Kids get tongue around Chinese as East meets West in schoolsNovember 2, 2012 - 8:00am
It is a scene that is repeated in classrooms throughout the country, and has been for generations – the teacher walks in, says a greeting, and the class responds as one. The same . . . but yet, completely different.
It is just past 11.45am on a Tuesday when Sixth Class in Scoil Mhuire in Maree greets their teacher, not with ‘good morning’, but with the very different ‘ni hao’ – ‘hello’ in the Chinese language, Mandarin.
The regular Sixth Class teacher in the school is Cathal Duffy, but he steps aside for 45 minutes or so every Tuesday for Jia-Li, a young Chinese student who travels up from Cork every week to deliver Mandarin classes in three neighbouring Galway schools – Scoil Mhuire in Maree; Scoil Mhuire in Clarinbridge; and Calasanctius College in Oranmore.
Jia is studying at Shanghai University to become a teacher, specialising in teaching Chinese as a foreign language, and as part of her course, she is spending this academic year attached to the Confucius Institute in University College Cork.
As part of her internship/volunteer course work, she travels to Galway every Tuesday to teach in the three Galway schools, starting in Maree. She gets the 8am bus from Patrick’s Quay in Cork, and is met at the bus-stop opposite GMIT by Dermot Cleary, the principal at the Maree school.
“It is a long day for her coming up on the bus from Cork early on Tuesday morning, and not getting back until late in the evening, it is basically a 12-hour day, so we really appreciate the effort she is putting in,” says Dermot, as he puts the kettle on in the school staffroom.
So where did the idea of introducing classes in Mandarin to some of the pupils under his care come from?
“This is something I looked at a couple of years ago, but for whatever reason, it just didn’t come to fruition. We would also be on the lookout for new things to introduce the children to, but it just didn’t happen a couple of years ago.
“This time around, however, Fidelma Healy Eames had a contact with Professor Hong Fan in the Confucius Institute in Cork, and it emerged from there, and the children absolutely love it,” he says.
Senator Eames – who lives about a kilometre away from the school – says it is clear that the workplace is changing, and with Mandarin set to make it on to a revamped Junior Certificate syllabus, she felt the time was right to introduce a pilot project to see how Irish children took to the new language.
“I have received very positive feedback from the three schools, so I am delighted it is going so well. Mandarin will be one of the new short courses on the Junior Cert, so it was time to look at rolling out a pilot project, and I had a contact in Professor Fan Hong in Cork, and it evolved from there,” she explains.
The initial project is being run on a 10-week basis, from October up until Christmas, though all sides are keen for it to continue in the New Year.
“It is 12-hour day, and I tired in the morning at the start, but not now, I used to it,” says Jia on the short trip from Maree to Clarinbridge for her second class of the day. “I like it [teaching] very much, the children very kind and very interested,” she explains.
The interest is certainly there from the children’s point of view – during her class in Maree NS there is a tremendous, and constant, interaction between herself and the class.
“Miss, what’s Australia in Mandarin?”; “Miss, what does Jackie Chan’s name mean in Chinese?”; “Miss, how long does it take to write a sentence in Chinese letters?” are just some of the questions asked by the 26-strong class. The interest amongst the children is clear to see.
“Being honest, we didn’t know how it would go, but you can see how the children are really getting in to it, and it is something we would like to continue and develop,” Dermot says after the class.
“We would always encourage giving the children an introduction to other cultures – some of the classes learn Spanish, for example. Education is as much about that as it is about the curriculum, so we were delighted to take this opportunity to introduce Chinese to our Sixth Class.
“You can see that the workplace has changed so much in the past few years, there is much more global contact now, so we jumped at the chance to give the children even a small grounding in the language of a country that has become so important on a commercial scale.
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.