WELLINGTON, Aug. 27 (Xinhua) -- The New Zealand government announced Wednesday that it would attempt to improve the country's low level of Chinese Mandarin and other Asian language education with an investment of 10 million NZ dollars (8.36 million U.S. dollars) over five years.
Education Minister Hekia Parata said the government would prioritize Mandarin as the primary focus of the new funding for schools.
Mandarin was taught at fewer than 40 high schools, despite China being the country's second largest export market and bilateral trade quadrupling since the signing of a free trade agreement in 2008.
Japanese was taught at about 160 high schools and Korean at just two high schools, Parata said in a statement.
"We need to provide young New Zealanders with opportunities to learn the languages of countries that we have strong trade relationships with," Parata said in a statement.
"Our next generation need to be able to work in different cultural environments and communicate in different languages as our international and trading links grow -- particularly with Asian countries," she said.
"Our long term goal is that all New Zealand students will develop reasonable proficiency in a second language. Not only are there cognitive benefits, it also helps develop cultural awareness and enables New Zealanders to communicate around the world."
Organizations promoting trade and cultural links with Asia have long bemoaned New Zealand's lack of Asian-language education. In March, Massey University senior lecturer in Chinese Dr Rosemary Haddon told Xinhua that funding for Chinese language programs at universities had been cut "to the bone," resulting in a lack of qualified teachers.