Case Study: Riccarton High School, Christchurch

In this case study, educators at the Christchurch secondary school discuss efforts to foster Asia awareness.


School profile

Introduction by the principal

Leading teachers

Student commitment

Next steps

Download this case study (PDF - 912KB)

School profile

Riccarton High School in Christchurch is a decile 7, co-educational, state secondary school with a roll of 950.

Student mix: 51 percent European Kiwi, 30 percent Asian, 20 percent other nationalities from around the world.

Mission statement: The Riccarton Way
We believe in:

  • commitment to develop positive relationships and serve others

  • honesty to ourselves and others

  • respect for everyone and the environment

  • excellence in learning and in life.

The Riccarton Way is the spirit, the wairua, that lies behind the way we think and act and feel about ourselves and about others at Riccarton High School.

It is about us:

  • showing a positive attitude

  • having high expectations of ourselves

  • taking pride in our work

  • being confident to take risks

  • showing a desire to improve

  • achieving to the best of our ability

  • getting involved

  • taking advantage of opportunities.

It is about how we treat others:

  • acknowledging cultural differences

  • being tolerant of differences

  • accepting community responsibility

  • treating others with courtesy

  • respecting other people’s property

  • caring for others

  • being aware of bullying and helping to stop it.

Main themes in the case study:

  • Riccarton is a school that is Asia Aware because the Asian community is on the doorstep

  • The creation of an International Committee has been significant in leading change in the school

  • The importance of understanding the differences between New Zealand and Asian education systems and values

  • The benefits to the students of being in an Asia Aware school.

Next steps:

  • Working on breaking down language and cultural barriers so that more Asian families become part of the school community

  • Integrating international students more fully into school activities.

Introduction by Phil Holstein, Principal

Riccarton is a school that is ‘Asia Aware’. We need to be because the Asian community is on our doorstep. Our Asian student population is around 30 percent of our total. Most of these are New Zealand residents, but a good number are fee-paying, international students.

This group of our students is part of what gives us our special character. We have based our systems and culture on making sure that the Riccarton Way provides an inclusive environment. We have around 50 nationalities in the school, and our European/Kiwi population makes up about 51 percent of the total.

The development of our Asia awareness is historical, and has been gradual. Many Asian immigrants settled in our community back in the 1980s. So a lot of our Asian students are New Zealand born and/or New Zealand residents. For more than 20 years we have also recruited international fee-paying students into the school.

A large number of the permanent residents come to us from our contributing primary schools. Many of them have friends across all the cultures in the school. New arrivals to the country tend to stay together, especially at first. That has a lot to do with language issues; they prefer to use their own languages. For them and us the English for speakers of other languages ESOL programmes are crucial and we continue to put resources into them. We do think it is important for students to use their first languages, especially at the beginning of their time here. But English is the mutual language for them all, so we want them to use it as much as possible.

We have established excellent relationships with sister schools in Japan and have regular exchanges with them. Staff and the senior students who go there have gained enormously from these trips in terms of their language development and their cultural awareness. We also enjoy hosting the Japanese students here and we are looking at ways to get even more value from them.

Our school

The changes at Riccarton have been significant in the years since we have had our Asian community in the school. Our classrooms look and feel different. Our Asian families really value education and see it as a priority. I think this has been good for the New Zealand students, and I think the teachers get a lot of professional satisfaction from it. Teachers talk about the high motivation of the Asian students, and that we also have fewer less motivated Kiwi students. This seems to be especially true in the senior school, where there is a positive learning environment and greater focus on achievement.

The culture of the school is very inclusive. We recognise cultural differences and celebrate diversity. I feel that we are starting to acknowledge different Asian cultures more. This is a major change from the beginning when it was more about everyone fitting in to the New Zealand culture. As a result the Korean Society now comes into the school and is involved in mentoring students and promoting Korean cultural activities.

A big step has been the creation of the International Committee, a student-driven initiative. It has been operating for three years now as one of the senior committees in the school, headed by the prefects. Some of its high-profile events are the market and food day, presentations in assemblies, and translation work for newsletters and other school documents.

