Confucius Institutes face uphill battle in development

13:32, May 31, 2011      

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There are 82 Confucius Institutes and 39 Confucius Classrooms in 31 countries and regions in Asia. Despite great achievements, Confucius Institutes still face serious challenges. For example, there is the question of how to help Chinese volunteer teachers better adapt to the foreign environment, especially the living environment in developing countries. How can volunteers integrate traditional Chinese education standards with local culture? How can volunteers dispel misgivings of certain countries and let Chinese language teaching meet the growing local demand?

At the "2011 Conference of Confucius Institutes in Asia" held in Taegu, South Korea, Xu Lin, director-general of the Office of Chinese Language Council International, also known as Hanban, said that Asia is faced with the problem of uneven development. There are developed countries, such as Japan and South Korea, and also developing countries, such as Cambodia and Sri Lanka.

Certain developing countries are plagued by poor education conditions and teacher shortages. Furthermore, there are a wide variety of languages and cultures in Asia, which makes it very difficult to compile broad applicable Chinese language textbooks.

Language differences

In order to meet the growing worldwide demand for Chinese language teachers, Hanban sent 17,000 Chinese teachers and volunteers abroad from 2005 to 2010. They have made great contributions to the development of Confucius Institutes. Xu said that they have to handle language and cultural differences, and learn to endure loneliness when working abroad.

Shao Yiwu, a cultural counselor with the Chinese embassy in Indonesia, said that there are mainly three problems facing the development of Confucius Institutes based on what he saw in Indonesia. First, most Chinese language teachers and volunteers sent abroad cannot speak the local language, which inevitably affects their teaching style and method. Second, the work of the teachers and volunteers is assisted by various local Chinese associations, and they are scattered throughout the country, making it hard to form an effective management system. Third, their income is relatively low. Certain teachers and volunteers work and live in poor areas, but are not compensated through higher payments.

China has sent the most Chinese language teachers to Thailand, with over 1,000 Chinese language teachers sent to the country every year. Ran Chao, an employee at Hanban's representative office in Thailand, said that most teachers sent abroad are fresh graduates who have never been to foreign countries. They need time to adapt to the new and unfamiliar environment. They are sent to universities, middle schools and elementary schools in various parts of Thailand, and some schools are located in the outskirts or countryside. Cultural differences, language barriers and hard living conditions make the work and lives of these teachers more difficult than they thought.

Cultivation of teachers

Xu said that China faces three challenges in cultivating local teachers. The first is the impact of the International financial crisis. The second is the inability of China's domestic universities to foster sufficient foreign Chinese language teachers. The third is the differences in culture, teaching methods and language systems. These challenges make it difficult to foster qualified teachers locally.

Xu said that to solve these issues, the Confucius Institutes plan to first dispatch domestic teachers to teach overseas, stabilize the number of the Chinese language teachers and increase the support for the training of local teachers in an attempt to lift the number of local, full-time Chinese language teachers to a certain scale over the next 10 years. Shao suggested that to solve this issue, China should step up the cultivation of foreign Chinese language teachers at home, strengthen related training and increase the number of national scholarship quotas and the amount of the scholarship.

Ran said that Hanban has long been aware of this issue during its cooperation with Thailand. China and Thailand jointly initiated a program of cultivating local Chinese language teachers in August 2008. The three-year program will dispatch three groups of Thai teachers to learn related Chinese language courses in China. The Thai teachers are recruited by Thailand's education ministry and include university graduates selected by the education ministry for specific posts as well as existing Chinese language teachers. These trainees will become Chinese language teachers in the basic education field after they return from China, further easing the tight supply of Chinese language teachers.

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