A world of difference: Asia inspires teachers

Issue: Volume 95, Number 16

Posted: 5 September 2016
Reference #: 1H9d3t

The Asia New Zealand Foundation offers a range of educational experiences as part of its work to help build cultural connections and understanding. Each year the foundation provides overseas opportunities for teachers, so they can bring some Asian inspiration back to their classrooms. Education Gazette talks with some teachers who have recently travelled to Shanghai and Singapore.

In May, 12 Kiwi teachers swapped their classrooms for the buzzing metropolis of Shanghai.

The week-long trip was organised by the Asia New Zealand Foundation as part of their education programme, and had a strong focus on business and trade.

This particular trip is an annual part of the foundation’s wider work aimed at increasing the amount of Asia-related content in classrooms as New Zealand’s demographic changes and its ties to the region grow.

Facilitating rich cultural experiences for teachers aims to reinvigorate their verve for education, and equips them with new cultural knowledge to bring back to the classroom.

The Shanghai delegation was made up of primary, intermediate and secondary teachers and led by two Asia New Zealand staff members.

The group met with the New Zealand Consulate General and trade officials, and companies such as Zespri, Spring Airlines and Fonterra. They also visited factories in Shanghai, met with New Zealand expats working there, and had some fun challenges to complete, including but not limited to locating a Kiwi-style mince pie in the city.

Encouraging lightbulb moments

Jeff Johnstone is the education director at the Asia New Zealand Foundation, and he says the Shanghai trip is one of a number arranged by the organisation.

The foundation’s education ethos encompasses three key areas that overlap. These are cultural competencies, connections, and language.

“These are the key areas we promote and support teachers to develop within their schools,” says Jeff.

“A lot of our work is waking up New Zealanders to the future that their students will inhabit. By the year 2030, 60 per cent of the world’s middle class will be in Asia, and if you think of a child starting school now, by the time they’re in the workforce, this will be the change in the world. It will have a huge impact on the life and jobs of our students as they grow,” he says.

Jeff also points to the fact that within New Zealand itself we have a hugely changing demographic.

Current projections indicate that within the next 20 years, one fifth of New Zealanders will be of Asian descent, and the Asian population is projected to grow in every region of New Zealand.

“If we’re going to have a prosperous harmonious country, we need to teach cultural competence, to have a curiosity and be able to celebrate cultural diversity, and be knowledgeable about other cultures too."

“Taking people to Asia is often like encouraging a lightbulb moment for them – they can see what progress is happening, and can connect that to their students’ future,” he says.

Another important element of the foundation’s work is creating educational resources.

The best of these, says Jeff, are made by current teachers recently returned from a trip to the region.

“The idea is that the teachers create something to take back which is going to be relevant and helpful for their students, and other teachers around the country, too."

“By introducing these special units of classwork, we hope it will lead to increased empathy, curiosity and knowledge between the different cultures."

“We see there’s real strength in that for what we do.”

He says that alongside curriculum-based units of work, another avenue to explore is holding special Asian-themed events at school.

“Ideally, these events could be held in association with the local Asian community – it’s an opportunity to create stronger links between cultural communities and schools."

“For example, holding a Korean-themed event at school is a wonderful way to help Korean students feel proud and stand tall,” says Jeff.

“It’s wonderful to see students with cultural pride – for example, when they see their flag at school, and watch fellow students learn about their culture."

“It’s like when New Zealanders are overseas, and spot a connection to home – it’s just the same for minorities here,” he says.

“It’s really important to bring these elements into our schools, if we’re going to be a vibrant multicultural society.”

A trip to Korea is planned for September and next year, Indonesia will be the destination of another adventure.

The foundation advertises the trips through the Education Gazette and also through their own channels such as their website and an ‘Educator Network’ email newsletter.

Travel and in-country costs are usually covered, or at the least heavily subsidised, by the foundation.

