Mandarin taught to Scottish schools live from China

School pupils in Scotland are being taught Mandarin online by teachers in China during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The language lessons are normally given face-to-face in the classroom by exchange students from China but they have been unable to travel owing to global travel restrictions.

Instead, lessons are being streamed live from the students’ own universities to pupils in Scotland, to ensure they continue to have an insight into the language and culture of the world’s most populous nation. The 10-week pilot course is being taught to primary and secondary pupils.

The Virtual Exchange Teaching (VET) programme is being complemented by Discovering China, in which online classes on Chinese culture are delivered a by Scotland-based, GTCS (General Teaching Council for Scotland) registered teacher.

Along with the teaching, the primary schools participating in this project have been provided with boxes containing Chinese artefacts, including books, clothes, tea, opera masks and calligraphy sets.

The GTCS teacher is teaching classes up to National 4 and National 5 levels, and this online venture is set to be expanded to Higher level in the next school session.

The pupils have, along with their teachers, been responding favourably to the classes, which are enabling them to learn Mandarin in schools where it has not been taught before.

The content of the programmes has been devised by the Confucius Institute for Scotland’s Schools (CISS), in the University of Strathclyde-based SCILT- Scotland’s National Centre for Languages, in partnership with online learning platform e-Sgóil. East China Normal University in Shanghai and South West Jiao Tong University in Chengdu are also partners in the VET programme.

SCILT Director Fhiona Mackay said: “COVID-19 has narrowed our world. This has meant that, although exchange teachers have been unable to join us in Scotland this year, we are still able to provide high-quality teaching directly from China.

“These programmes are a great way of internationalising the curriculum for our pupils and of getting extra international experience for the students. It keeps exchange teachers working alongside Scottish teachers, enriches the curriculum and ensures young people don’t miss out.

We have been able to reach schools who don’t have a GTCS teacher so they can now offer national qualifications in Mandarin. Our GTCS registered teacher is also able to offer a primary L3 programme to schools outwith the hub network The VET teachers in China are undertaking the Broad General Education teaching in our hubs that would normally have been done by an exchange teacher from China.

“We hope to be able to bring some of the students to Scotland next year as Chinese exchange teachers.”

The Virtual Exchange Teaching programme is running in 11 local authority areas, while Discovering China is being piloted in primary schools in Aberdeenshire and secondary schools in Aberdeenshire, Dundee and Moray.

Zoe Gordon, 1+2 Development Officer and coordinator for the VET project in West Lothian, said: "I can't believe the level the children can get to and the confidence they have. They were recapping on numbers to 100, quite incredible. Then they did some writing which was beautiful. I absolutely love the programme and we are so grateful to everyone at CISS and to the VET teachers for allowing our children to take part in this wonderful cultural experience. Memories for life!"

Grove Academy in Dundee currently has eight senior pupils taking part in the online National 4 Mandarin course. Andy Creamer, Deputy Head Teacher at the school, said: "Pupil feedback has been very positive with high levels of motivation. Pupils have found the online approach enjoyable and recognise that this is an opportunity they would not normally have available."