Tai Chi, Chinese tea making, complicated paper-cutting and Chinese spoken in a range of Irish accents all featured at an event in Portlaoise yesterday, Thursday 3rd May, when the Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn, T.D. launched a new Transition Unit in Chinese developed jointly by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and the UCD Confucius Institute at an event that also celebrated the work of 22 post-primary schools already studying Chinese language and culture as part of their curricula.
The event, which was organised by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, was attended by the Charges D’Affaires of the Chinese embassy Ms. Lan Heping, 2nd Secretary Mr. Wu Xiaochuang, and by Mr. Zengan Peng and Ms. Yan Liu of the Hanban Institute in China, the headquarters of Confucius Institutes worldwide, who had travelled from China to attend the launch.
Pic 1: (L to R) Attending teacher in traditional Chinese dress; Ms. Brigid McManus, Chairperson; Mr. Peng Zengan, Division Director of Confucius Headquarters; Ruairi Quinn T.D. Minister for Education and Skills; Ms. Lan Heping, Charges D’ Affaires for Chinese Embassy in Ireland; Mr. Wu Xiaochuang, 2nd Secretary of Chinese Embassy; Dr. Wang Liming, Director, UCD Confucius Institute; Dr. Anne Looney, CEO, NCCA; Attending Irish student in traditional Chinese dress
This unit was developed by the UCD Confucius Institute for Ireland and is designed to introduce students to both traditional and modern aspects of Chinese culture and to support students learning some of the Chinese language, integrated into the teaching of each topic. The focus is on self-directed learning, awakening curiosity about the Chinese language and culture.
In order to broaden accessibility to Chinese to all schools, there was a strong emphasis on designing a transition unit that could be taught by Irish teachers, supported by relevant and interesting resources that would allow teachers and students to engage in a real way with Chinese language and culture. The unit is supported by online materials and a teacher’s handbook all available through the Confucius Institute for Ireland, UCD.
Addressing the students, teachers, and guests from Ireland and China, the Minister congratulated all involved, particularly the schools that took the lead in this work. He said ‘I am particularly pleased to launch a new course that has been developed by schools for schools. This sort of school-led change, that builds on the innovation and creativity in schools, where schools find imaginative ways to develop their own curricula in response to student and parent interest and emerging national priorities is something I want to encourage’.
He also took the opportunity to announce that, from 2014, a short course in Chinese language and culture would be an option in the new junior cycle programme. The Minister said: ‘This optional course will build on the experience of the new transition unit and I hope that we can learn from the implementation of these two courses, as it is my intention to then move to have Chinese included as a subject in the Leaving Certificate Examination in due course’.
Minister Quinn paid tribute to the UCD Confucius Institute for Ireland and the Hanban Institute and Chinese government for their support in developing the material. He also thanked the Confucius Institute at UCC for its work with schools in Munster. The Director of the UCD Institute Dr Wang Liming said: ‘I’m delighted to see such a great celebration of the Irish schools in showcasing the achievements made in Chinese language and culture studies and also proud that the Teaching Pack for Transition Unit developed by our Institute has been officially launched by the Minister and NCCA at such a significant event.’
Dr. Anne Looney, CEO of NCCA commented on the enthusiasm of the participating schools for studying Chinese and the high-level of interest across the system in the subject. ‘Research tells us that motivation is the key to successfully learning a language. What we have seen today from the students and their teachers shows the high-levels of motivation towards the language. Research also tells us that in general Irish post-primary students rarely list a foreign language in their list of favourite subjects. There is an opportunity here that we have to take even in the face of the challenges faced by the system and by schools. Schools are already taking the opportunity. In this case, they are leading. We are following’.