China will train 300 Indian teachers in Mandarin Chinese under a first-of-its-kind initiative to lay the groundwork for more than 100 Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) schools to introduce courses of the language, as announced recently on TheHindu.com.
The Chinese government has offered to cover the expenses, including flight tickets, living costs and tuition, for the 300 Indian teachers to undergo six months of training in top Chinese universities, according to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the CBSE and the Chinese government.
The MoU proposes exchanges of academic staff, teachers and students. Under the agreement, China will also help India develop its Mandarin Chinese language curriculum and provide educational materials.
The training will pave the way for the CBSE to begin offering Mandarin Chinese courses in select schools. In addition, 100 scholarships for Chinese language learners from India will be offered annually.
In April, the CBSE made Chinese a foreign language subject for middle school students in 500 schools. It plans to gradually promote the study of Chinese in 11,500 middle schools.
India’s Ambassador to China Dr. Subramanyam Jaishankar described the agreement as one of “exceptional and long-term significance.”
“If Indian school students are provided opportunities to learn Mandarin,” he said, “their understanding and appreciation of China and its culture will grow enormously. We will truly be shaping the thinking of future generations.”
In speaking of the relationship between the two nations, the Chinese Ambassador to India Zhang Yan explained, “Relations between China and India have entered a fast track in recent years, and as two of the most ancient civilizations and fast-growing economies in the world, India and China should join hands in building a world for future generations.”
“This agreement is a great event in Chinese education,” said Lin Xu, Director General of the National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, or Hanban, which also runs China’s global Confucius Institutes programme. “It may take more than 20 years to promote the Chinese language in India. We will work with patience, confidence and perseverance in the next 20 years.”
While the CBSE is keen to train the teachers in a six month-long crash course, Chinese officials have expressed concern that the training programme is too short. “We need at least two years to give them training,” Xu said, “but the CBSE says it wants a six-month programme. The teachers will have to be on a very tight teaching schedule.”
Making headway in India
Xu is also the Chief Executive of the Confucius Institute Headquarters, which oversees the 380 institutes China has set up at the university level in 180 countries under a global “soft power” push. Recently, China has been making progress towards its ambitious target to attract 500,000 foreign students by 2020.
She said China was keen to support any Indian university that was interested in hosting a Confucius Institute – the move would be a welcome one indeed, given India’s recent stance against expanded foreign university participation. However, two earlier initiatives to host institutes at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and at the Vellore Institute of Technology have stalled. In the first case, procedural differences between JNU and its Chinese partner university, Peking University, derailed the plans after long discussions. VIT runs a smaller language study centre after it faced difficulties in hiring Chinese language teachers. Manipal University in Karnataka, which is keen to open the first ever Indian campus in China, is also in talks with the Hanban to open what would be India’s first full-fledged Confucius Institute.
“I hope the existing two Confucius Institutes in India can play an important role for teaching Chinese and to introduce Chinese culture,” Xu said about the status of the two initiatives, acknowledging that “a lack of teachers” was a problem.
To address the teacher shortage, the Chinese government is keen to aid the promotion and awareness of the Chinese language, opening a global network in 2004 of non-profit public Confucius Institutes, aimed at promoting Chinese language and culture abroad. There are now 380 Institutes and over 470 Confucius Classrooms worldwide.
“We will do our best to cooperate with the Indian Embassy to send as many teachers as we can,” she said. “If other Indian universities want to host Confucius Institutes, we will do our best [to help] because we see BRICS countries as a priority.”
Growing global interest in Mandarin
As the fourth largest country in the world with the largest overseas migrant population, China is home to the most spoken language in the world – Mandarin Chinese – and this latest push in India is an example of an ever-growing demand from all corners of the world’s educational landscape to train non-native Mandarin speakers.
As UK NARIC points out, China’s economic growth, as the world’s largest exporter from 2010 and now the world’s second largest economy after the United States, has elevated demand for the Chinese language, one of the official languages of the UN.
Parents, students, teachers and business leaders around the globe represent some of the many groups recognising the importance of Mandarin as the emerging global business language of the future. Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian President, was even reported to have labelled 2010 as the “Year of Chinese Language”.
In Britain, whilst language courses at secondary school level are no longer compulsory nationwide after age 14, reports actually indicate a wider interest in Chinese language, with a 40% increase in students sitting the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) exam in Mandarin Chinese since 2002. In 2010, the total number of students sitting the exam grew by 5% compared to the previous year.
