Wor­ry­ing lack of Asia en­gage­ment among NZ school leavers

The Press - - Business - SI­MON DRAPER ❚ Si­mon Draper is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Asia New Zea­land Foun­da­tion, a non­profit or­gan­i­sa­tion fo­cused on New Zea­land-Asia re­la­tions, with a range of pro­grammes de­signed to equip New Zealan­ders with first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence of Asia and to

Afew weeks ago, Asia New Zea­land Foun­da­tion staff trav­elled to Ro­torua’s Ta­heke Marae for a hui on our en­gage­ment with Maori.

We were lucky enough to have three young peo­ple with us, the chil­dren of Josh Whare­hinga, one of the mem­bers of our Lead­er­ship Net­work’s Maori cau­cus.

Aged be­tween 12 and 17, they had grown up in Gis­borne. We asked them what they knew about Asia. They told us they knew noth­ing, ex­cept that their great­grand­fa­ther had served in the Korean War.

They went away to think about this a bit more and came back with a few cul­tural ref­er­ences – noo­dles, manga, Gang­nam Style, kung fu, the Ja­panese movie Spir­ited Away ... They knew more than they thought they did about Asia. But they hadn’t learnt it at school – and in that they’re not un­usual.

Why does that mat­ter to New Zea­land busi­ness? As a crude ex­am­ple, you only have to look at the logs leav­ing New Zea­land via our East Coast ports to see a con­nec­tion be­tween Asia and the re­gional econ­omy.

And no mat­ter where in New Zea­land our young peo­ple grow up, they’re likely to find them­selves in­ter­act­ing with Asian cul­tures or peoples in some way as they en­ter the work­force.

The Asia New Zea­land Foun­da­tion has just re­leased the re­port Los­ing Mo­men­tum – School Leavers’ Asia En­gage­ment ,a na­tional sur­vey that asked more than 1000 se­nior sec­ondary school stu­dents about their knowl­edge of Asia.

The stu­dents ranked Asia as the sec­ond most im­por­tant re­gion to New Zea­land, just be­hind Aus­tralia. Seven out of 10 said Asia was im­por­tant to New Zea­land’s fu­ture.

But fewer than one in 10 school leavers fit­ted the de­scrip­tion of be­ing ‘‘Asia-ready’’, which in­cludes fac­tors such as un­der­stand­ing of dif­fer­ent cul­tural per­spec­tives; and the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate be­yond a su­per­fi­cial level in an Asian lan­guage.

Wor­ry­ingly, more than half of stu­dents said they did not feel pre­pared to en­gage with Asian peoples and cul­tures here in New Zea­land.

And in most cases, the stu­dents didn’t see a link be­tween Asia’s im­por­tance to New Zea­land and their ca­reers. More than six out of 10 of those sur­veyed didn’t think Asia-re­lated skills and knowl­edge would be im­por­tant for the fu­ture work­force.

This is at odds with New Zea­land’s eco­nomic re­al­ity – and with the views of lead­ing busi­ness­peo­ple.

Speak­ing re­cently on the grow­ing im­por­tance of Asia to New Zea­land, PwC chief ex­ec­u­tive Mark Aver­ill said: ’’Peo­ple com­ing into busi­ness now have to un­der­stand the cul­ture and busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment of that mar­ket so they can ad­vise clients – so again it is a great op­por­tu­nity for younger peo­ple to em­ploy their dig­i­tal and di­ver­sity skills.’’

Prob­a­bly the most wor­ry­ing el­e­ment of the re­port is the fact that the re­sults are in fact worse than when we first did this re­search in 2012. Fewer sec­ondary stu­dents be­lieve Asia-re­lated skills will be im­por­tant to their fu­ture; knowl­edge of Asia has de­creased; and fewer stu­dents are study­ing Asian lan­guages over­all.

How did we get to this point? Stu­dents we spoke to said their so­cial stud­ies classes mainly touched on Euro­pean and Amer­i­can his­tory. De­spite the cen­tral­ity of Asia to New Zea­land to­day, it’s still of­ten seen to be pe­riph­eral when it comes to ed­u­ca­tion. Gen­er­a­tions of New Zealan­ders have grown up in a Euro­cen­tric ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and change doesn’t hap­pen overnight.

A lack of con­fi­dence among New Zea­land teach­ers is one of the bar­ri­ers and our ed­u­ca­tion team has been work­ing with schools around the coun­try to tackle this. We’ve held work­shops, pro­duced Asia-fo­cussed class­room re­sources, and over the years have taken hun­dreds of ed­u­ca­tors to Asian coun­tries to give them onthe-ground ex­pe­ri­ences.

But we also know there’s an ur­ban-ru­ral and so­cio-eco­nomic di­vide – and we don’t be­lieve that Asia-re­lated skills should be the pre­serve of high-decile schools in ur­ban cen­tres. We hope our re­port sparks a con­ver­sa­tion about how we em­bed Asia ca­pa­bil­i­ties in our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem – and we hope busi­nesses get in­volved in this con­ver­sa­tion.

On the bright side, the sur­vey also showed more than half of those who are not cur­rently learn­ing an Asian lan­guage are in­ter­ested in do­ing so. Young New Zealan­ders iden­ti­fied cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties, food and per­sonal in­ter­ac­tions as im­por­tant mo­ti­va­tors for learn­ing more.

Com­ing back to our young Gis­borne friends, cul­tural ref­er­ences such as manga and Gang­nam Style can act as start­ing points on a path­way to be­com­ing ‘‘Asia-ready’’ – if their ed­u­ca­tion gives them the op­por­tu­nity.

The crazily colour­ful world of manga can be an en­try point to Asian cul­ture for young New Zealan­ders.

PHO­TOS: GETTY IM­AGES

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