Compulsory second languages for Waitaki?
The Confucius Institute NZ has been in the news recently saying all New Zealand children should learn a second language. Nicola Wolfe talked to principals at three North Otago high schools to see if they agreed.
The Confucius Institute says a second language should be compulsory for all children, but Waitaki principals are backing the choice model.
Mandarin is the most spoken language in the world, by number of native speakers, followed by Spanish and then English. The percentage of the global population that grew up speaking English as its first language is also thought to be declining, while an increasing number of people now speak more than one language.
The Confucius Institute NZ, a Chinese Government funded language school, told TVNZ that about 80 per cent of our New Zealand children finish school without learning another language other than English, and that would put the next generation in an awkward position.
Waitaki Boys' High School (WBHS) rector Paul Jackson said although he did not agree a second language should be compulsory for secondary school students, he did feel it should at least be an option.
"I do agree that there should be provision at secondary level to teach foreign languages. Unfortunately there are very few students who wish to continue with language studies at WBHS," he said.
"I believe languages are best started and taught at early childhood and primary level as they are in most European countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Germany, France and many others.
"To learn a foreign language and to be able to communicate in a foreign language is a priceless gift that cannot be underestimated. Unfortunately it is difficult for our youth to come to terms with this when everything they see and read is in English.
"Unfortunately our youth very rarely experience foreign languages and they expect everyone to speak English."
He said WBHS currently offers Te Reo Maori and Mandarin and is preparing to introduce Tongan at NCEA level 1 next year.
"Presently all students experience Mandarin at year 9. Mandarin is then optional at year 10 and beyond. Te Reo is optional to all students from year 9 to year 13. Te Reo is a full day's study, one day a week and is linked to Kapa Haka."
Te Reo is the most popular language to study at WBHS with more than 30 pupils currently enrolled, Jackson said.
"Te Reo is very successful thanks to the enthusiasm of our local community and the commitment of the Waihoa Marae who supply the teachers."
St Kevin's College principal Paul Olsen said second languages are already part of school curriculum anyway.
"We are trying to build global citizens and we encourage them to learn the language of our local culture, Pasifika and Maori, and those countries we trade with.
The college offers new pupils a "taster" to languages on offer.
He said Maori and Mandarin are the most popular but pupils are encouraged to study any language they are interested in through correspondence.
"My view is that if somebody wants to learn a language we should support them," he said.
Waitaki Girls High School principal Tracy Walker also said the school has always offered pupils the opportunity to learn a second language.
The school currently offers classes in German, Japanese and Te Reo Maori, and pupils are also able to study a different language through correspondence.
Mandarin will be offered as starter course from July to both pupils and the community.
"We are very much a language school and we promote it," she said.
"All year 9 do a language rotation, like a taster, which also includes Korean. If they wish to they can choose to take it further. It is always a struggle to keep the momentum going."
Walker said there is currently one year 12 pupil studying Te Reo at NCEA level 2 and there have been others who have developed careers around language studies.