A rare opportunity

Noeline Ashby teaches social studies and economics at Northcote College, Auckland and she says the trip presented a rare opportunity to travel overseas with other teachers.

“It was a fantastic experience,” she says. “It really opened my eyes and even though I know that Shanghai is an unusual part of China – in parts, it’s quite Westernised – I found the scale and activity of it astonishing."

“The focus of the trip was on trade, business and economics, and of course that relates very well to the senior economics course I teach here, but also to social studies classes I teach.”

Noeline says she has long held an interest in different countries and in promoting cultural understanding.

As a teenager, she embarked on an AFS overseas exchange, and since then has been involved with hosting and supporting international students on their exchanges, as well as teachers.

She found the trip to Shanghai to be well organised and jam-packed with learning opportunities.

“I teach year 13 economics, and as part of the course, we apply world economic theory to the New Zealand environment. So of course that includes China’s role in the world economy, and its position as a key trading partner for New Zealand.”

An important theme in Noeline’s junior social studies course is New Zealand’s diverse society and migrant history.

“In social studies, I teach a unit on migration, and looking at why and how migrants come here from China is an important part of that unit.”

Noeline believes that all teachers should grab the opportunity to travel and learn about another culture when the opportunity arises.

“Chances like this don’t come up very often – if you are interested in a trip do apply,” she says.

“I believe that being able to have seen and understand China, first hand, will make me a better teacher.”

Importance of cultural knowledge

Sarah Puttick also travelled to Shanghai in this delegation, and says the trip inspired her to bring Asian culture into her year 7 classroom at Auckland’s Somerville Intermediate.

“I’ve found my students are at an age where they are super interested in other cultures and how other people live around the world,” she says.

“When I think about the future New Zealand they’ll live in, I realise how important cultural knowledge is to their generation in particular,” she says.

Sarah has already developed a seven-lesson unit plan of classwork, based around Chinese tourism to New Zealand, and she will introduce it to her own students this term.

She has also been given special cultural responsibilities, and is planning to organise an ‘Asia experience day’ at Somerville Intermediate next year.

“I want to organise an event where our students will get a good taste of everything – food, language, art – I think that would be really fun and valuable,” she says.

Sarah thoroughly enjoyed soaking up all that Shanghai had on offer, including duck pancakes and some extremely spicy dishes.

“Shanghai is such an awesome city – we were really immersed in the culture and I loved all the authentic experiences,” she says.

“In particular I loved learning more about the food and we had some wonderful and wacky experiences."

“It was proper, cultural Chinese food. Not the New Zealand version of Chinese food!” she laughs.

Building Connections: Online and IRL

In August, a separate group of teachers embarked on a similar but distinctly different adventure.

The Singapore Cultural Connections Trip is helping New Zealand teachers forge strong links with their Singaporean counterparts, both online and in real life.

The group of 12 teachers headed to Singapore to improve their understanding of the country and its culture, spend time in partner schools and share information about their cultures.

The group met Singapore-based New Zealand teacher Craig Kemp, who is a middle school technology specialist at the International Baccalaureate Stamford American School and is well-known for his work in education through social media.

The New Zealand delegates were partnered with Singaporean teachers from state schools several months before the trip, and began communicating with each other using WhatsApp, one of the most popular social media platforms in Southeast Asia.

Jeff says the trip changed some of the group’s preconceived ideas about education in Singapore.

“There are generalisations that we make about Singaporean schools that the teaching is quite tight and restrictive, and that New Zealand has more freedom to be creative."

“Some of the teachers were quite surprised by the innovation and creativity they saw in the schools there. The learning out of it is that you can’t generalise to that degree. It provided an opportunity for both New Zealand teachers and Singaporean teachers to learn from each other,” he says.

Whiteboards and bubblegum

Natalie Coffer is a Y5–6 teacher at Sunnyhills School in Auckland.

She says it was an excellent professional learning opportunity, not least because she made strong connections with other educators.

