Will Teaching Mandarin in School Help Students in Africa?
This year, countries in Africa are introducing Mandarin Chinese to the curriculum in public schools. There has been much uproar and criticism regarding these actions due to Africa’s already insufficient education system. It is believed that adding Mandarin in school curriculum not only takes away from the children’s core educational objectives but also detracts from the issue concerning the extinction of indigenous languages.

It has been considered out of character for Africa to incorporate Mandarin into the curriculum because the nation’s official languages or languages that are more commonly spoken across the world are prioritized. However, considering the power and influence of China, this can be an advantage for students in Africa. This year, countries such as South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Kenya are incorporating more Chinese culture and language courses into their curricula in different levels of education.

China has served as a huge influence on these changes in Africa in terms of funding and support. The biggest barrier that Africa faces in implementing the new course into the curriculum is a lack of trained and certified teachers to meet the demand. China has been creating Confucius Institutes all over Africa — currently, there are as many as 46 Confucius Institutes across the continent.

These institutes provide language learning courses to train teachers in Mandarin to help accommodate the students in Africa. China has also gone as far as urging the government for the language’s inclusion in public schools as well as providing volunteer teachers to help with the transition.

Although China is enthusiastic about these new changes, many in Africa are very upset and concerned about the potential outcome. South Africa is particularly upset about the recent addition of Mandarin to the curriculum. It is believed by some that adding a difficult language to the previously debilitated South African education system will only make matters worse because the system is overwhelmed enough as it is. The addition of Mandarin to the system could come at the expense of the students in Africa learning other primary languages such as English, French, Arabic and Kiswahili.

On top of that, Africans have begun to fear the extinction of their national indigenous languages. The San, an older indigenous group that inhabits Southern Africa, has influenced the dialects of African language, though some of the San languages have gone extinct.

Of the 6,000 languages spoken across the world, about 2000 of them are spoken in Africa alone. However, the most commonly spoken languages in Africa are English and French — a sign of colonization, another fear that resides in the hearts of Africans. The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) feels that teaching Mandarin in school is equivalent to a form of colonization and imperialism, for which they will not allow.

The South African government, as well as other countries, feels that learning Mandarin would result in a greater number of professional opportunities for Africans. The outcome could be higher-paying jobs as interpreters or translators with Chinese companies.

Beijing has become a serious partner in trade and commerce. As of 2013, Africa’s business with China brought in a staggering $166 billion for the continent with factors such as infrastructural investments and tourism. Hence, it is believed that students in Africa can not only better enable Africa to communicate with a key trading partner, but it also allows for students in poorer conditions to make better lives for themselves by learning Mandarin.

Whether or not it is best for students in Africa to add Mandarin in school curricula is still up for debate. It could be an empowering language for the students to learn, however, at the expense of drifting away from their culture or potentially hindering their ability to learn other languages. Only time will tell if the benefits outweigh the losses.

Kayla Mehl

Photo: Flickr