Similarly in the US, an 18.2% increase from 2006 to 2009 was noted in higher education enrolments for Chinese language courses according to the Modern Language Association (MLA), echoing a 4.7 fold increase in the number of US students studying abroad in China in 2009 compared to 1999.
And some schools in the US are going as far as to make Mandarin mandatory, such as a school district in Georgia which has embarked on a bold plan to have all its children fully bilingual — in English and Mandarin — by the time they graduate from high school. In recent weeks, children from pre-kindergarten through third grade began mandatory Mandarin classes, part of a curriculum that in three years will include middle school and high school students.
“Students who are in elementary school today, by 2050 they’ll be at the pinnacle of their career,” the school superintendent Romain Dallemand said. “They will live in a world where China and India will have 50% of the world GDP. They will live in a world where, if they cannot function successfully in the Asian culture, they will pay a heavy price.”
Moving along, the Sindh provincial government in Pakistan has also announced plans to adopt a far more direct approach, making Chinese language compulsory to all students from Class VI (ages 10-11).
Editor’s Note: In February 2014, it was announced that all public universities in Pakistan will begin to offer Chinese language courses via video conferencing.
Across the ocean, Panama has reportedly proposed legislation to make Mandarin classes compulsory in all schools.
And finally, the Swedish Education Minister has also expressed similar desires to move towards a less Eurocentric curriculum, by adding Mandarin to the foreign language offering.
As China continues to grow as an economic superpower it seems likely that the fashion to study Mandarin will too increase. Although not traditionally an easy language to master, the Chinese Ministry of Education indicates that over 40 million people outside China are currently learning Mandarin and that the number is growing annually.
In Zimbabwe, learning Chinese is a lucrative investment
Ni hao, Chinese for “hello,” or ting bu dong, meaning “I hear you, but I don’t understand,” are two expressions one often overhears today in Zimbabwe’s capital. It is one of the results of tenacious efforts by governments, private companies and individuals across Africa, but in Zimbabwe particularly, to learn the Chinese language and understand China’s culture.
Learning Chinese as a second or third language has been a global trend in the last few years. In Africa, the rapid increase of Chinese investments and trade (China is currently the continent’s biggest trading partner) has spurred the trend.
Zimbabwe’s government has been very deliberate in enhancing its bilateral relationship with China. It launched the Look East Policyin 2003 to give priority to investors from China, Japan, Singapore and other countries from that region.As a result, trade between China and Zimbabwe has been growing exponentially — China is now the biggest buyer of Zimbabwe’s tobacco.
Although learning Chinese dates back to Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle in the late 1960s and 1970s when freedom fighters went to China for military training, the trend has now accelerated significantly, and for different reasons.
To spread the Chinese language and culture, the government of China is utilizing a concept called Confucianism. Confucius was a great Chinese philosopher and educator born in 551 BC. The Chinese believe that his thoughts have tremendously influenced Chinese culture and even had an impact other cultures. Chinese people refer to Confucius as “a greater teacher.”
Zimbabwe leads the rest of the continent in the training of local teachers of Chinese, having integrated the Confucius Institute into the University of Zimbabwe’s academic structures in 2007, as part of an expanding network of about 400 Confucius Institutes worldwide. The programme has largely been successful, and the university is poised to export surplus teachers of Chinese to other countries as well.
Professor Pedzisai Mashiri, the inaugural director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Zimbabwe, says that one of the institute’s goals is to promote the Chinese language and culture in Zimbabwe.
Because the government is yet to integrate Chinese into the national curriculum for primary and secondary schools, schools that host Confucius classes offer the Chinese language as an extra-curricular activity. More than a thousand students have received such language training through the institute since 2009. A few others are completing studies in China and will join the university soon.
A skill that pays
Observers say there has been a rising demand from organizations and individuals seeking to learn Chinese. Clarence Makoni, the founder of the Cendel Language Bridge, a private company that provides translations, interpretation and foreign language instruction, told Africa Renewal that there are huge benefits in learning foreign languages. Chinese, he says, is by far the most sought after.
“If you look at the rate at which the Chinese are coming into this country,” says Mr. Makoni, “you do not need to be a prophet to tell who is going to be the most significant employer in a few years to come. . . . All the people we train are snapped up by companies as soon as they finish their courses, and they are paid very handsomely.”
