Overseas student critics 'narrow-minded'Save
New Zealand risks being limited economically and culturally if it fails to instill in its young an understanding of people from all corners of the globe, a leading educationalist believes.
Shawn Hutchinson, principal of ACG Tauranga, says those at schools with international students on the roll have an advantage as they have opportunities to develop skills to help them interact with people from different cultures.
"The world has changed so much. People are more connected globally and relocate easily," he says. "Future employment opportunities for young people are not just in the local neighbourhood anymore, it is more far-reaching than that.
"Even those students who don't choose to leave New Zealand could easily have clients in Tokyo or Singapore they need to interact with."
Hutchinson heads ACG Tauranga, one of five independent schools the ACG group operates in New Zealand. Offering classes from year one to 13 (although currently only years 1-11), the school has a roll of 120, 10 per cent of whom are international students.
While some criticism has been levelled at the New Zealand education industry for using international students to take places from locals - in other countries critics have gone as far as calling them "cash cows" - Hutchinson says it is an advantage to be learning from people of different cultures.
"We promote intercultural understanding and respect as an essential part of life in the 21st century and if we don't New Zealand risks being limited economically and culturally."
A considerable number of the school's domestic students hail originally from other countries including Nepal, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, Russia, Netherlands and Australia while most of the international students at ACG Tauranga are from Korea and China.
Hutchinson says this helps local students learn how to form relationships with people from other cultures: "It is not what they read in a newspaper or see on social media that is important, it is real contact about simple things like what other people eat - this can trigger conversations that are priceless," he says.
"Our role is to try to equip students with the skills to compete globally," says Hutchinson, "and not to be limited to the place where they are now (the Cambridge international curriculum offered by ACG schools is widely recognised in New Zealand and around the world as giving graduates a competitive edge). At the same time they do care about local issues so we also help them with a greater understanding of the bicultural nature and language of New Zealand."
Hutchinson - and his family - are good examples. Born in Australia, he worked in Japan, China and Vietnam before coming to Tauranga. His wife Mayumi was born in Tokyo while his daughters Lina (14) and Mei (12) were born in Japan and speak fluent Japanese and Mandarin.
Both girls are studying at ACG Tauranga, the first time they have been at a school outside Asia.
International student education is a billion dollar industry in New Zealand (tuition fee income topped that figure for the first time in 2015) with over 124,000 students from 176 countries enrolled privately and in schools, universities and institutes of technology and polytechnics. ACG has students from over 55 countries at its schools.
Many experts agree with Hutchinson's views. Grant McPherson, chief executive of Education New Zealand, says international students bring different world views to the way young people think and act.
"Why is this important? Because the students of today will live in a world far more globally connected than their parents' ever was - and when these young people eventually return home to China or Germany or Chile, they become lifelong ambassadors for New Zealand."
In Australia a paper recently published on its website by the Centre for Learning and Development at the Edith Cowan University in Perth says students with an international outlook learn to demonstrate respect for different cultures and are able to interpret issues of international consequence.
It is also a view shared by former ACG school students. Antonia Modkova, a 26-year-old graduate of ACG Senior College in Auckland, says exposure to a diversity of world views she received at school has helped her become a more independent and creative thinker.
Born in Bulgaria, she moved to New Zealand as a two-year-old when her parents, both engineers, came here to work. She is now a patent lawyer for an Auckland-based firm Ellis Terry - and says her experiences at ACG Senior College have been of benefit in her job.
"We help foreign companies and individuals protect their inventions in New Zealand as well as helping New Zealanders protect their inventions overseas. So yes, I deal with people from all corners of the globe," she says.
Modkova says views critical of international student numbers in New Zealand are "narrow-minded and unproductive. No one should be judged on where they are from," she says. "People just need to think independently and not be biased."
Nina Jeffs, a former student leader at ACG Senior College and now studying at the University of Cambridge in Britain for a major in politics and international relations, says having an international outlook is important not only because of increasing international career opportunities, but to help people become "more aware and well-rounded."