Questions about the Learning of Mandarin and Cantonese in the Scottish Parliament

10 January 2014

Scottish_ParliamentGraeme Pearson MSP, Convener of the Cross Party Group on China, asked a Parliamentary Question in the Chamber yesterday, to which Dr Alasdair Allan MSP, Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland's Languages, responded. It was followed by related questions from Liz Smith MSP and Roderick Campbell MSP.

Question: (Graeme Pearson, Labour, South Scotland)

To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking to increase the provision and uptake of Cantonese and Mandarin in schools.


Alasdair Allan MSPDr Allan: The Scottish Government continues to encourage young people to learn Mandarin and Cantonese, as well as to learn about Chinese culture and history. Over the past five years, we have launched 13 Confucius classrooms serving 17 local authorities across Scotland and we have new national qualifications in Chinese languages at higher and advanced higher levels. In December, our Confucius classroom at St Ninian's high school in East Renfrewshire won the accolade of best Confucius classroom in the world at the world Confucius Institute conference in Beijing.

Graeme Pearson: The minister will understand how important it is that our young people in Scotland have a knowledge and understanding of Mandarin and Cantonese. How will he encourage Scottish children to take the languages to advanced level and how will he increase the number who do so?

Dr Allan: I recognise the member's involvement in the issue through the cross-party group on China. Similarly, I am of the view that we should be working to increase the numbers. Indeed, we have managed to increase them, as the number of presentations for Mandarin is up from 298 to 334 this year. We have set ourselves a target to double the number of Mandarin teachers between 2011 and 2017, and we have an aspiration to double the number of presentations in the same period.

Elizabeth SmithLiz Smith (Conservative, Mid Scotland and Fife): The minister referred to the fact that good progress is being made in improving the situation with teaching and making sure that the General Teaching Council for Scotland has more qualified teachers of Mandarin and Cantonese. However, there is a serious problem in relation to local government employment of those teachers. What discussions is he having with local government to help with that?

Dr Allan: My impression is that local authorities are very much engaged. As I indicated, 17 local authorities are already working directly with the Confucius classrooms. Also, we work through the one-plus-two programme, for instance, which is an on-going programme of engagement with local authorities, to make sure that both national Government and local government are signed up to the idea that, over the next few years, we want all our children to come out of primary school with exposure to two languages, one of which, in many cases, will be Cantonese or Mandarin.

Question: (Roderick Campbell, Scottish National Party, North East Fife)

To ask the Scottish Government what steps it is taking to promote the teaching of Mandarin in schools


Dr Allan: The Scottish Government continues to encourage young people to learn Mandarin and Cantonese, as well as learn about Chinese culture and history. To add to the answer that I provided to Mr Pearson for question 2, we are supporting 22 Chinese teachers from Tianjin schools to live in Scotland and work in their partner schools and we provide annual funding for young people and headteachers from Scottish schools to visit China to establish and foster links. 

Roderick Campbell MSPRoderick Campbell: During visits to local schools, I am aware that they have an advantage when a native speaker comes to take Mandarin language classes. Does the minister agree that foreign language assistants are vital to enhancing language learning in schools and can he advise what action the Scottish Government is undertaking to increase the number of foreign language assistants in Scottish schools, particularly for Mandarin?

Dr Allan: Across all languages, we have managed to stabilise and slightly increase the number of foreign language assistants over the past three years from 59 to 70 to 73. The Government works with various agencies, including the British Council and others, to make sure that that number goes up. We recognise that foreign language assistants can be a very cost-effective means of introducing native speakers to support the class teacher. One specific example is the early learning of Chinese project, which was launched in 2013 and involves more than 30 Chinese-speaking students.