Eyeing up China (from outside Auckland)

August 2017


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JUDE BARBACK looks at how schools outside Auckland have a point of difference when it comes to attracting Chinese students.

Eyeing up chinaWith China’s controversial one-child policy now over, the country is experiencing a baby boom, putting further strain on an already overcrowded education system and resulting in increasing numbers of parents wanting to give their children a taste of education abroad.

In recent years there has been increasing interest in short-term stays at the primary school level. Accompanied by a parent, a student will typically visit during their summer holiday, meaning that they get a holiday, a new experience and a chance to learn English, all without missing school in China.

Auckland has a lot of appeal for visiting Chinese. New Zealand’s largest city is the closest thing we have to the hustle and bustle of hugely populated Chinese cities; it has a vibrant and established Chinese community, more employment opportunities and an international airport with direct flights to China.

Yet for those parents wanting their children to have a true Kiwi experience and an opportunity to really grasp the English language without the distraction of so many native Chinese speakers around them, looking beyond the City of Sails is becoming a more desirable option.

Alison Xie, international co-ordinator for Kirkwood Intermediate in Christchurch, says she understands the appeal of Auckland; however, she says places like Christchurch have a different offering.

“Auckland has more opportunities for jobs, study and a more established Chinese culture; however, the appeal of somewhere like Christchurch is that there are fewer people and it is considered more Western.”

Lynne Mossop, international director for Greenpark School in Tauranga, agrees. Having recently returned from a trip to China with a delegation of school representatives hosted by local agency Education Tauranga, Mossop said one of the strong messages they received was that there were too many Chinese students in Auckland schools.

“They appear to be reaching saturation points in Auckland,” she says.

This opens the door for regions like Tauranga to offer a point of difference.

The key is working out that what Kiwis value in places like Tauranga – namely the beaches and the relaxed vibe – might differ from what Chinese value in a place. It may resonate more to emphasise the area’s safety, friendliness and its proximity to Auckland and major tourist destinations like Rotorua and Taupo. The promise of fewer Chinese students in a classroom will also appeal.

However, Xie says English is only part of it.

“They are interested in experiencing New Zealand culture and the lifestyle here,” she says.

Having taught in a Chinese high school for 12 years, Xie understands the extent of the differences between the two education systems and cultures.

She says Chinese teachers, students and parents were amazed to see pictures of New Zealand school children climbing trees and on couches in classrooms. Comparatively, a Chinese school might have 74 classrooms, with each of those classes holding a huge number of children.

Mossop says regional schools are not in direct competition with Auckland, or even with schools in New Zealand. Their biggest competition is with other English-speaking countries; New Zealand typically ranks fourth, after the UK, USA and Australia.

Mossop believes New Zealand appeals to those families who seek a better lifestyle and see their New Zealand visit as a chance to suss out another country.

“What’s popular at the primary level is the mother and child come for a short-term visit – typically between two and four weeks. This is their vacation, but also the chance to improve their English and look at potential options for later down the track,” says Mossop.

Subsequently, primary, intermediate and high schools all work closely together.

Mossop places huge emphasis in being part of an agency like Education Tauranga.

“Collectively, we can create quite an impact.”

In China, the bigger the numbers, the bigger the impact and the more credibility you have, she says. And then once you have a success story and key relationships formed, Mossop believes you’re on the right track, although she stresses the importance of developing and nurturing those relationships.

She says 70 per cent of referrals come from word of mouth.

Mossop shares one of Greenpark’s success stories. The school had a student and parent come for a two week short-term stay. After they returned to China, they sold up and came back to live in New Zealand permanently.

Xie agrees that word of mouth is incredibly important. She found that she gained credibility with agents by sharing her son’s experience of Kirkwood Intermediate.

Short-term stays are a good way for schools to demonstrate to agencies that their wider school communities have a good understanding of Chinese culture and what is involved with hosting a student.

Anecdotally, some schools struggle with finding homestays for their short-term visiting students. However, Mossop says it isn’t hard finding homestays at Greenpark, although she often shoulder-taps parents who she knows will be keen.

“Most parents go the extra mile to show off their home, taking them to Rotorua or to local attractions.”

Some of Greenpark’s students are learning Mandarin, so it can be a good chance to improve their language, says Mossop. And the international student programme feeds into what they’re doing at school to cultivate global citizenship.

International Students in New Zealand schools: trends and numbers

According to Education New Zealand (ENZ) figures, nearly 3,000 international students attended New Zealand primary and intermediate schools last year, a 16 per cent increase on 2015. Around 16,350 international students attended New Zealand secondary schools, an increase of six per cent.

The primary school sector increased dramatically, with 26 per cent more students attending.

The vast majority of these students came from China. Just under 1,300 students came from China, and of these, 1,055 were primary students. This was followed by Korea (948 students) and Japan (184 students). The Korean market has been gradually declining in recent years and ENZ puts this down to the Korean economy and improved domestic English teaching capability.

In the secondary school market, China continued to grow, with 5,966 students, representing 36 per cent of the sector. Japan followed with 2,533 students, 15 per cent of the sector. Germany (1,806 students) and Korea (1,304 students) both stabilised following previous declines.

The main growth was unsurprisingly in Auckland, with 1,951 primary students – a 13 per cent increase on 2015 – and 8,931 secondary students. Bay of Plenty saw the next biggest growth in the primary school sector (315 or 11 per cent), followed by Wellington (188 or 6 per cent) and Canterbury (181 or 6 per cent). For the secondary school market, Canterbury had 1,613 students and grew five per cent and Wellington had 1,287 students and grew 11 per cent.

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