Are our school leavers Asia-ready?

New research released today from the Asia New Zealand Foundation reveals that fewer school leavers think Asia-related skills and knowledge are important, a trend that experts describe as “alarming”.


The Asia New Zealand Foundation has released the results of its 2016 school leavers survey ‘Losing Momentum – School Leavers’ Asia Engagement’, which looked at the Asia-readiness of our year 12 and 13 students. This survey is a follow up to an initial survey commissioned by the Foundation in 2012.

According to the report, although the majority of New Zealanders, both students and adults, acknowledge Asia is important to New Zealand’s future, less than four in 10 (37 per cent) of school leavers believe Asia-related knowledge and skills will be important for New Zealand’s future workforce, down from 46 per cent in 2012. As in 2012, a little over half said they feel they are not prepared for engaging with people and cultures of Asia.

Almost one in five (18 per cent) either ‘do not believe Asia is important to our future’ or they have ‘no interest in Asia or Asian cultures’. Only eight per cent are classified as ‘Asia-ready’, based on the Foundation’s Asia-Readiness Framework.

“This is alarming. If this trend continues, our kids will likely miss out on the opportunities brought about by the rise of Asia’s influence,” says Simon Draper, executive director of the Foundation.

“New Zealand’s present and future – economically, culturally and socially – are tied to Asia. In fact, New Zealand businesses are increasingly saying they are looking for employees who have Asia-related skills and knowledge. Developing these competencies will open doors to opportunities for our young people,” Draper says.

The survey indicated general knowledge of Asia has decreased. Students were asked nine general knowledge questions about Asia in the survey. The average student answered 3.37 questions incorrectly, up from 2.94 in 2012, which represents a statistically significant increase.

Twenty-two per cent of students surveyed said they ‘don’t know much about Asian cultures, practices and customs’ up from 13 per cent in 2012. The proportion who said they acknowledge differences in culture, practices and customs, and try to consider these when interacting with Asian people, has decreased to 25 percent from 31 percent in 2012.

Source: Q6c, Q6d Base: All students (n=1,024)

Fewer students learning Asian languages

Languages are one pathway to learning about Asia – but the signs are not positive. The learning of Asian languages fell 29 per cent in the decade to 2015. This survey shows that there has been a further decline since 2012.

The survey also showed students are accessing language learning outside of the classroom. Students who identify with an Asian ethnicity, for example, learn through personal connections, including family, being on holiday or living in that country. Students with little or no involvement with Asian cultures rely on a variety of sources, including schools, TV, books, magazines and the internet.

Over half of students who do not study Asian languages indicated they would be interested to study an Asian language in the future.

What needs to be done

“We cannot deny that Asia will play a defining role in young New Zealanders’ careers, their personal relationships, and their life experiences. We need to help them understand and be prepared for that,” says Draper.

“This report tells us that stakeholders including education officials, schools, parents, students and those in the community, need to have a conversation around how we can help young people to be equipped to succeed in the Asian century,” he adds.

“As with the broader public, a lot of this comes down to confidence in engaging with Asia. Our annual Perceptions of Asia survey tells us that this is a problem going beyond our school leavers – indeed, we know it is an issue for educators. Many of us are not backing ourselves in what we already know about Asia, and this is inhibiting our ability to ‘give it a go’. The opportunities for our school leavers are there for the taking,” Draper says.

Since the initial 2012 survey, the Foundation’s education programme has undertaken initiatives to increase students’ Asia awareness including workshops for teachers, producing Asia-focused teacher resources, supporting Asian language learning, funding Asia-focused events in schools, and in-country experiences for teachers.

Asia New Zealand Foundation is the preeminent non-profit organisation in the country on Asian issues with the aim of ‘equipping New Zealanders to thrive in the Asian century.

For a complete copy of the report, visit



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