Staff members have done a lot of professional learning too. The literacy programme has helped them to take more account of how they use language for learning within the classroom. This helps all learners as well as those for whom English is a second language. Our ESOL programme is strong and growing.

Several staff have been given Asia New Zealand Foundation awards for travel to Asian countries. I regularly travel there myself and have gained a lot of professional learning from those experiences.

Of course we can still do more to change some attitudes and practices. Language and cultural difficulties are still there, preventing some people feeling comfortable in the school. But our school ethos – the Riccarton Way – enables us to work on things, and I am proud of that. Students and teachers use the language of the Riccarton Way. They celebrate excellence, tolerance, respect and commitment, which recognise Asian values as well.

“Phil really leads the Asia Aware focus in the school. He demonstrates this focus in his talks to staff and the school community. He works hard on the environment being safe for everyone, and on it being positive for all students’ learning. He has a real vision and that is important” (Teachers’ voices from Riccarton).

Leading teachers

Asia awareness

Riccarton High School’s experience demonstrates the importance of the principal’s and senior leadership commitment to developing an Asia Aware focus. This leadership establishes the vision, and is followed up with support for staff and the provision of resources.

Three of the school’s leading senior teachers talked about the ways in which they have taken advantage of professional learning opportunities and built on their own experiences to become engaged with their Asian students and to contribute to the culture of the school in ways that also benefited their European/Kiwi students.

Graeme Gracie is head of mathematics, and has taught at Riccarton through the period during which the number of Asian students has grown. Graeme talked about his pedagogical approach:

“I am aware that in many Asian countries such as Korea, there is a tradition of teacher-dominated pedagogy. Students just learn and regurgitate what they are told. This has never been my style. I am more focused on the why and the how rather than simply the what. I think in the end all our students benefit from this.

However, I do pay attention to things from the students’ backgrounds which have created gaps in their knowledge of maths and I make sure these are addressed. I think that when I noticed this problem with some of our overseas students it meant that I became aware of it for all my students”.

Cultural understanding

Craig Rosengrave, who teaches Japanese and is the assistant director of international students, talked about similar issues:

“Most, though not all, of my students in Japanese are Asian and I know that a lot of them do initially prefer to learn by rote. This works well with learning vocabulary. But otherwise I think our approach to teaching languages is better than in many Asian schools. We use motivational approaches, with experimentation and reflection which is more effective.

The Asian students say that how we do things here is so different for them at first. At home they just are expected to do their work, without asking how or why. Their preferences or ideas about things are not asked for. They do come to like our approach, and some say how much they have gained as a result.

When I realised how much their background was affecting them I learned something which is good for the New Zealand students to know too. Often they can be frustrated at the reluctance of Asian students to speak or express opinions. But when they realise why it is they make more of an effort. I noticed in the past that this can really affect the development of friendships across the cultures. Kiwi students need to help their Asian peers feel more confident about expressing their feelings and needs.

When Asian students understand better what the New Zealand system is all about then they appreciate what it has to offer. But until they do it can be a puzzle and an obstacle for them. It is our role to help them overcome the apparent obstacles”.

Professional development

Head of English, David Tapp, has gained a lot from professional learning opportunities that he has had as a result of going on the school exchange visits to Japan. These visits helped him to understand more about the differences in the education system, and about how Japanese society works.

“I have seen for myself the dominance of rote learning, and of the teacher in the classroom. It made me understand the responses of the Asian students more, and also reminded me of what to do as a teacher to avoid being over dominant.

I also appreciate more how important education is for the Asian students, how competitive it is to gain entry to further education, and therefore why they are so driven by the need to gain credits. I do think their work ethic has had a positive spin-off for the New Zealand students though, especially in terms of motivation to work hard and achieve.

The literacy professional development  programme has been useful for all of us on the staff, as has having such a strong ESOL programme. We have gained pointers about how to help students with their learning. I think we have realised more how important language is as a learning tool, and that students need to understand how language is being used in every subject area.”

All three of these leading teachers saw advantages in the school’s Asia Aware focus in terms of the cultural environment. They gave examples of Kiwi students who had become very interested in Asia for their future lives. They spoke positively about the number and quality of cross-cultural friendships.

