Dr. Martin Jacques, British columnist for The Guardian and New Statesman and expert on China, has highlighted the importance New Zealanders should be giving to the Chinese language, especially given the high number of Chinese immigrants and the importance of the economic relations between the two countries. According to Jacques, New Zealanders are ignoring a language which is spoken by one billion people in the world instead of making solid efforts to promote it.
Rise at Schools, Drop at University
Chinese teaching has seen a rise in recent years, with several schools now offering the language to children who will have a real advantage after they leave school. According to the Ministry of Education, the number of primary level students learning Chinese has increased 600 per cent since 2003. On the other hand, students at secondary level have experienced an increase of 76 per cent. However, universities and polytechnics have not seen similar trends, as the number of students studying Chinese has dropped.
China is today one of New Zealand’s largest trading partners. Deals between the two countries require that New Zealand has a reasonable amount of Chinese speakers. Kim Campbell, Employers and Manufacturers Association manager, agreed with Jacques but added that he does not think the insufficient numbers are the schools’ fault. Instead, he urged students to go and demand Chinese courses themselves, as he sustains that the interest should arise from the young.
Regarding business and trade, New Zealand’s Trade Minister Tim Groser stated that businesses in the country should be asking themselves whether they have appropriate, long-term human resources strategies that will help tackle the difficulties that arise from commerce between New Zealand and China. He highlighted that transactional approaches are not enough in this century and noted Chinese language acquisition as an important element in the process.
Chinese Students in New Zealand
Another reason that can justify the importance of Chinese learning in New Zealand is related to the number of Chinese students in New Zealand’s universities. International education accounts for a revenue of around two billion dollars a year for New Zealand’s economy. In the next ten years, 50,000 Chinese students are expected to be studying in the country after an increase in the number of Chinese families sending their children to study abroad and as a consequence of New Zealand’s effort to attract them.