Let poor do Chinese, urges minister

10th March 2006 at 00:00

The government is promoting learning of Chinese in the disadvantaged areas hit by last year's riots as a route to a better career.

The call came as education minister Gilles de Robien appointed France's first national education inspector of Chinese, the fastest growing foreign language in secondary schools.

Three months after the riots in deprived suburban estates, Azouz Begag, junior minister for promotion of equal opportunities, said more teaching of Chinese would be an important part of the government's programme for "priority" schools in deprived areas.

Nearly 12,000 pupils in French schools - 10,000 at secondary level - are learning Chinese, up from 2,500 a decade ago, and it is on the point of becoming the fifth most common foreign language studied.

Mr de Robien said the new inspector, sinologist Jo l Bel Lassen, would oversee training and monitoring of the increased number of teachers of Chinese, and the quality of teaching programmes. But he would also be responsible for introducing Chinese to pupils in some priority schools, which receive extra support to cope with problems of deprivation (TES, February 17).

Mr Begag said pupils living in poor areas "must be able to sign up to the most dynamic trends in world development". While some might find the link between equal opportunities and Chinese surprising, he said it made sense in the wake of the riots. "It's so urgent and expectations are so high that we must be daring," he said. Learning Chinese could be a "decisive opportunity".

An education ministry report said Chinese can work in priority schools because the language is "neutral, makes the memory work, requires rigour and a sense of combination".

Its demands also improve mastery of French; many children of foreign origins were already used to speaking more than one language; and it was seen as cool to speak it. The report also pointed out that Chinese-speaking workers are in increasing demand as trade with China grows.

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