SCOTS children as young as four are to be taught to speak Chinese to equip them for a world in which China is an emerging superpower.

The drive will result in dozens of native Chinese speakers from Edinburgh University visiting classrooms across Edinburgh and East Lothian, and parents helping their children with Mandarin homework.

While some Scottish secondary schools offer teaching in Chinese to local communities, it is thought the Edinburgh and East Lothian initiative is pioneering the roll-out of structured lessons in mainstream classrooms to pupils as young as four.

Educationalists said the programme would be crucial to helping children compete in the global economy.

Seven Edinburgh primaries - Sighthill, Pentland, Dalmeny, Clermiston, Granton, Craigour Park and Stockbridge - will host Mandarin lessons after the programme rolls out in the new year, with classes also to take place at four secondary schools: Gracemount, Craigmount and St Thomas's.

In East Lothian, 22 P1 classes in 11 schools have begun to provide weekly, hour-long sessions with student tutors. Liz Gray, Edinburgh City Council's quality improvement officer for languages and literacy, said Mandarin was "quite exotic and very different".