Is Asia Represented in New Zealand Secondary School Curricula?

Article excerpt


It is likely that 16 percent of the population will be Asian by 2026 (Statistics New Zealand, 2008). Given New Zealand's current and projected demographic profile, and its forecast future reliance on its Asian neighbours, an Asian component in secondary school curricula, incorporating knowledge about Asia and Asian languages, coupled with a focus on developing the disposition and skills to interact with people from Asia, would seem justified. The New Zealand Secretary for Education, Karen Sewell, in her foreword to The New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007a, p. 4), writes of a societal or state agenda, of the need to equip young New Zealanders with the "knowledge, competencies and values they will need to be successful citizens". This call to educate young people to work together to create a better society reflects discussion of significant changes in Aotearoa New Zealand's underpinning educational philosophies (see, for example, Adams, 2005; Clark, 2005). Whether social and economic purposes can be bedfellows (Codd, 2005) is not the focus of this paper. One strand underlying the concept of "successful citizens" is the argument that successful citizens create wealth and the acknowledgement that economics now drive education (Codd, 2005); another strand, complementary or not, is that relationships and connections between people with different life experiences, and between people and ideas, are vital and result in both knowledge creation (Bolstad & Gilbert, 2008) and a cohesive society. Whatever strength or value these arguments have, using the rich resources of Asian students to contribute to the generation of new knowledge and new ways of thinking and doing seems a useful orientation for curricular implementation. Writing about Western society, Cummins (2004, p. xv) argues that "any student who emerges into our culturally diverse society speaking only one language and with a monocultural perspective on the world can legitimately be considered educationally ill-prepared".

The demographics

The increasing diversity of the school population was a fundamental driver in the revision of the curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007a, p. 4). Diversity is at times used imprecisely in New Zealand educational terminology. Alton-Lee's 2003 synthesis of best evidence commissioned by the Ministry of Education uses diverse as an epithet to describe all school students, but in the field of second-language acquisition research, and in this paper, diversity refers to linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds (Nieto, 2004). Secondary schools, which are the focus of this paper, being familiar contexts for the writer, have significantly different demographics from even 10 years ago, and the fastest growing sector is the widely disparate group described as "Asian", comprising groups who differ widely in history, culture and language. While the category "Asian" is used in data gathering as a panethnic label, and is used similarly here, it is noted that it is also a term used in racist discourse and is not acceptable amongst students as a nomenclature (Bartley & Spoonley, 2008). More than 9 percent of New Zealand's population currently identify themselves as Asian (Statistics New Zealand, 2008). Statistics New Zealand identifies the main Asian groups, in order of numbers, as Chinese, Indian, Korean, Filipino, Japanese, Sri Lankan, Cambodian and Thai. Not included in these statistics are the 7,331 foreign fee-paying students (FFPs) in secondary schools (Education Counts, 2007). Most of the FFPs are Asian. However, it is the public education system, not the export education industry and the possible threats it poses to the public system, that is the main focus of discussion here. (See Codd, 2005 for further discussion of educational policy and the challenges of globalisation.) The mere number of students of Asian descent in the public education system warrants an orientation towards Asia in the implementation of The New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007a). …