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The future is Mandarin..

...if government target of worldwide links for every school can be achieved. Brendan O'Malley reports.

The Government wants every school to make links with others worldwide as part of an international education strategy to be unveiled on Monday.

It has an ambitious target of persuading 7,000 schools to earn one of the British Council's International School Awards within three years, with every school doing so by 2010.

The awards scheme gives schools a three-year kitemark for involving pupils of all ages across a range of subjects in extensive international curriculum links.

In a report, Putting the world back in world-class education, Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, will spell out how teachers can give an international dimension to school life and promote understanding of the world by building relationships with teachers and pupils abroad.

In an interview with The TES, Mr Clarke said such links can cover a wide range of activities from penpals to video conferencing, and from joint projects and exchange visits to the sharing of teaching expertise. "The story of it all is that you need an enthusiastic teacher to really lead it, somebody to make it happen," he said.

A key tool for teachers will be the Department for Education and Skills website,, an international introduction agency for schools. So far 1,600 schools from 66 nations have signed up, and there have been more than six million hits on the site. The Government has formed strategic partnerships with 27 countries - including the United States, Saudi Arabia and Ghana, as well as much of Europe - to promote a dramatic increase in participation, and is seeking more.

Mr Clarke hopes that one result of promoting an international dimension in school life will be to reverse the alarming decline in pupils taking foreign languages.

He said he was not surprised by a survey last month by CILT, the National Centre for Languages, which showed that more than a third of teenagers are giving up on languages at the age of 14.

"The truth is that language teaching is only effective if it is rooted very early, in primary education, and the position we inherited on primary education was very poor indeed. That's where we have to put the resources," said Mr Clarke.

British schools are starting international links in a variety of subjects - a Cumbrian school studies the Day of the Dead in world religion with a Mexican partner, one Nottinghamshire school is organising festivals for deaf children as part of a sports leadership project with schools in Buenos Aires, and schools across north Lincolnshire are doing geography location studies on Dalian, a rapidly developing port in north-east China. However, all international links can create language study spin-offs.

Mr Clarke is fluent in French - he does radio interviews in the language - and can speak Spanish and read Spain's newspapers. He also has O-level German but claims to be no linguist himself.

He says he was staggered when he visited a languages specialist school in Oldham a few months ago and found Mandarin being taught. "I didn't believe I would ever see such a thing in a British school. We've been backward in this area but what we have to do is to keep proper options open and excite people to want to do it."

Go Global, a 16-page supplement on putting the international dimension into school life, comes free with this issue of The TES

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