Diversity benefits Southland

AMANDA PARKINSON
Last updated 15:31 06/12/2013
Southland Times photo
NICOLE GOURLEY/Fairfax NZ

More than 33 per cent of students at St Thomas Aquinas School in Winton are from ethnically diverse backgrounds.

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Southland's ethnic population growth has been hailed a positive change for the region's children.

Southland Primary Principals' Association president Ben Witheford said classroom diversity exposed children to a range of different experiences. 

''Without a doubt more children of different backgrounds are enrolling in our schools, particularly in rural areas where migration has been affected by the diary industry,'' he said. 

Statistics released by the Ministry of Education shows the number of students of Asian ethnicity enrolled at Southland schools have increased by 76 per cent since 2009. 

In 2009, 286 students who identified as ''Asian'' were enrolled, compared to 503 in July this year.

St Thomas Aquinas School in Winton has reported an increased number of Filipino children enrolled during the past three years. 

Principal Julian Ineson said about 33 per cent of his students were from backgrounds other than New Zealand.

''We get to mesh different cultures together and the children bring a diverse range of skills, which makes for a really engaging class room,'' he said. 

The recent typhoon in the Philippines affected several students' families, but Mr Ineson said it was a great example of the students' global conscience. 

''My senior students came to me and said 'we want to do something to help','' he said. 

The school organised a coin collection, but also offered their computers and communications systems to allow families to Skype their relatives in the typhoon-ravaged areas. 

Mr Ineson said families migrating to the area were becoming increasingly supported by various organisations. 

Census data showed Asian migration in Southland had increased by 147.3 per cent since 2006.

Mr Witheford said the greatest challenge for teachers had been the language barrier, as English for many of the new students was a second language. 

''A whole lot of challenges can arise and they might not understand some of our idiosyncrasies,'' he said.

But he said school children were increasingly speaking a variety of different languages and it was the school's job to identify each child's individual needs. 

Southland Federated Farmers president Russell McPherson said he thought the increased diversity would make the region more tolerant of others and widen people's education. 

''We see in our classrooms a diverse range of ethnicity, which is good, because it makes us more tolerant of each other,'' he said.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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