UK schools look east for language skills

Updated: 2015-10-16 08:15

By Wang Mingjie(China Daily Europe)

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10-million-pound investment to have 5,000 more students learn mandarin by 2020

The United Kingdom leads Europe in the teaching and learning of Mandarin, with 29 Chinese government-backed Confucius Institutes and 127 Confucius Classrooms, says Shen Yang, minister counselor at the Chinese embassy in London.

With China's rapid rise to prominence on the global stage, the demand for Mandarin courses and qualified Mandarin teachers has increased.

 UK schools look east for language skills

A Mandarin class in Britain. Provided to China Daily

The UK government is emphasizing language lessons in schools. During his September visit Chancellor George Osborne announced a 10 million pound ($15 million; 13.4 millon euros) investment to allow more children to learn Mandarin at school, with the aim of having an additional 5,000 students learning Mandarin by 2020.

In June 2014 Elizabeth Truss, the UK's then-education minister, said in a Daily Telegraph news article: "China's growing economy brings huge business opportunities for Britain and it is vital that more of our young people can speak Mandarin to be able to trade in a global market and to develop successful companies."

Last year only around 2 percent of state-funded primary schools and 5 percent of state-funded secondary schools offered pupils the opportunity to learn Mandarin as a curriculum subject, says a HM Treasury report.

The new funding will increase the quality and quantity of Mandarin teaching in schools, giving more young people the chance to study the language.

Mandarin has been part of the British state school curriculum since 2014 under a UK government initiative.

"It is the first time that an Asian language is included as an option in UK state schools' modern foreign language curriculum, among French, Spanish, Italian and German", says Shen Yang, adding it is a great move in recognition of the importance of China.

The Department of Education said that more than 1,200 specialist Mandarin teachers would be trained to give pupils in state schools the same access as their counterparts in private schools, according to the same Telegraph report.

The article also said the Institute of Education in London would be home to the biggest training center for Mandarin outside China, the Confucius Institute.

The Confucius Institute, a non-profit public educational institution that is affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education, promotes Chinese language and culture worldwide, as well as training Chinese teachers and supporting Chinese teaching internationally.

The Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, also known as Hanban, runs the institutes and reports directly to the Ministry of Education. There are five Confucius Institutes in London, focusing on elements of Chinese culture such as business, traditional Chinese medicine, dance and language.

The Confucius Institute network also includes Northern Ireland. The Confucius Institute at Ulster University launched in 2012 as a partnership between Ulster University and Zhejiang University of Media and Communications in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

"The institute's activity mainly focuses on the development of Chinese language teaching at all levels of the educational system," says Liu Yan, director of the Confucius Institute at Ulster University. "We now have 28 teachers scattered across 122 schools, teaching Mandarin to over 6,000 children."

The demand for Mandarin teachers in Northern Ireland is increasing and this year the institute will need another 18 teachers, says Liu.

The institute also functions as a focal point for China-related activities across Northern Ireland, contributing to the forging of business, professional and cultural connections between China and Northern Ireland.

(China Daily European Weekly 10/16/2015 page16)