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Kiwi school leavers not equipped to engage with Asia

Research shows Kiwi school leavers not equipped to engage with Asia

Research released today by the Asia New Zealand Foundation has found less than 10 percent of school leavers are ‘Asia-ready’ and only 36 percent are ‘in the zone’ when it comes to Asia readiness*.

The Foundation’s Losing Momentum – School Leavers’ Asia Engagement 2016 report also finds that while seven out of ten senior secondary school students believe Asia is important to New Zealand’s future, over six out of ten do not think Asia-related skills and knowledge will be important for the country’s future workforce. This is a near 10 percentage points decline (46 percent to 37 percent) from when the Foundation first surveyed school leavers in 2012.

The survey also reveals 18 percent either ‘do not believe Asia is important to our future’ or ‘have no interest in Asia or Asian cultures’.

“This is a concerning trend given New Zealand’s present and future – economically, culturally and socially – are tied to Asia,” says Simon Draper, executive director of Asia New Zealand Foundation. “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.”

He noted businesses are increasingly looking for employees who have Asia-related skills and knowledge – and they are not getting those skills.

“All indicators suggest that Asia will play a critical role in young New Zealanders’ careers, their personal relationships, and their life experiences. Developing Asia-related competencies will be a necessity for their future.”

The survey also shows general knowledge of Asia has decreased. Students scored less than six out of nine on basic Asia questions, a small drop from 2012.

“These trend lines are in the wrong direction. There needs to be a course correction if we want school leavers to thrive in the Asian century,” says Mr Draper.

The survey revealed an urban-rural and socio-economic divide. Those who feel they know nothing about Asian countries – about one in five students – are more likely to come from the two lowest deciles, are likely to be Māori or Pasifika, and live in a small town or rural area. “We don’t want a two-tier system when it comes to Asia readiness. This is a bad outcome and is unfair,” says Mr Draper.

“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.”

* based on the Foundation’s Asia-Readiness Framework

Asked how prepared they felt to engage with Asian people and cultures in New Zealand, 45 percent felt prepared.

On the positive side, the survey reveals those who say they cannot describe anything about any Asian country tended to answer four out of nine Asia-knowledge questions correctly. “These kids obviously know more than they gave themselves credit for and this is similar to what we found in our annual Perceptions of Asia survey released earlier in the year. Too many of us are not backing ourselves in what we already know about Asia and this inhibits our ability to ‘give it a go’,” says Mr Draper.

The survey also showed the more students knew about Asia, the more they understand the importance not just of language, but also of culture, customs and traditions.

Languages are one pathway to learning about Asia – but the signs are not positive here either. The proportion of Year 12 and 13 students learning an Asian language fell from 39 percent in 2012 to 34 percent in 2016. Surprisingly, we estimate 17 percent of students in schools with Asian language courses were not even aware their schools offer them.

However, more than half (59 percent) of students not currently learning an Asian language were interested in doing so in the future.

Since the initial 2012 survey, the Foundation’s education programme has undertaken various initiatives to increase students’ Asia awareness.

“We have an Educators Network that has grown to over 700 member schools and we encourage more schools to join,” says Asia New Zealand Foundation education director Jeff Johnstone.

“Last year, we ran workshops for over 100 school leaders throughout New Zealand. We produced Asia-focussed teacher resource, organised ‘Asian Language Learning in Schools’ workshops, funded over 50 Asia-focussed events in schools, and led two trips to Asia involving 27 educators. Two more trips are planned before the end of the year.” But more clearly needs to be done. “This research tells us that Asia New Zealand Foundation’s work alone is not enough to give current New Zealand school leavers the skills they need to engage in the world’s most prosperous, dynamic and exciting region – Asia. We collectively need to do more and do better,” says Mr Draper.



1. Only 8 percent of school leavers are classified as ‘Asia Ready’ according to Asia New Zealand Foundation’s Asia Readiness Framework.

2. Only 37 percent believe Asia-related skills and knowledge will be important for New Zealand’s future workforce. This figure has decreased since 2012 when 46 percent of students believed Asia-related knowledge and skills were important.

3. Since 2012 there has been a decrease in the proportion of students who are learning an Asian language (or have studied one in the past) from 39 percent in 2012 down to 34 percent in 2016.

4. Eighteen percent either ‘do not believe Asia is important to our future’ or ‘have no interest in Asia or Asian cultures’.

5. We estimate 17 percent of students in schools with Asian language enrolments are unaware their schools offer an Asian language.

6. A growing minority of students feel they know ‘nothing’ about Asian countries. Seventeen percent feel they know ‘nothing’ about any Asian country compared to 12 percent in 2012. These students are more likely to: Attend schools in the two lowest deciles in New Zealand (22 percent compared to 7 percent in 2012); Be Māori (22 percent) or Pasifika (29 percent); Live in a small town or a rural area (22 percent).

7. Students were asked nine general knowledge questions about Asia and the average student answered 3.37 questions incorrectly compared to 2.94 in 2012.

8. A higher proportion of students say they ‘don’t know much about Asian cultures, practices, and customs’ (22 percent in 2016 compared to 13 percent in 2012).

9. Since 2012, the proportion of students learning an Asian language has decreased, as has the proportion of students with knowledge about Asia.

10. Although most students believe Asia will have an increasing influence on New Zealand’s demographic profile, over half (55 percent) of all students surveyed feel they are not prepared to engage with the people and cultures of Asia in New Zealand.

About the survey

This report presents the results of a survey of Year 12 and 13 secondary school students, conducted in late 2016 by Colmar Brunton for the Foundation. The survey interviewed a random sample of more than 1,000 students throughout New Zealand. It is a follow up to the initial survey commissioned by the Foundation in 2012.

About the Asia New Zealand Foundation

The Asia New Zealand Foundation is New Zealand’s leading authority on Asia. It is a nonpartisan, non-profit organisation, established in 1994 to build New Zealanders’ knowledge and understanding of Asia. The Foundation’s mission is to equip New Zealanders to thrive in the Asian century.

The Foundation works in partnership with influential individuals and organisations in New Zealand and in Asia to provide high-level forums, cultural events, international collaborations, school programmes and professional development opportunities. Its activities cover more than 20 countries in Asia and are delivered through seven programmes.


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