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Does It Make Sense for Africans to Learn Mandarin Chinese?


The South African government’s 2015 decision to add Mandarin Chinese to the national curriculum sparked an uproar that baffled people in other, often more affluent societies around the world where the demand to learn Chinese far outstrips the supply of qualified teachers. Opposition to Mandarin education largely centered on the difficulty of the language and the fact that South Africa’s educational system, as a whole, under-performs so adding yet another subject to an already burdened system will only make the situation worse.

While opposition to Mandarin language education was far more vocal than in other countries across the continent, parents turn to social media to express their concerns that learning Chinese could come at the expense of improving their children’s primary language skills in English, French, Arabic and Kiswahili among others. In school systems that already face a number of challenges ranging from a lack of resources to ballooning class size, these parents’ concerns are understandable. In the end, according to critics, Chinese classes, while well intended, could potentially serve as a costly distraction to a child’s core educational objectives.

While some parents express reservations about their children learning Mandarin and the issue has become a full-fledged political debate in South Africa, elsewhere in Africa demand for Chinese classes is booming. The Chinese government is underwriting much of the Mandarin language education initiative in Africa through its language and cultural training centers known as “The Confucius Institutes.” Currently, there are at least 46 Confucius Institutes across Africa with more expected in the coming years.

So does it make sense for African children to learn Mandarin? Prominent African attorney Patrick Ache says “it depends.” The South African-based, Cameroonian-born, Chinese speaking attorney agrees with parents who are worried about Mandarin classes being implemented at the expense of their children’s core curriculum, but adds that if Chinese language education is paired with sophisticated technical training it could open tremendous professional opportunities for African youth.

Patrick joins Eric & Cobus to discuss the merits of teaching Mandarin Chinese in African schools and why may it make a lot of sense for some children but not all.

Show Notes:

About Patrick Ache:

Patrick Ache is a business advisor originally from West Africa, with over 10 years experience as a lawyer facilitating cross border investment in East Africa and Francophone Central and West Africa. Currently he runs an Africa focused business development and legal advisory consultancy aimed at connecting businesses with strategic partners. He also runs a podcast called Founders Mettle, where he interviews inspirational founders of businesses and non-profits.

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