Warning after sharp fall in students taking GCSE Mandarin

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The ability of today’s students to compete in the global economy is at risk because too few schools are teaching Mandarin Chinese, the British Council has warned.

The ability of today’s students to compete in the global economy is at risk because too few schools are teaching Mandarin Chinese, the British Council has warned.

It comes as the numbers taking GCSEs in the subject has fallen markedly since 2010.

A study of 832 teachers commissioned by the British Council and HSBC found that only three per cent of primary and nine per cent of secondary teachers reported the language as being on offer in their schools. This is despite China becoming the world’s second biggest economy in 2011. Just one per cent of the teachers said their schools planned to start teaching Mandarin, while two per cent said their schools have stopped the subject.

A total of 2,541 students took a GCSE in Mandarin in 2012, compared with 3,650 in 2010. By contrast, a record 72,606 students took a GCSE in Spanish last year.

Martin Davidson, chief executive of the British Council and a fluent Chinese speaker, said: “The UK’s future prosperity depends in no small part on our ability to communicate and build relationships with people from around the world, and there are few more important partners for us than China. 

“But, despite perceptions that more and more UK schools are teaching Mandarin, all the evidence suggests that the real number is stagnant at best and far too small. 

“Without a workforce that can understand and communicate effectively with one of the world’s biggest economies, there’s a real risk that the UK will struggle to compete and fall behind as a result.”

The poll comes as the final of the British Council’s 10th annual Mandarin Chinese Speaking Competition for secondary pupils took place on Monday (February 4). Run with the HSBC, the competition rewards students who have made the effort to master Mandarin from scratch.

Student Nishat Ali from east London was the first competitor to walk on stage at the inaugural competition in 2003. 

Her former school – Kingsford Community School – has been teaching Mandarin since 2001.

Nishat said: “My interest in the language turned into a great passion and I’m currently a fourth year student of Chinese at SOAS in London. I spent a year studying abroad in Beijing and it was undoubtedly the best time of my life.”

The British Council and HSBC also support Mandarin teaching through the Chinese Language Assistants programme and.

For further information on the competition, visit www.britishcouncil.org/schoolpartnerships-chinese-speaking-competition.htm

CAPTION: A Mandarin class takes place as part of the British Council's summer immersion week-long residential programme for key stage 2.


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