The 2nd Annual SCEN Youth Summit

30 November 2013

A dream come true for Scottish language learning

IMG_1482e-2401.jpgOver 70 high schools, youth groups and organisations from across Scotland came together at the Gleneagles Hotel on the 27th November 2013 for the second annual youth summit organised by the Scottish-China Education Network (SCEN). As 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King's historic 'I Have A Dream' speech, the theme of this year's youth summit was 'Our Dream' with delegates asked to share their aspirations for the future of Chinese language learning in Scotland.

The summit's guests of honour were piped in by Aaron Hossain of Oban High School, and included Mr Zhang Huazhong, Deputy Consul General of the People's Republic of China and the Rt. Hon. Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, President of SCEN. They received a rousing welcome from SCEN convenor Judith McClure, who dubbed the summit the 'G70' and explained that "the SCEN dream is that every pupil in Scottish schools should have the opportunity to learn Mandarin."

The third guest of honour was Dr Alasdair Allan, Minister for Learning, Science and Languages. In his opening address, Dr Allan confirmed the Scottish government's commitment to language learning, as well as praising SCEN's convenor and founder Judith McClure for organising the event: "I'm delighted to be here. Judith and SCEN do great work promoting our connection with China. It's the dream of people in Scotland to have the kind of contact with other countries that can only come from language learning. The Scottish government is ambitious for languages in schools: by 2020 we want all pupils to leave school having had meaningful exposure to two languages other than their own."

China's Deputy Consul General Mr Huazhong followed Dr Allan's address with a speech thanking SCEN for their work in promoting Chinese culture. He finished by encouraging the school pupils and teachers present to 'go for it' and seize every opportunity to study the Chinese language. As a wide variety of schools and organisations followed him to deliver three minute micro-presentations about the work they are doing around Chinese culture and language learning, it soon became clear that a large number of schools and related groups were already 'going for it' in a very creative way!

Full sized versions of all the photographs can be downloaded from this link.

Many Scottish school pupils opted to give their presentations entirely in Mandarin, including Caitlin Goldie from Grange Academy in East Ayrshire who gave a fluent description of the impact that choosing to learn a Chinese language has had on her. Other schools used their presentation to discuss their experiences of partnering with their counterparts in China, with Lasswade High School from Midlothian describing its very positive nine year link with Tianlin No. 3 Middle School in Shanghai.

Pupils from Lasswade visited their Shanghai sister school earlier this year and were amazed to find that the Chinese school day starts at 7.30am and ends at 5.30pm, with pupils taking home around three hours worth of homework every night! Armadale Academy in Bathgate described a similar school exchange, with pupils explaining that "being part of a Chinese household -even for a short time- and experiencing their humbling hospitality has inspired us to become better people and broadened our horizons".

Music formed a key part of proceedings throughout the day. One particular highlight was a performance by pupils from Queen Anne High School in Dunfermline, who impressed the audience with a spectacular orchestral piece featuring yangqins (Chinese dulcimers), gongs, flutes and traditional singing in Mandarin. Delegates were also treated to a stirring performance by Preston Lodge High School Pipe Band from Prestonpans, who described a recent SCEN-funded trip to China to compete in Nanning International Folk Song Art Festival.

In addition to the many schools and youth organisations present, there were also several business leaders in attendance including Wang Anhing, business manager at the UK embassy in Beijing, Nigel Fong, the managing director of Swiss-Sure Co. Ltd in Hong Kong and Eric Balish, Director of Trade and Working Capital at Barclays.

This presence highlighted China's status as an emergent economy, with Mr Balish explaining that "China is important not just because of its scale and influence, but because the historic EU/American focus of our exports has to be refocused. World trade now goes from Far East to Far West and could potentially bypass Scotland. We're fighting for continued relevance and we have to be able to communicate to do business. Thankfully, through SCEN and the Confucius Institute we have excellent organisations to help us meet those requirements."

Judith McKerrecher, curriculum leader for modern languages at Craigmount High School in Edinburgh, agreed with Mr Balish's statements: "It's been a really positive day because it's allowed people from a variety of backgrounds to come together. It has put our pupils in contact with businesses to give them food for thought about what opportunities may be available to them in the future if they continue to learn Mandarin. As an education professional, coming to the summit has also reinforced my passion and interest in Chinese language and culture: it is great being around other people who share the same vision."

IMG_1482e-2470.jpgScotland's Minister for Learning, Science and Languages Dr Alasdair Allan got in touch after the event to say how encouraging he'd found it to see increasing numbers of young people in Scotland taking national qualifications in Mandarin:

"It is highly beneficial for young people and their parents to understand China's increasing importance in the world economy and acquire some Mandarin now or at some point in the future.  We anticipate that numbers learning Chinese will continue to grow alongside numbers learning Scottish, European and other languages as the 1+2 languages strategy becomes embedded within schools."

Pupils attending also enjoyed their day, with Bella Wang from St. George's School in Edinburgh explaining: "the summit is really important as it gives young people with an interest in Chinese the chance to interact with each other and meet pupils from other schools. It's so kind of people to get up and share their private experiences of language learning on stage- and it's also very brave!"

With over 20 extremely creative and enlightening mini presentations throughout the day, there certainly were a lot of very brave people in attendance at SCEN's second annual youth summit! Thanks to them- and the event's organisers- the summit was a huge success and will certainly help SCEN's dream of making Mandarin available to all Scottish students become a reality.

Hilary Wardle, SCEN Correspondent