Mandarin will strengthen ties, create opportunities

Paddy Attwell, Director of Communication at the Western Cape Education Department, responds: “We support the introduction of Mandarin in Western Cape schools, if schools choose to do so, and so long as it does not compromise the teaching of local languages.”

Attwell says the main benefit of learning a foreign language such as Mandarin is that it expands the world view of learners and empowers learners as global citizens.

He mentions that the Western Cape is experiencing a rapid increase in trade with China, and it therefore makes sense economically to empower young people to develop this relationship by learning more about Chinese language and culture.

“We have found that learning a foreign language such as Mandarin has helped learners to discover the joy of learning, which is central to successful education,” Attwell adds.

The Western Cape Town Education spokesman avers that it is in the interests of the Western Cape and the country generally to build positive relations with China, given the role the country is playing in international affairs. One way of doing this is to acquire a good understanding of Chinese language and culture, Attwell maintains.

So far, four schools in the Western Cape have registered Mandarin as a second additional language subject with the Western Cape Education Department.

According to Attwell, “Confucius Institutes at the Universities of Stellenbosch and Cape Town support Mandarin classes at about 28 sites, mostly schools, as far as we are aware. We do not have information on how many teachers may be involved.”

Attwell clarifies that South Africa has not yet included Mandarin as a subject for the National Senior Certificate, our Grade 12 qualification. Foreign languages registered for NSC examinations so far include Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil, Telegu, Arabic, French, Italian, Spanish, Modern Greek, Portuguese, German, Hebrew, Urdu and Serbian, he explains.

Elijah Mhlanga, spokesperson for the Department of Basic Education, rejected the union’s criticism of Mandarin teaching. “We find it strange that there’s no opposition to the teaching of French, Portuguese, Latin, Greek, Arabic etc. Why is Mandarin targeted for criticism?”, he told  The Guardian in 2015.

Mhlanga added: “Why don’t you check how many South Africans go to China daily? What happens when they get there? They can’t speak the language and they struggle. Is it not an advantage to learn the language of the people you are doing business with? If there’s opposition, why do we have teachers taking up the opportunity of going to China to learn?”