary school has declined 29% in a decade, and only 8% of New Zealand school leavers are ‘Asia-Ready’, anything that helps reverse this trend is to be welcomed.”

The Asia New Zealand Foundation supports the learning of any second language, as a way of building cross-cultural and social understanding.

“For most students, there is currently no clear pathway for learning an Asian language so the availability of Mandarin, Korean and Japanese among the 10 proposed languages at primary level starts that pathway. As it stands, many New Zealand children enter the school system bilingual and leave monolingual.

“It is estimated that 60-75% of the world is at least bilingual, if not multilingual. Countries make this investment so their students are more culturally competent, competitive and globally mobile. Speaking English alone probably won’t cut it in 2032, when today’s five-year-olds enter a global workforce where others can speak two or three languages.”

With New Zealand’s present and future – economically, socially, culturally – tied to Asia, the Asia New Zealand Foundation has been working with schools and other partners to increase Asia skills and knowledge among Kiwi students.

“We cannot afford to let our students miss out on the opportunities that the rise of Asia’s influence and relevance bring to New Zealand,” Mr Draper says.

“We understand that this is a long game and it will take time for the education system to gear up to deliver, but it is positive to see this issue being discussed and getting some traction.”


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