Chinese partners have welcomed the opening of the Confucius Classroom at Bohunt School Worthing.
It is the first secondary school in England to have Mandarin as a compulsory language when students start in year seven.
Students have been learning the Chinese language since the high school first opened three years ago and it has recently joined the national Mandarin Excellence Programme.
The Confucius Classroom was officially opened yesterday, formalising an agreement with the Confucius Institute at Southampton University which will bring benefits including additional teaching staff and supported exchange trips to China.
Dr Ying Zheng, UK director of the Confucius Institute, and head teacher Adam Whitehead signed the agreement in front of year-ten Mandarin students and school governors, before a plaque was unveiled.
Dr Zheng said: “One of our goals is to have people in Britain, especially young ones, to understand Chinese people, the real people, the real language, the real culture, and to unpack the mystery of China.
“I hope students here can enjoy learning Chinese and can respect other cultures, other people and can achieve whatever they want to achieve.
“Learning Chinese can be very fun – singing a song, trying to make dumplings, paper cutting, calligraphy – but it can be very difficult. Don’t give up, all hard work will pay off eventually.”
Confucius Institute is a non-profit organisation affiliated with the Ministry of Education in China. The institute at Southampton University, the only one of its kind in southern England, was established in 2011.
Dr Zheng added: “Since then, we have been working very hard to try to promote Chinese language and Chinese culture.
“Bohunt Worthing is the first secondary school in England to have Mandarin as a compulsory language when students start in year seven. I am confident, with support and the effort of students and teachers, we will make this a big success.”
Bohunt Liphook was the model Confucius Classroom and Bohunt Worthing is the third, with a fourth opening in Somerset next month.
Mr Whitehead said when the Worthing school was being set up, he visited primary schools in the area to see what languages the children were learning.
Having found French was common to all schools but other languages varied, he made the decision to introduce Mandarin as the second language at Bohunt.
He explained: “The government was really keen that as a nation we need to embrace China, from a language point of view, culturally and economically, and they were keen to support schools that were pursuing that goal.
“I made the decision that Mandarin was the subject we would try. We didn’t commit ourselves to doing it indefinitely but what is really good is three years down the line, it is a very popular subject at this school. We have GCSE classes in two year groups, four classes in total, every single pupil student studies it in years seven and eight and then they have a choice and actually we expect over time that that uptake will go on.
“It is a unique offer for us in this area and we are already pursuing what will happen post-GCSEs and making sure for those that want to continue with Mandarin, there will be a route to do that.
“It is hugely powerful to see people speaking a foreign language that they have only been studying for a couple of years, with confidence and our job is to grow that confidence.”
The students, the school’s pioneer class for Mandarin, showed the visitors ways they have been learning to speak and write the language.
Ruth Nash Walker, 15, demonstrated water calligraphy, which helps the student to learn the characters.
She explained: “It is a big culture thing in China, we learned. You can draw them over and over again as the water dries up. It is a really good technique.
“Mandarin is hard but not extremely hard. The first lesson, I remember it was very daunting but we came away wanting to go back.”
Year-ten students Bryn Clements and Yin Yin Lin gave an introduction in Mandarin, fellow student Lucy Poole sang a solo in Mandarin and year-seven students on the Mandarin Excellence Programme gave a musical performance for the visitors.
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