When more than 100 students of the St. Stephen’s Primary School graduated recently after successfully completing a four-month foreign language pilot project, they represented the youngest cohort of Barbadian pupils to learn Mandarin and Chinese culture under the fledgling University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus’ Confucius Institute programme.
The 121 students from Class one and Class two took sessions each Friday, starting on February 26, 2016, and ending on March 18, 2016; resuming on April 15, and ending on 24 June, 2016. The ten weeks of classes constituted a total of 14 contact hours per class in which the students were exposed to Chinese language and culture through the use of song, dance and art.
The UWI Cave Hill intends to broaden this project at St Stephen’s School in the coming academic year, 2016-2017, and also introduce a year-long programme at the same time to nearby Ellerslie Secondary School.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, June Chandler, whowitnessed the graduates participate in a number of cultural performances during their graduation ceremony last Friday, noted in her feature address that it was evident that young children were far more adept atacquiring the sounds and rhythms of a new language when compared with those who start at a later age.
She also challenged the students to make a difference by becoming teachers and taking what they have learned in the programme into their respective homes, sharing their new knowledge with their families.
She hoped that the programme would be rolled out at other primary schools since “early immersion not only allows for more time for language learning but it also allows our primary school pupils to attain a higher level of proficiency by the time they enter secondary school.”
She added, “The world is fast becoming a global economy, it means that our citizens must have a competitive advantage and becoming fluent in more than one language achieves this.”
The permanent secretary said that it will take time and greater cooperation to fully integrate the speaking of Chinese into the local society but to quote Confucius ‘‘it’s not how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop.”
Campus Registrar, Ken Walters, told the students that as the Caribbean’s relationship with China grows, their ability to speak Mandarin and understand Chinese culture will be increasingly valuable.
“Who knows, you may end up studying in China, doing business in China, even living in China. You will all be better equipped to explain Barbados and the Caribbean to our Chinese friends.”
He said, when The UWI Cave Hill established the Confucius Institute last year, it wanted to provide an opportunity not only for university students to learn a new language but to make this opportunity available as widely as possible.