Craig mentioned the need to deal positively with groups of students speaking different languages around the school:

“At first they might think they are talking about each other or laughing at them. Because I speak more than one language I can tell this is not the case, so I make a point of discussing this in my classes and it has helped ease misunderstandings”.

Graeme used his own daughter as a positive example of things that Kiwi students have gained:

“I think my daughter benefited from the level of competition that she experienced academically with the Asian students and she worked very hard”.

David said:

“Many of our New Zealand kids have developed important relationships with Asian students and it has affected what they have done beyond the school as well, going to live and work in Asia for example.”

Student commitment

International Committee

Senior students at Riccarton High School have opportunities and support to show leadership, take initiative and propose developments in making the school Asia Aware. Both Asian and New Zealand students talked about their experiences, and what they were doing to make the most of the opportunities that their multicultural environment offered.

Jenny and Manas are the leaders of the International Committee, which was set up as a student initiative three years ago.

Jenny immigrated from China with her parents when she was six. She is satisfied with her educational opportunities here, particularly the freedom she has had in choosing what she wants to do. Post Riccarton, Jenny intends to study architecture in New Zealand, then probably work overseas for some time. China is a possibility as she speaks Chinese, and China is regarded as ‘the architectural playground of the world’.

Manas arrived in Christchurch in 2002 from India as a result of his family’s immigration choice. It has worked out well for him and his family and they enjoy living here. The doors are open for him to return to India to work if he wishes in the future. He speaks Hindi and some other Indian languages as well.

On the International Committee:

“The Committee is in its third year. We have a number of goals. We want to make the Committee better known across the school. We want to work on helping the integration of students into the school culture and activities, especially the international students who may be here for a shorter time.

I have designed business cards for this purpose so that the international students will have all our contacts. We will work on trying to get to know them personally. We hope then that they will get more information about all the school events, and they can join in, like mufti day. We also plan to give the international students an exit package so that they have something to take away to remember their time here at the school.” (Jenny).

“We organise a food festival each year, which helps to raise money for our other efforts. We get sponsorship from local businesses. Lots of people come to this event and we use assemblies to publicise it, as well as promoting it in the staffroom. It is a good way of raising the Committee’s profile in the school. We notice that other committees in the school know about us now and involve us in their events.” (Manas).

“Another thing that we do is organise some performances by different groups for the rest of the school. The Korean group was excellent and people were saying ‘Wow, this is fantastic’. It was so different and beautiful and people hadn’t seen anything like it.” (Jenny).

“Yes, and we have had a lantern festival group into the school. This year we are planning to have a special Japanese drumming performance – Taiko. People in the school are now beginning to expect these events and they look forward to them.” (Manas).

Students’ voices

Three Kiwi students (Laura, Gemma and Jamie) speak about their experiences.

On being at Riccarton:

“Our experience at Riccarton has made us more willing to embrace the Asia Aware approach, and we are proud of it by comparison with some of the other students we meet from other schools.” (Gemma).

“When you first arrive at the school there are big numbers of Asian students and you grow up accepting that. As you get to know them you realise they’re just the same as you in most ways. When I go outside the school I notice a difference when others haven’t had the same experience and chances to get to know people so well.” (Laura). 

“I came from south Canterbury to this school, so it was a major change for me. But now I just feel that this is the way it is, and it is usual to be part of such a mix of students.” (Jamie).

On the impact of Asian students on teaching and learning:

“I think a lot of my Asian friends do put more effort into their work. They do study really hard, night and day.” (Jamie).

“The students themselves do appreciate education more, I feel. And I think they do take it on themselves more, they really want to do well at school. That’s what you do.” (Laura). 

“I suppose it happens in more populated countries, so you use education to rise above others. And in the immigration process these values get transferred on to the children from their parents.” (Gemma).

These students talked about whether or not they thought the teachers had changed their approaches to teaching. On the whole they thought not, and that everyone was treated equally. They thought that teachers took more account now of language issues:

“In some subjects like science the teacher will say that it is OK to use detailed diagrams to explain things, rather than write lots.” (Jamie).

