School­ing ‘weak­ens bilin­gual skills’


Asian eth­nic­ity is the fastest­grow­ing de­mo­graphic in New Zealand, but early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion cen­tres are wa­ter­ing down a bilin­gual pop­u­la­tion, a new re­port claims.

The Asia New Zealand Foun­da­tion re­port, Start­ing Strong: Nur­tur­ing the po­ten­tial of Asian un­der-fives, found one in five chil­dren born in New Zealand was now of Asian de­scent, but once they started school their na­tive tongues took a back seat.

The foun­da­tion, which runs so­cial, eco­nomic and ed­u­ca­tion re­search pro­grammes to in­flu­ence pol­icy, wants the Gov­ern­ment to cre­ate a na­tional lan­guages pol­icy in re­sponse to the find­ings, pub­lished on Wed­nes­day.

Asia New Zealand Foun­da­tion ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Si­mon Draper said the chil­dren iden­ti­fied by the re­port were given a head start in speak­ing more than one lan­guage, and be­lieved those cul­tural skills should be nur­tured, for the good of Kiwi re­la­tions with Asia.

‘‘We need to come up with a de­lib­er­ate and co-or­di­nated ap­proach to en­sure the lan­guage skills and cul­tural un­der­stand­ing of these chil­dren are not lost.’’

He said the call was not about choos­ing one di­alect over the other, but there was ‘‘no rea­son these chil­dren can­not learn Eng- lish and at the same time re­tain their her­itage lan­guage’’.

‘‘New Zealand’s present and fu­ture work­force needs to be con­fi­dent and com­pe­tent in en­gag­ing with Asia ... that will be a real ad­van­tage when they en­ter the work­force 15 to 20 years from now.’’

But the data showed Asian par­ents did not ex­pect early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion (ECE) cen­tres to take re­spon­si­bil­ity in fur­ther­ing their chil­dren’s her­itage skills.

Asian par­ents in­stead re­quested English was spo­ken even when bilin­gual teach­ers were avail­able. They be­lieved flu- ency was es­sen­tial for a smooth tran­si­tion to school, the re­port found.

Dai Phonevilay, who is well known for her stint on My Kitchen Rules, said she grew up in a bilin­gual house­hold in Porirua as a refugee from Laos.

Her daugh­ter, who is un­der 5, was also learn­ing the same skills, she said.

‘‘There’s so many ad­van­tages in hav­ing that [bilin­gual] skill ... It’s al­ways been a core value of mine for her to learn and un­der­stand, and to know, her lan­guage. Not only just to com­mu­ni­cate with the fam­ily but other peo­ple within the com­mu­nity.’’


Chil­dren at an early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion cen­tre. A new re­port has found chil­dren of Asian de­scent are los­ing their bilin­gual skills by the time they start school. Above, Porirua’s Dai Phonevilay is de­ter­mined her daugh­ter will be bilin­gual.

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