Little diplomats in action

August 2017


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JUDE BARBACK talks to Oropi School principal Andrew King about the Little Diplomats programme, which has helped its students to build their intercultural competencies and the school to build its relationship with its sister school in China.

Little diplomatsIn a small rural school 20 kilometres out of Tauranga, young Kiwi students are talking to their friends (or e-pals) at a school in China using WeChat on their iPads. They are testing out their Mandarin. The Chinese students are testing out their English. They explore what is different and what is similar about their cultures. This is the Little Diplomats programme in action.

Oropi School is a world away from its sister school Xianghu Campus of the Nanchang Modern Foreign Language School. One is a 300-student primary school in rural Bay of Plenty. The other is in China’s Sichuan Province and has more than 2,000 students.

Yet despite their differences, the schools have forged a true partnership, helped by initiatives like the Little Diplomats programme.

Principal Andrew King believes that interculturalism should be an important part of school life. In fact, he made this the subject of his master’s research, exploring how interculturalism – as opposed to multiculturalism – requires a deep level of interaction between cultures to enable genuine learning and understanding. He looked at how school leaders could better integrate interculturalism into their schools.

King shares the view that Asia – and China in particular – is going to be very important for New Zealanders and is keen for his students to learn more about the language and culture.

“We need to increase the capacity of New Zealand teachers to teach Chinese,” he says.

In 2013 the school appointed a Mandarin teacher; she now has Mandarin teaching assistants as well to help students learn about the language and the culture.

With the help of Asian Language Learning in Schools (ALLiS) funding from the Government, Oropi School collaborates with nearby Tauriko School and Tauranga Boys’ College to deliver a Mandarin curriculum from years 0 to 13. This partnership means there is a local team of New Zealand-trained teachers working together on the second language programme, which helps to ensure its sustainability.

King is keen to see the intercultural dimension woven into all aspects of school life.

“What are we doing to enable our kids to have empathy, to think divergently?” he asks

The Little Diplomats programme is for students in years 4 to 8. The students involved are apparently “flying” with their Mandarin learning. It also stretches beyond language learning and encourages the students to learn about each other’s cultures.

King believes there is huge potential within the programme. He’d like to see Oropi students working with their peers in China on online collaborative projects. Both schools are learning about sustainable gardens, for example. A project on this could lend itself to discussion of environmental issues, climate change, crop differences and so on. 

Other Bay of Plenty schools are set to follow Oropi School’s lead, with Tauriko, Greenpark and Tahatai Coast schools all having shown interest in the Little Diplomats programme. The programme can be adapted for schools that aren’t as far along with learning Mandarin, so that groups of New Zealand students can prepare English lessons for their Chinese counterparts, and
vice versa.

In addition to promoting global citizenship values, initiatives like Little Diplomats serve as active advertisements for schools that would like to encourage more international students to consider them for their long- or short-stay visits.

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