Are we building the necessary bridges to our children's futures? Image: buddhadl/iStockPhoto.com.
What would it take to have five percent of American high school
students learning Chinese by 2015? This essay recommends a national
commitment and investments in teaching Chinese language and culture.
Created by Asia Society, the report documents a growing consensus among
national security and business leaders, educators and foreign language
experts. Its analysis of the current status of Chinese language
instruction concludes that the current infrastructure to support
recruitment of students and teachers as well as the growth of high
quality programs is woefully inadequate. The study suggests short- and
across public and private sectors are recognizing the rise of Asia as
one of the central facts of the twenty-first century. China, with its
tremendous economic growth and emergence as a social and political
leader in the region, is fundamental to this shift. Given these
changes, the task of increasing the number of American students who can
functional proficiency in Chinese is undeniably urgent. Interest in
learning Chinese is steadily growing among American youth, but the
number of existing school programs is small and the present
infrastructure to meet this demand is weak.
In order to address this disparity between need and limited capacity
for teaching Chinese language, Asia Society convened a meeting in
April 2005 to address a critical question: What would it take to have 5
percent of American high school students learning Chinese by 2015? This
report is based on a background paper prepared for the meeting as well
as the resulting discussion.
If we are to build the infrastructure to support a K16 pipeline of
Chinese-language learners to meet national needs, three critical issues
must be addressed:
- creating a supply of Chinese-language teachers;
- increasing the number and quality of school programs; and
- developing appropriate curriculum, materials, and assessments, including technology-based delivery systems.
During the meeting, important new developments in the field as well as
some short- and long-term strategies were identified. The report
discusses these issues and potential solutions in greater detail, but the key points were as follows:
Tap into Major Developments to Advance the Field. The following initiatives lay a solid foundation upon which the field can begin to expand its capacity:
- Advanced Placement (AP) Course and Examination in Chinese
Language (Mandarin) and Culture to be offered nationally to high
schools by the College Board beginning in fall 2006;
- CHENGO, an online game-based program for beginning Chinese,
developed jointly by the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic
of China and the U.S. Department of Education and availablefree of charge to pilot schools; and program in local K–12 schools.
- The Chinese K16 Pipeline Project of the National Security Education
Program (NSEP), which will establish a third university
Chinese-language flagship program that includes a model feeder
- Take Both Short- and Long-Term Approaches to Create a Supply of Qualified Chinese-Language Teachers.
Lack of teachers is the key bottleneck to building capacity in Chinese.
In the short term, to expedite the creation of a pool of qualifi ed
Chinese teachers,states should work with institutions of higher education to create
high-quality, “fast-track,” alternate routes to teacher certification
for Chinese speakers in the United States; pilot visiting-faculty
programs for teachers from China; use technology and multimedia to
supplement the shortage of full-time Chinese teachers in classrooms;
and explore a multistate system to certify Chinese-language teachers.
In the long term, it will be necessary for higher education
institutions to invest in full-length teacherpreparation programs, similar to those used for other languages, and to
extend professional development opportunities to Chinese-language
teachers. We need to take unconventional approaches in this area,
building supply and demand simultaneously.
- Leverage Growing Interest to Expand and Improve Chinese-Language Programs.
The level of interest in establishing Chinese language programs in K12
schools is rising rapidly. A 2004 survey found that 2,400 high schools
would be interested in offering theAP in Chinese language and culture. Most of these schools, however, do
not currently offer Chinese. In order to translate this interest into
quality programs, best practices from existing programs must be
disseminated through a handbook on establishing Chinese-languageprograms and through the development of a technical assistance center
or network. Beyond this, reaching a goal of 5 percent of U.S. students
studying Chinese by 2015 will also require public education campaigns
to raise awareness among educators, students, and parents of the
growing importance of Chinese; competitive seed funds to make programs
available in less affluent school districts; and articulated K–12 or
K–16 models to demonstrate how students can attain high levels of
proficiency and achievement.
- Incorporate Research and Technology to Develop Effective Curriculum, Materials, Assessment, and Delivery Systems. Althoughthe supply of teaching materials is growing, they are unevenly
developed. Appropriate research-based materials, curriculum, and
assessments must be developed in accordance with widely divergent
levels of students and types of programs. Innovative ways of using
media and technology (television, distance learning, online courses,
and communities) to enhance language instruction and broaden access
should have high priority.
- Make a Long-Term Commitment to Invest in the Future.
The expansion of capacity in Chinese language will require
innovationsand investments similar to those in other fields deemed
the nation. The National Defense Education Act, passed in 1958, after
the launching of Sputnik, supported a range of strategies to meet
science and foreign-language needs, including teacher training,
scholarships for study abroad, and seed funds for language programs in
K–12 schools. Today’s economic and national security challenges mandate
a larger pool of highly profi cient speakers of a wider range of world languages, including Chinese. It is crucial that our
national language investments go beyond the current support of
languages in higher education to include K–12 schools. We need to begin
language study in the early grades, use more intensive research-based
approaches, build on the communities of heritage-language learners, and
utilize new advantages that technology, easier travel, and virtual
connections to schools in China allow.
This report lays out the critical issues that must be addressed and
makes some suggestions about how to do so. Its purpose is to stimulate
broader discussion, support, and action to expand our capacity in
Chinese, a language we as a nation can no longer ignore.
Authors: Vivien Stewart and Shuhan Wang