The Irish government is set to introduce Chinese language, Mandarin, as a subject in its Leaving Certificate exam, the final examination of Ireland’s secondary school system.
According to Chinadaily.com.cn, Mandarin is already taught as an optional 100-hour short course at the secondary level in Ireland, but only for the first three years, which is known as the junior cycle.
Schools will start teaching Mandarin as part of the senior cycle, which comprises the final two years of secondary school and involves students aged 17 and 18.
The first senior cycle students who are able to opt for Mandarin will start their courses in 2020 and sit their exams in 2022.
Richard Bruton, Ireland’s minister for education and skills, said the Irish government has embarked on a strategy with ambitious targets to increase the number of students studying foreign languages. He said it wants to ensure Ireland is well prepared for the rise of non-English-speaking countries.
The plan includes a roadmap to put Ireland in the top 10 countries in Europe for the teaching and learning of foreign languages. Mandarin will join Polish, Lithuanian and Portuguese as subjects that can be chosen as part of the Leaving Certificate.
“If we want to have the best education and training service in Europe by 2026, we must make the teaching and learning of foreign languages a key priority,” Bruton said. “Brexit, and the increasing importance of non-English-speaking countries globally, mean that English-speaking countries, such as our own, will need to put a newfound importance on foreign languages in order to excel in the modern world.”
Bruton believes that learning a foreign language is no longer a luxury for some, but a necessity for most.
“It is an international key which, upon turning, will open many doors and opportunities for those that embrace and enjoy the challenge.”
In recent years, Ireland has seen a growing number of people learning Mandarin and studying in China. It has two Confucius Institutes, one at University College Dublin and the other at University College Cork.
Professor Wang Liming, director of the Confucius Institute at University College Dublin, said: “The strategy is a historic moment and also a milestone, in terms of promoting Mandarin in Ireland.”
He said he believes that the inclusion of Mandarin among exam subjects will change students and parents’ attitude toward the language.
“They will certainly take it more seriously, rather than see it as a mere interest,” Wang said. “Confucius institutes will undoubtedly play an important role in implementing the strategy, as the government needs to work with organizations and schools to build up their capacity to deliver Mandarin teaching in secondary schools.”