Kids in schools around the country cooked dumplings, made lanterns, practised tai chi and tried their hands at calligraphy to mark Chinese Language Week last month.
According to Ministry of Education statistics, in 2016 over 52,000 primary school students were being taught Mandarin, up from 33,000 in 2015 and 10 times as many as in 2009. The numbers studying in secondary are much lower with about 4700 studying the language in 2016, up from 2000 in 2009.
But it’s not just about learning Chinese language, says the Foundation’s Educators Network manager Sean O’Connor. Learning about Chinese culture is also important.
“As China plays a larger role in world affairs and the number of people of Chinese ethnicity in New Zealand increases, schools are realising the growing importance of teaching their students about Chinese culture,” he says.
“By exposing kids to Chinese culture we hope student’s curiosity will be sparked, leading on to further exploration and perhaps an interest in studying the language.”
To assist with bringing Asian culture into the classroom, the Foundation provides grants towards schools holding Experience Asia Days; the schools use the grants to help pay for performers and artists or to cover the costs of materials.
This year, schools from Tahuna Normal Intermediate (joined by satellite schools) in Dunedin to Takapuna Primary School in Auckland took up grants to hold Chinese Days to coincide with New Zealand Chinese Language Week, which ran from 16-22 Oct.
Juliet Gao, teacher of Mandarin and global studies at Mission Heights Junior College describes their Chinese Day event as “a teacher-led, student-managed, whole school event made possible by members of the local community”.
She describes the Chinese Day as a time to strengthen the connections between New Zealand and China and encourage cultural exchange.