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Let young Scots learn Mandarin, Confucius says

A strong and long-lasting relationship between Scotland and China is being forged through an initiative to teach the country’s language and culture in Scottish secondary schools.

Lin Yanshen, deputy director general of the Tianjin Municipal Education Commission – which has been twinned with Scotland – yesterday said the network of Confucius classrooms is an important mechanism to foster friendship and understanding between the two countries.

The Confucius hubs were first ­introduced in Scotland in 2007 as part of a wider initiative funded by the Chinese Government to generate interest in their language and culture.

The 10 hubs are used by the schools in which they are based – as well as neighbouring schools and the wider community – to introduce the Chinese language and culture, teaching not only ­Mandarin, but also calligraphy, dance, music and aspects of the culture such as the tea ceremony.

Seven Scottish schools have also been twinned with schools across the city of Tianjin, which lies some 70 miles south-east of the capital, Beijing, and has a population of 11 million.

On his first visit to Scotland since the twinning arrangement was set up, Lin told The Herald how important the classrooms initiative was to China.

“The Confucius classrooms are very important because language is a bridge for people’s communication and understanding,” he said.

“Many pupils in China study English, so it is good that more pupils in Scotland are now studying Chinese because of the importance of language to make people understand each other.

“We can learn from each other and each other’s countries and to improve the development of harmony in society. We are also interested in what we can do for each other.”

Lin believes the Confucius initiative would not have been possible before the more open attitude adopted by China. “Thirty years ago, China was not as open as it is today, but now it is open to people from the outside world and people can now learn more about Chinese language and culture,” he said.

“It is also the result of the globalisation and the modern technologies for communication, so people have the need to learn about different cultures.”

Lin said there were many similarities between innovations in Chinese and Scottish education, in particular the beginning of a move away from a system whose primary focus was to get pupils to pass exams.

And he drew comparisons with reforms currently being undertaken in Tianjin and the Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland. “In the past, the system was about preparing pupils to pass examinations, but we are also now looking for students to develop their overall interests and skills,” he said.

And he stressed the reverence that education is held in Chinese society, particularly for families with only one offspring under the government’s one-child policy for urban families.

“If you only have one child then you put everything into the education of that child to give them the best possible opportunity,” he said.

The initiative is mainly funded by the Hanban, the executive body of the Chinese Language Council International – a non-governmental and non-profit institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education.

It is an indication of how far relationships between China and the west have come, and recognises the growing importance of China in the international marketplace.

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