It’s well known that tourism is one of New Zealand’s most vital industries, but people don’t just come here for the pretty vistas. Look down the list of New Zealand’s main export earners, and in fourth position you’ll see international education. The sector in 2016 was valued at $4.5 billion dollars, supporting more than 33,000 jobs, with more than 130,000 students from other countries enrolled in our schools.
Grant McPherson, chief executive of Education New Zealand, the government agency responsible for promoting this country as an education destination, believes that this increasing exposure to other cultures in the classroom, like learning a second language, creates more confident global citizens – advantaging both those students arriving here and those hosting them.
“We see the evidence of that every day. What you’re getting is skills, expertise, and points of view that these [international] students have, that impact New Zealand students. For example, we’ve heard the comment made many times that Japanese students have really helped and contributed to [New Zealand] students learning the Japanese language.
“For another, we’ve had students coming from countries where maybe they teach mathematics in a different way, coming in and helping to lift the classroom as a whole.
“The homestay system too – taking an international student into your home – is really powerful. The international student gets immersed in New Zealand culture, but that also allows them to have an impact on your family.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have had three international students homestaying with my family. For our kids, they got to experience our homestay students cooking Japanese food for us, for example. They were also able to show our kids what was trendy in Japan, which of course was completely different from what’s happening here.”
Fostering a global ethos
Owairoa Primary in Howick, Auckland, is a school well versed in what it means to host international students successfully. In 2016 Owairoa was home base to 10 per cent of all the primary-age Chinese international students coming into New Zealand. Director of international education Diane McIntyre says that her school is such a popular destination, particularly with kids from Asian countries, because they leave Owairoa with extra strings to their bow, which is important to parents who are under pressure to help their children stand out.
“As a generalisation, some of these students aren’t very ‘world-wise’. They know how to follow, they know how to be led as a group, but they’re not so independent with their creativity, with their independent thinking, things like that. So I think their experience coming to New Zealand helps to foster that whole ethos of the global citizen.
“I think they’re being sent here to give them a chance to get ahead from all the other thousands of children of the same age level back home, and [parents] see the value in that respect. It’s a point of difference, that we are so world-renowned for having. It gives them a richness to their education.”