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NZ Needs More Chinese Teachers: NZ China Council Report

February 18, 2019

The proportion of Kiwi secondary school students learning foreign languages has hit record low levels, according to a new report commissioned by the New Zealand China Council.

Chairman Sir Don McKinnon, Board member Tony Browne and Executive Director Stephen Jacobi met with Education Minister Hon Chris Hipkins in Wellington this week to discuss ways to increase the number of students studying languages.

“As we become more Asia-focused we need a much larger number of foreign language learners who are comfortable in different cultural environments.” Sir Don says.

“The Council’s ambition is to see more Chinese learning in New Zealand, but this does not mean we want to see fewer students studying Te Reo Maori or any other language. We support the call for the Government to adopt a national Languages Policy, which should aim to increase language learning across the board”.

The report shows just two per cent of students learn Chinese at secondary level and few study traditional languages at all levels.

The report identifies four factors constraining the success of language programmes in schools:   a shortage of qualified teachers, lack of compulsion in the curriculum; the low status accorded to language classes and the lack of a national languages policy.

In the absence of enough qualified teachers the report notes the role played by the 150 Mandarin Language Assistants (MLAs), whose presence in New Zealand schools has helped meet the demand for more Chinese learning opportunities.

Sir Don noted that a cap on the number of visas available for MLAs to come to New Zealand is a further constraint on increasing the number of schools able to teach Chinese. Increasing the number of home-grown qualified Chinese teachers is also a priority.

“We need more Kiwis fluent in our official non-English languages Te Reo, New Zealand Sign Language as well as foreign languages, and particularly in Chinese as trade, investment, tourism, education and migration grow rapidly between our countries.

“We urge the Government to accelerate the recruitment of qualified Chinese teachers and equip Kiwi students to better understand and engage with China,” Sir Don says.

Read the full report here. 

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