“My partner school was Bukit Timah Primary, and when I got there I met with the principal, the other teachers, and my ‘buddy teacher.’ We sat down to look at how we could sustain an online connection between our two classes,” she says.

“So far, we’ve started a blog – each week we’re going to be writing a post and commenting – and we’ll talk on Skype too."

“We also want to collaborate on how we might integrate different areas of our curriculums and do some work in tandem.”

Natalie says that at Sunnyhills about 40 per cent of the students are of Asian descent.

“New Zealand is changing rapidly, so it was wonderful to get ideas for how I can introduce different ideas into the classroom to help equip my students for a truly multicultural future.”

She says she had made assumptions about how education would work in Singapore and these were broken down after spending time at Bukit Timah Primary.

“I had this idea that the schools in Singapore would be very restrictive and regimented."

“But it wasn’t like that at all. The curriculum I learned about was very creative, and actually, very similar to The New Zealand Curriculum.”

For example, Natalie says the school used very culturally inclusive language, made a significant effort to celebrate diversity and there were whiteboards set up in public spaces at the school purely for students to record their thoughts and drawings.

Natalie’s students at Sunnyhills School are thrilled to be part of the exchange and have already been sending questions and answers to their Singaporean counterparts through Skype and blogs.

“They’re really engaged with the idea of connecting with this class in Asia. I think the fact that I was there, and took photos of the students and selfies – and actually, the Bukit Timah kids are just as excited too."

“They loved hearing stories about my students in Auckland,” says Natalie.

“They were like, ‘Your kids are allowed bubblegum?’ and “They can take their shoes off in the summer?’” Natalie laughs.

“I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity – it’s really opened my eyes.”

A Bishan Park Bear

Tamara Bell is the acting principal at Cobham Intermediate in Christchurch and she says the Singaporean experience was both “what I expected and not at all what I expected.”

Like Natalie, Tamara found her own assumptions about what she would find in her partner school to be different from the reality.

“It was interesting to compare and contrast our own system with the Singaporean one. I had some ideas that digital technology would be playing a really prominent place in the classroom there, but it was not as integrated in the classroom as it is here."

“In saying that, there were also lots of striking similarities between what we have here – in Singapore they are putting a huge emphasis on key competencies, capabilities and other elements of a values-based education system.”

Tamara was partnered with Bishan Park Secondary School and before the journey to Singapore had built connections with her buddy teacher, Joon Yong Ing, through email, WhatsApp and Skype.

“It was wonderful to meet face to face and participate and engage with his educational world."

“We aim to continue this relationship through virtual platforms like Skype, Google Hangouts and other online forums.”

Tamara says the trip has broadened her understanding of the education system both in Singapore and our own.

She gave soft toy kiwis to students at her partner school, and in return was gifted a ‘Bishan Park Bear,’ which will feature in blog posts and other communications between the schools.

“The Bishan Park Bear will go around our school community, and help us grow in understanding and connection.”

Chinese Language Week: September 12–18, 2016

Ni hao! New Zealand Chinese Language Week (NZCLW) is a New Zealand-driven initiative that aims to increase Chinese language learning in this country.

It acknowledges the rapidly strengthening relationship between New Zealand and China, and seeks to bridge the cultural and linguistic gap between the two countries through a range of initiatives such as educational resources in schools, libraries and organisations.

You can find various resources and more information on the NZCLW website(external link)

Asia New Zealand Foundation Educational Resources

The Asia New Zealand Foundation is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation with a range of programmes designed to equip New Zealanders with first-hand experience of Asia and to forge valuable links to the region.

The Asia New Zealand Foundation conducted research in 2015 that found most New Zealanders appreciate the importance of Asia to New Zealand – but two-thirds admit to knowing little or nothing about the region.

The Asia New Zealand Foundation offers a wide range of resources for teachers to use. 

Educational resources(external link) — Asia New Zealand Foundation

BY Melissa Wastney
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 7:29 pm, 5 September 2016

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts