Asian children struggle with culture and language

 

Venkat Raman

An increasing number of children on the grow are finding it difficult to imbibe and assimilate their culture and language a report has found.

The situation is peculiar to children under five years of age – likely to be known as ‘Gen Net,’ named after the obsessive and excessive use of the Internet and online visits.

The Report, titled, ‘Starting Strong: Nurturing the potential of Asian Under-Fives,’ published by the Wellington-based Asia New Zealand Foundation attributed the home environment and response of Early Childhood Education (ECE) Centres as factors contributing to the change in demography.

Asia New Zealand Foundation Executive Director Simon Draper said that it is important to recognise the benefits of having these children with diverse languages and cultures growing up in New Zealand given Asia’s growing relevance.

He said that almost one in five children under five is now of Asian ethnicity and that between 2001 and 2013, this demographic almost doubled from 18,378 to 35,898.

While families of Asian ethnicity in New Zealand place great importance on their heritage culture and language, researchers say parents notice that as soon as children start school.

English dominant

“English becomes the main language at home and their heritage language is used less. We hear from employers that New Zealand’s present and future workforce needs to be confident and competent in engaging with Asia and Asian peoples,” Mr Draper said.

He said that the Report pointed out that children are entering our school system with a head start, bringing cultural knowledge and language skills that will be a real advantage when they enter the workforce 15-20 years from now.

“What are we collectively doing to grow and nurture these skills? What are we doing to encourage their friends and classmates to learn from them?” Mr Draper asked and added, “This is not about choosing one language over another. There is no reason these children cannot learn English and at the same time retain their heritage language.”

Asian heritage ignored

In July, the Foundation released a related report on the Asia engagement of school leavers – the other end of the schooling system.

Called, ‘Losing Momentum,’ it showed that only 8% of senior secondary school students are ‘Asia-ready’ and six out of 10 did not consider Asia-related skills and knowledge important for New Zealand’s future workforce.

“Our data suggests that our education system, whanau and communities are not doing enough to support the development of Asia-related skills for our school leavers. We invested in ‘Starting Strong’ because we wanted to get a clearer picture on what was happening at the beginning of the education pipeline – what are we doing to maintain the skills of our Asian under-fives as they enter the education system?” Mr Draper said.

Parents’ expectations

According to the Report, Asian parents consider it their responsibility, not that of ECE Centres, to teach their child their heritage culture and language. Researchers also found that many Asian parents requested that English be spoken at ECE centres, even when bilingual teachers were available. Parents believe that English fluency is essential for children making a smooth transition to school.

ECE response

While ECE centres acknowledge the importance of retaining children’s heritage languages and cultures, the Report said that there are barriers in this process including constraints on time, resources and availability of bilingual teachers.

What can be done

Mr Draper said that along with officials, providers, the community, families, and other key stakeholders in the ECE sector, there is a need for a deliberate and coordinated approach to ensure the language skills and cultural understanding of these children are not lost.

“Data shows there is widespread support for children speaking more than one language. Adoption of a National Languages Policy would assist in growing a ‘languages culture’ within New Zealand where children speak more than one language, as it is in majority of countries in the world,” Mr Draper said.

About the Foundation

The Asia New Zealand Foundation is New Zealand’s leading non-profit, non-partisan authority on Asia, focused on building New Zealanders’ knowledge and understanding of the region. The Foundation runs several programmes including social, economic and education research to encourage public discussion and help policymakers with informed decisions about New Zealand’s engagement with Asia.

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Photo Caption:

Simon Draper

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