The Ugandan Ministry of Education has announced that it is adding compulsory Mandarin language lessons to its secondary school curriculum, starting 2019.
According to the ministry’s National Curriculum Development Center (NCDC), the program will be piloted in 35 select schools with future plans to roll it out to more as resources become available. 35 teachers, who were trained for nine months in 2018, will spearhead the classes.
The Chinese government is supporting the program by supplying materials, including textbooks, illustrations, as well as tutors. The Mandarin classes will be compulsory for two years of senior secondary school, and subsequently become optional.
Of course, according to Ms. Esther Mbayo, the Minister for Presidency, the decision to teach Chinese in schools was informed by the increasing bilateral trade and the growing friendship between the two countries.
In Africa, Uganda becomes the second country to introduce Mandarin into school curriculums. South Africa started Mandarin lessons at some schools in 2014, and by September 2018, lessons were available in 44 public schools around the country.
Since 2004, the number of Chinese-government funded Confucius Institutes in Africa has jumped from zero to 48, and more young Africans are headed to China for education — encouraged by scholarships and other subsidies, even as China’s economic influence grows across the continent.
There has been some controversy around whether the Confucius Institutes are purely educational or also tools of Chinese government propaganda, particularly when they are integrated into some African universities’ degree curriculum — by the 2019/20 school year, Uganda plans to introduce the first bachelor’s degree in Chinese language and culture.
And honestly, given how much African countries have loaned from China (with important infrastructure as collateral), this is a step in the right direction.