Schools in the UK are being urged to take part in a new language programme aimed at delivering a minimum of 5,000 fluent Mandarin speakers by 2020.
The Mandarin Excellence Programme (MEP) is being run by the Department of Education and already 14 schools have signed up for the rigorous programme for pupils from year seven.
It is being run in partnership with the delivered by University College London’s UCL IOE Confucius Institute and the British Council at a time when Mandarin is regarded as one of the languages that matters most to the future prosperity of the UK.
According to recent research commissioned for the Mandarin Excellence Programme, British parents see Mandarin Chinese as being the most beneficial non-European language for their children to learn.
The robust programme includes studying Mandarin for eight hours a week, made up of a combination of teacher taught classroom lessons for a minimum of four hours a week, after school teaching, self-study and intensive language courses in the UK and China.
The UCL IOE Confucius Institute, in partnership with the British Council, will be training enough teachers to support the programme and help with teaching practices in school. This will involve teaching British teachers and teachers from China.
The aim is to give pupils an immersive experience of China through digital media and visits to China for some groups of students.
While uptake of Mandarin in UK schools is growing, Mandarin Chinese GCSEs currently make up around only 1% of overall language GCSEs taken. Last year, just over 3,500 Mandarin Chinese GCSEs were sat in England compared to around 140,000 French GCSEs.
‘Studying Mandarin Chinese is both personally enriching for students and a useful means of boosting future career prospects in our globally competitive economy. We are funding, thousands of students will be on track to a high level of fluency in the language in the coming years,’ said School Standards Minister Nick Gibb.
Mark Herbert, head of schools programmes at the British Council, believes that it will also create career opportunities for the pupils that take part in the programme. ‘Without more people in our workforce who can understand and communicate effectively with one of the world’s biggest economies, there’s a real risk that the UK will struggle to remain competitive on the world stage,’ he said.
‘On top of that, learning Mandarin is a fascinating process that brings with it a valuable understanding of contemporary and historical Chinese culture. Now more than ever, we need more young people leaving school with a good grasp of Mandarin Chinese in order to successfully work abroad or for multinational businesses here in the UK,’ he added.