He adds that the ability to speak another major language besides English is a great selling point in the marketplace. A Chinese-speaking interpreter can rake in a monthly salary of Z$5,000, while a bilingual secretary with the same capabilities can claim up to Z$3,000 — earnings deemed at the top range in Zimbabwe.
Laston Mukaro, a language consultant and lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe’s linguistics department, says that although his job grading has not yet changed, he is now earning much more after learning Chinese.
“It makes sense to learn Chinese now other than for the reason necessitated by the government’s Look East Policy,” he says. “Chinese is one of the United Nation’s official languages and if you look at the way China is expanding into the world, you can do better if you speak their language.”
Mr. Mukaro also earns a lot of money from exchange programmes between China and Zimbabwe. In addition, he frequently consults for the local Confucius Institute. Other benefits include his current work on a handbook for translating between Chinese and Shona, one of Zimbabwe’s main indigenous languages. “For those who travel to and do business with China a lot, and are privileged to tap its diverse tourism, then learning Chinese is practically obligatory and has immense benefits,” he says with enthusiasm.
More expansion ahead
Professor Mashiri says there are plans to open at least five more Chinese teaching points in other parts of the country, and to construct a Confucius Institute building at the University of Zimbabwe. The Chinese Embassy in Zimbabwe has also promised to build a cultural centre to strengthen cultural cooperation between the two countries.
The world is now a global village, requiring people to understand each other’s culture and languages, says Levi Nyagura, the University of Zimbabwe’s vice-chancellor. “We want to see Zimbabwean students get jobs in China. We will continue to work hard to institutionalize the Chinese language, as we have done with the other major world languages.”
There are also suggestions for introducing Chinese into the national curriculum. “The net effect,” argues Professor Mashiri, “is to have the teaching and learning of Chinese cascade from university to secondary and primary schools.”
With China’s swift rise to prominence on the global stage, the demand for Mandarin language courses and qualified teachers is growing in just about every corner of the world.
At the recent International Conference on Language held in Suzhou City, 400 academics and cultural officials from more than 100 countries gathered to discuss Chinese language education and the path forward for Chinese teaching globally. The conference was organised by China’s Ministry of Education in partnership with UNESCO.
Liu Jun from Georgia State University, a delegate at the conference, described how the rise in popularity of Mandarin courses is a welcome development: “Other countries need the Chinese language to avoid misunderstanding and do business.”
According to a recent report from the Xinhua News Agency, there are currently “more than 100 million foreign speakers and learners of Mandarin worldwide with 350,000 foreigners studying Chinese language in 746 Chinese universities last year.”
Yet despite the increase in students studying Chinese, the language is still considered difficult to learn and teaching methods need improvement, according to researchers at the conference.
The role of Confucius Institutes
Enter the Confucius Institutes, a network of non-profit public institutions affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education. Confucius Institutes are designed to support the growth of Chinese language and culture worldwide, as well as the training of Chinese teachers. They are administered by the Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (or Hanban), a non-government agency reporting directly to the Ministry.
The first Confucius Institute opened in 2004. By mid-2013, over 300 Confucius Institutes had been established in 93 countries and regions, and the network is expanding rapidly toward a reported goal of 1,000 centres by 2020.
In the United Kingdom, for example, a new Confucius Institute will be set up next year with the express goal of increasing the UK’s supply of qualified Mandarin teachers to 1,200 by 2019. A recent BBC report notes that, currently, only about 30 specialist teachers qualify to provide Mandarin instruction in the UK each year, and only 1% of the UK’s adult population speaks the language fluently.
British Education Minister Elizabeth Truss believes this needs to change:
“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.”
For John Worne, director of strategy at the British Council, the announcement is excellent news. “Growth in the number of students learning Chinese over the past few years has been sluggish at best,” he told the BBC, “despite it being one of the most important languages for the UK’s future on the world’s stage, according to our own British Council research.”
The announcement of the UK’s new Confucius Institute comes after employers in the country told the Confederation of British Industry that Mandarin was second only to French as the language they most wanted to see in future employees.
Across the United States meanwhile, 100 Confucius Institutes and more than 360 Confucius classrooms are operating today, providing Chinese language instruction to as many as 220,000 American students in 2014.
Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a fluent Mandarin speaker, recently addressed the three-day 2014 National Chinese Language Conference in Los Angeles. The conference is the largest annual American gathering of teachers, administrators, and policymakers engaged in teaching Chinese language and culture.
Mr Rudd echoed the thoughts of many proponents when he honoured delegates for their role in promoting greater cooperation and understanding between China and the rest of the world. Addressing teachers of the Chinese language in America directly, Mr Rudd offered thanks for their work in training a new generation of Mandarin speakers, who will have the tools and facility to engage more closely with China.
Not without controversy
The growth of the Confucius network has not been without controversy. Concerns have been raised in some quarters about academic freedom and the right to free speech.
Recently, for example, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) issued a statement, with specific reference to the Confucius Institutes, which determined that “allowing any third-party control of academic matters is inconsistent with principles of academic freedom, shared governance, and the institutional autonomy of colleges and universities.” The AAUP’s concerns appear to rise from the fact that many Confucius Institutes are located on university or college campuses.
“Confucius Institutes appear designed to emulate the cultural ambassadorship and programming associated with, for example, the British Council, the Goethe Institut, and L’Alliance Franςaise,” notes the AAUP. “These latter three entities are clearly connected to imperial pasts, ongoing geopolitical agendas, and the objectives of ‘soft power,’ but none of them is located on a university or college campus. Instead, their connections to national political agendas and interests require that they be established in sites where they can fulfill their mandates openly without threatening the independence and integrity of academic institutions in host countries.”
Following the release of the statement, noted China scholars and observers from around the world joined the debate. Many academics have since spoken out in favour of the important role the Institutes have played in educating Americans about China and the Chinese language.
Robert Kapp, a key architect of recent China-US relations and former president of the US-China Business Council, argues that the establishment of Confucius Institutes in the United States affords opportunities to US students who would otherwise not be exposed to the language, history and culture of China.
“Lest we forget, China has a gigantic, marvelous cultural repertoire, worthy of world interest and respect,” said Mr Kapp. “On its face, I would argue that expansion of Chinese language instruction in America is a good thing, and that it should be welcomed. If a school can’t do it alone, the language-instruction resources made available by a [Confucius Institute] should be utilised, assuming that the instructors are competent to teach American students and willing to adhere to a set of commitments to ethically responsible classroom behaviour.
These requirements should include a stated commitment to tolerate diverse viewpoints, and a signed commitment not to use any academic threats or pressures against those of divergent political or ethical opinions.
Such clear affirmations of academic freedom should be specified in each school’s agreement with Hanban, the Chinese agency sponsoring Confucius Institutes. If Hanban cannot accept such stipulations, then there should be no agreement. The responsibility for determining that these commitments are being upheld should reside solely in the hands of the host institution.”
Not just a Western phenomenon
Growth of Mandarin language programmes and deeper bilateral educational exchange has in no way been limited to major destination markets.
In Hungary, the Central and Eastern Europe Chinese Language Teachers Training Centre began its first training course at the Confucius Institute of Eotvos Lorand University (ELTE) in Budapest last month. Dozens of local Chinese language teachers from eleven Central and Eastern European countries came to attend the training.
In Africa, China runs one of the world’s largest short-term training programmes. The “African Talents Program”, announced in 2012, aims to train 30,000 African professionals in China between 2013 and 2015, and 18,000 African trainees will benefit from full scholarships to study at Chinese universities under the scheme.
China also operates 38 Confucius Institutes at many of Africa’s top universities, stretching from Cape Town to Cairo.
Such a deepening of relations is seen as a ‘win-win’ situation and yet one more example of concrete South-South exchange. For Lu Shaye, director-general of African Affairs at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, these partnerships are also an example of the “soft power” at the heart of China’s diplomacy with the African continent and a means to strengthen cultural exchanges between China and Africa.
In Pakistan, meanwhile, the Pakistan-China Institute in Islamabad, in collaboration with the University of Karachi’s Latif Ebrahim Jamal National Science Information Centre (LEJ), announced earlier this year that they will be launching a course on “Basic Chinese Language” in all public universities across Pakistan. The course will be delivered via video conferencing and has been designed to help undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate students across Pakistan develop their Chinese language skills.
For more on the spread of Mandarin around the world, please see our previous article entitled “China paves the way for new Confucius Institutes in India, global demand rising.”