“Perhaps we have more handouts now so that people have them to take away and work on them in their own time.” (Gemma).

Student benefits
For these students there have been enormous benefits in being in a school that is encouraging Asia awareness.

“Well, for me I have gained huge understandings of the cultures of Asia and I have gone beyond the stereotypes that I might have had coming from the country society of my childhood.” (Jamie).

“The knowledge I have gained about Asian cultures has become part of my life. I definitely want to go and live or work there at some stage.” (Gemma).

“I would love to live and work there, which is probably a result of the friendships I have developed, and going on the school trips to Japan. The culture and lifestyle is so different, and I want to experience all the subtleties and the kindness of the people.” (Laura).

On the importance of cross-cultural friendships:

“My best friend from kindergarten days is Japanese. She is still here at school with me. So I have a real knowledge about Japanese culture, and it made me interested to find out about other Asian cultures, such as Korean and Chinese. We all use phrases from these languages. I am interested in what they still keep from their cultures in their lives in New Zealand, and in what they don’t keep.” (Laura). 

“I feel very accepted by Kiwi students. To be honest I probably do hang out most with the New Zealand Asians, and though we mainly speak English, we do gossip in Chinese! But I am fine hanging out with Kiwi New Zealanders too!” (Jenny).

“We had a Japanese exchange student living with us, which made me really interested in the culture, and I have learned Japanese. But my interest means that I can also identify other Asian languages too, such as Cantonese and Korean, and know from the writing which script is which.” (Jamie).

“I am very happy with who I am and living in New Zealand. I think I have opened my mind more to different perceptions as a result of living in another culture. I also think the Kiwis I know have opened their minds to Asia, especially the ones in my Japanese class. People in New Zealand are shifting their attitudes and becoming more aware of the rest of the world.” (Manas).

“I like that many Asian kids, even if they are fifth-generation Kiwi, are still keen to embrace their own culture. So I get brought along with them as well, and I have learned what is important to them. At least half of my friends are Asian.” (Gemma).

Next steps

Everyone interviewed talked about the things that the Riccarton school community still needed to work on as it develops its Asia Aware character.

“Language and cultural barriers are still there preventing people coming into the school as easily as we hope they would. I have noticed that as a result of the development of the Korean Society, more Koreans are participating. This is something I need to work on.” (Phil Holstein, principal).

David Tapp agrees:

“We still don’t do well with our Asian family connections – on the whole they just don’t come into the school. Many families are working, but there are also language issues. We need to do more about having translators available. I think some Asian parents feel they shouldn’t be telling us what to do. It is not the done thing in Asia. But we would like some feedback so we can work on things.”

All of the students and a number of staff commented on the potential of the International Committee to make improvements in the next few years. The students have found that having active teacher involvement with Craig Rosengrave as their contact keeps them better informed about staff initiatives.

The Committee members are gaining a higher profile by contributing to the school newsletter. As Jenny said:

“We can put our news in it and photos and because it goes to parents as well, we have a chance of raising our profile with the whole school community.”

They are hoping that their translation work will keep the international students better informed and able to participate more fully in school activities.

Some of the Kiwi students wondered about having local students on the Committee:

“It might help to integrate people more if some local students were on the International Committee, especially for the peer support programme. This might draw people together more.” (Gemma and Laura).

Laura, Gemma and Jamie have found that they have developed stronger relationships with students from other cultures because they all started out new together in Year 9. The international (fee-paying) students tend to enter the school at Year 11 when a lot of friendships are already made. They wondered if more should be done at the time of arrival for the international students, to help them get to know the other students. They felt that everyone mixed well enough in the classroom, but not so much outside or in weekends. This is something that the school and the International Committee could work on.

Gemma mentioned an experience that was very useful for her, and from which she thought others could benefit:“I have a job tutoring two Korean girls after school. This is really good. Plenty of recent immigrant parents would like this for their children. I learn a lot about them in their own home, they often give me Korean food and it is a real job for me. So it is a way of getting to know each other better and learning from one another.”

Read more

Last updated: 22 May 2013