Asian perspectives across a curriculum are just as important as learning a language like Mandarin.

Front page of the Age newspaper today were two headings that caught my eye: “PM seizes reins on China links” and “Mandarin off schools’ menu”.

The first article describes a government white paper due out early next year which seeks to made explicit links from an economic, strategic  policy and resourcing perspective to China in particular with the Prime Minister calling this “the Asian century”.

The second article talks about the decline in non native speakers completing Year 12 studies in Mandarin arguing that the tertiary entrance exams punishes these students, as it’s a really difficult language to learn, by failing to differentiate them from native speakers who generally achieve all the top marks.

Having just completed a week long course in Beijing I think I’m a little more informed now to make a comment here. Before I comment a little context.

The course for school leaders from Oceania I attended was funded through the Hanban Institute and held at the Beijing Language and Cultural and University. It aimed to teach us a little Mandarin and demonstrate quality curriculum material however of greater importance it tried to help us understand the Chinese people through a variety of hosted cultural events.

I’ll write some future posts on these cultural events for they hold lasting memories for me.

What I came away with was an understanding that China was once and for many hundreds of years thought to be the centre of the cultural and economic world. This powerful country withdrew or was overtaken for a number of reasons which are not the intent of this post to explain. However China’s re-emergence cannot be denied. Being the number 1 country (or co-sharing this number 1 position with a few other emerging Asian countries) is also a mindset held by many Chinese people that I came into contact with.

Understanding this mindset explains their often patient and methodology approach to things. I observed a learning to speak English class for Chinese students (from a set text) that would have bored most Australian students to unrest. Here there was just attentiveness and application. Our Australian students need to understand that they are competing for global places at universities and colleges all around the world with mostly attentive and committed Chinese students who need little educational entertainment to stay engaged. Hard and continuous work is just expected even demanded.

I expect that with a little of our Western pedagogy (e.g. explicit learning intentions, use of thinking tools and connections to real life applications) these Chinese students would do even better.

We are relative new comers to teaching Mandarin (2 years) to primary aged students (5-12 year olds) at my school and we have just started to embed Asian perspectives (e.g. understanding their history and cultural practices) across our broader curriculum. This second journey of embedding Asian perspectives to me is of critical importance for regardless of one’s fluency in Mandarin these understandings will enable us to participate and engage in this, as the Prime Minister calls “Asian century”.

I’m interested in hearing other prespectives on this topic.

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