17 Oct 2015
There is a looming shortage of Chinese language teachers at schools as student numbers continue to grow.
The number of students learning Chinese at primary school jumped by 24 per cent between 2013 and 2014, from 18,754 to 24,143, according to the Ministry of Education figures.
Chinese was now the fastest growing language taught at New Zealand primary schools.
New Zealand China Council's Tony Browne said secondary schools were unprepared to cope with students who wanted to continue studying the language at high school.
If the current rate of increase in students studying Chinese continued, more than 20,000 students were expected to study Mandarin at secondary school within the next six years, he said.
In 2014 the number of secondary students taking Mandarin as a subject grew 28 per cent, from 4218 to 3277.
At the moment students from 260 schools – 178 primary and 82 secondary – are taking the subject.
However, only 60 high schools teach the subject at their school. Other schools had to make special arrangements for students wanting to study Mandarin, such as correspondence courses.
"This is seriously inadequate to meet future demand," Browne said.
The shortage of New Zealanders graduating with skills that made them "China-literate" would hamper future growth in New Zealand's economic ties with China, he said.
"As our relationship grows, we need more New Zealanders on the ground in China and here in New Zealand with good language proficiency, among other skills.
"There is an urgency to growing our pool of Chinese speakers and we need to help schools overcome the barriers to introducing Chinese language lessons."
Schools not offering Chinese needed to know it was in their students' interests to become China-literate and language was a fundamental first step in making that happen, Browne said.
Figures from the latest census show Chinese remained the largest Asian ethnic group in New Zealand with 171,411 people, up 16.2 per cent from the previous census in 2006.
A special conference for secondary school principals was held this week to reinforce the value of introducing Chinese to their curriculums.