6 Mar 2015

Turnaround for language schools

10:59 am on 6 March 2015

Only a fifth of the English language schools operating in Christchurch before the 2011 earthquakes still exist but student numbers are starting to recover.

Yellow stickered language school in Worcester Street.

A yellow-stickered language school in Worcester Street in Christchurch (file photo, taken in 2011). Photo: RNZ

More than a third of the 185 people killed in Canterbury's February 2011 earthquake were visiting English language students.

As well as devastating the students' families, the loss of life also had a massive impact on the English language school sector in Christchurch.

Of the 70 students who died, the country to suffer the most losses was Japan, which has long been a major source of English language students in Christchurch.

Four years on, the sector is recovering, but it still has a long way to go.

Each year, Tokyo-based ISA (International Studies Aboard) sends around 1000 students to New Zealand to study English.

Before 2011, ISA director Atsushi Ikegame said the students were fairly evenly split between Christchurch and Auckland. But since the earthquakes up to 70 percent now head to Auckland.

He said in the first one or two years they didn't send any students to Christchurch, mostly because the schools in Christchurch weren't ready to accept students.

The CTV site in Christchurch.

Flowers left at the site of the CTV Building, which collapsed in 2011. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Mr Ikegame said now the schools were operating again, students' interest in going to Christchurch had got larger and larger.

He said the earthquake was not now a major issue for students, or their parents.

"Japan is one of the countries where we suffer many earthquakes, so we are, in a sense, accustomed to going through earthquakes.

"The earthquake itself doesn't mean Christchurch is an unsafe place."

Kyoko Fujino is a counsellor with Deow, another Tokyo-based English language school agency.

She said for many of their young students the quake was a distant memory.

"Eighteen or 19-year-old students don't really know what happened, and don't really know how bad it was.

"They just think let's [go somewhere to] avoid Japanese [students] and somewhere we can get more nature."

'We have reached the bottom of the trough'

Fiona Haiko is Education New Zealand's senior market development manager for Japan.

She said for Japanese people who did remember what happened in Christchurch, it was not necessarily a negative.

She said she had spoken to agents who said there was an increased feeling of understanding between New Zealand and Japan.

"Because there has been almost a shared experience," she added.

"And that a number of the Japanese families and schools were very pleased, or reassured, by the New Zealand response."

But Christchurch's English language sector is still far from recovered.

Greg Scott, the business development manager for Education New Zealand, said student numbers are still only just over half what they were before the earthquakes.

He said in 2010 there were approximately 15,000 international students in Christchurch.

"So it dropped in 2011 and the low point was in 2012 with just over 7000.

"Now we are recovering to just over 8000. So we have reached the bottom of the trough and are on the way up."

Christchurch College of Education (CCEL) managing director Rob McKay said there was a period when they almost had more staff than students.

He said things were improving but they were now operating in a very different environment.

Mr McKay said the earthquake was no longer an issue, but getting the word out that they were back in business had been.

"Before the earthquake we had, I don't know, 20 schools, and now we have three or four. There is not many of us promoting Christchurch as a destination."

Mr McKay said recovery had been slow going but they hoped that by next year they may be back to their 2011 numbers.

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