The Chinese revolution


An understanding of Chinese history, culture and language will be increasingly crucial for our younger generations.
Dr Judith McClure introduces the Scotland-China Education Network, including its new student ambassadors scheme.

The Economist reported on April 21, 2012, in one of its now regular pieces on China: “In 2010 (China) overtook America in terms of manufactured output, energy use and car sales. Its military spending has been growing in nominal terms by an average of 16 per cent each year for the past 20 years. According to the IMF, China will overtake America as the world’s largest economy in 2017.”

The Scotland-China Education Network (SCEN) was founded in January 2006 in the belief that an education fit for the modern world, helping young people to understand their role as global citizens and to secure work, must include a knowledge and understanding of China, its history, culture, politics and society. It should also offer the opportunity to learn Mandarin, one of the three most frequently spoken languages in the world. 

The SCEN now has about 400 members, from universities, colleges and schools, the business world and the Chinese community in Scotland, all ready to work together in support of any organisation working towards this mission.

A structure in place

Since 2006, Scotland has established a programme for the teaching of Chinese at the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education and the General Teaching Council for Scotland admits newly qualified and inducted teachers of Chinese to full registration annually. 

The Scottish Qualifications Authority has developed qualifications in Mandarin to Advanced Higher level and itself works with Hanban, the Beijing Office for Chinese Language International. 

Elsewhere, the Confucius Institute for Scotland at the University of Edinburgh, highly regarded internationally, provides impressive leadership on education, business and cultural links with China, and there is now a Confucius Institute at the University of Glasgow and a new Confucius Institute for Schools is being launched at Scotland’s National Centre for Languages, the University of Strathclyde. 

The Scottish government’s Learning Directorate makes every effort to bring all players together through the mechanism of the Scottish Schools Advisory Group on China. Many institutions of higher and further education are developing strong China partnerships and a growing number of schools are doing the same, supported by the British Council for Scotland and the network of Confucius Classroom Hubs begun by the former Learning and Teaching Scotland.

Common ground

The infrastructure is thus well founded. Scotland has responded constructively to China’s own efforts to extend knowledge of its language and culture through the support of Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms throughout the world, and this has been strongly backed by the education secretary. 

It has been clear through these engagements, and through visits such as that of Donald Tsang, chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, in September 2011 and the work of Archie McGlynn, former chief inspector and director of the Hong Kong Schools Self-Evaluation Network, that there is a great commonality of purpose in educational reform in China, including Hong Kong, and many Western countries, including Scotland. 

The 2010 OECD report on Shanghai and Hong Kong, is of great interest: “China has made great strides in educating its population, with Shanghai and Hong Kong as examples of innovation. The main lessons include the government’s abandonment of a system built around ‘key schools’ for a small elite and its development of a more inclusive system in which all students are expected to perform at high levels; greatly raising teacher pay and upgrading teacher standards and teacher education; reducing the emphasis on rote learning and increasing the emphasis on deep understanding, the ability to apply knowledge to solving new problems, and the ability to think creatively. 

“All of these are reflected in deep reforms to the curriculum and examinations. These changes have been accompanied by greater curricular choice for students, and more latitude for local authorities to decide on examination content, which in turn is loosening the constraints on curriculum and instruction.”

At the current phase of educational reform in Scotland, including not only the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence but the efforts to promote the flexible learner journey to further study and employment and the improvements in teacher education, CPD and school leadership and management, there is no doubt that increased partnership with education in China, at system, local authority, university, college, school and individual teacher and pupil levels, will bring considerable advantages to the improvement of Scottish education. It will also support economic development.

Embracing China

How does the SCEN, as a voluntary association, assist this engagement with China in education and the complex process of introducing Chinese as one of the languages available to pupils in the curriculum? Undeniably this is a difficult process, made especially so at a time of financial restraint. 

Throughout Scotland, staff, pupils and parents need to be convinced of the importance of learning Chinese now and in the future, at a time when the take-up of languages generally is poor. Local authorities need to consider the employment of new teachers, at a time when they are cutting back expenditure. Businesses need to support the education system in so far as they can, if not by funding then at least by showing the importance to our young people of knowledge of China and of Chinese for economic development and future employment.  

So the SCEN aims to provide publicity and connections. At least once a month, all members receive an update on China-related events and activities, as well as openings and opportunities. It runs conferences annually supported by the education secretary and by the Consul General of the PR of China in Scotland. 

It works with other partners, such as Edinburgh Zoo and the Royal Botanic Garden, to share China-related events. It engages teachers who are devoted to this cause, but often frustrated by limited opportunities, by giving them the chance to share their achievements as well as their difficulties. 

Each year there is a SCEN Brown Bag meeting, on the American business model where people get together over sandwiches in a brown bag and express their views, aspirations and problems openly. As the Scottish government is always represented, these meetings are worth attending!

New this year

A new venture this academic session has been the SCEN Ambassadors scheme, open to students in the senior phase of education in school, or at university or college, and young professionals with China connections. 

The mission of SCEN Ambassadors, according to position and opportunity, is to promote the importance of learning about China, and learning Chinese, in Scottish schools, colleges, universities and workplaces, and to promote links between Scottish and Chinese education, culture and business. The scheme was launched at the Royal Society of Edinburgh at a wonderful gathering addressed by the SCEN president, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, and the first Ambassadors have been appointed. One of them, Alastair Falcon of George Heriot’s School, has already spoken to a gathering of young people from various schools at Dumfries and Galloway College.

Peter Billington, depute head of Queen Anne High School in Dunfermline (the Confucius Hub for Fife) and a long-time SCEN enthusiast, recognises the progress that has been made, but adds: “For real growth across all areas of the new Scottish China Plan the key is communication. 

“Communication is not just language: it embodies a knowledge of all the senses and embraces non-verbal elements where we seek to discover the reasons why China is China and at the same time import the reasons why Scotland is Scotland. These are not merely history lessons. Brian Stewart (HM Consul General in Shanghai 1961-62) spoke passionately at an SCEN meeting and to the pupils of Queen Anne’s High School of his time in China as a diplomat and later as a businessman and his undoubted success: but what was that based on? He knew the people and their language, he understood where they had come from and why they acted as they did.”

  • Dr Judith McClure CBE is the convener of the Scotland-China Education Network.

Further information
A number of SCEN events are planned this autumn, culminating in a China Youth Summit at Gleneagles on November 12. The SCEN is free to join. Visit or email


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