Mandarin classes in 22 schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) across the country have come to an abrupt halt, as the external affairs ministry ended its contract with Hanban, China’s national office to teach the language, sending back the Chinese teachers without intimating the schools.
The growing economic and cultural clout of the Chinese had prompted CBSE schools in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Jaipur and Raipur to offer Mandarin as the third language for Class 6 to Class 8 on a pilot basis in 2013-14.
But the 22 teachers from China, who were deputed to teach the language, were asked to return to their country before the current academic year could end. “The teachers had to be sent back after the pilot period got over. We had asked the ministry of external affairs to extend the programme for two years, but we did not get any response,” said YSK Seshukumar, in-charge chairman, CBSE.
Caught in the middle, students, who had opted for Mandarin, have now switched to other languages. “I had to choose between Hindi and French. As I find Hindi tough I will have to take up French,” said Yashwini Vanjani, 12, student of RN Podar School, Mumbai, adding she has enrolled for vacation classes to learn the new language before the school reopens.
Experts said it is better to learn the language from Chinese teachers. “It is important to have a native Chinese teacher as Mandarin is a tonal language, which means the same word can mean something different depending on the tone,” said Nazia Vasi, chief executive officer, Inchin Closer, a private institute endorsed by the Consulate of People’s Republic of China to teach mandarin. “The word ‘ma’ can mean either a mother or a horse.”
While the Consulate of People’s Republic of China in Mumbai did not respond to emails, a senior official at the consulate said there are a few native Chinese teachers in the country. “Chinese nationals have a hard time getting visas for a long stay in India. It is the Indian policy,” said a senior official from the consulate.
With no backing from the CBSE, schools such as the Delhi-based Salwan Public School have discontinued teaching Mandarin. “With the new government focusing on national languages, we do not know what the future holds for foreign languages in schools,” said school principal Indu Khetarpal. “We are awaiting instructions from the CBSE. There is a huge demand for Mandarin from a business point of view, as it is considered to be the language of the future. Students interested in working in cities like Singapore or Hong Kong had opted for it.”
RN Podar School, Mumbai, too, has dropped the language from its curriculum, but it continues teaching the language as an extra-curricular subject on parents’ demand. “We told the parents the Chinese teachers have returned to their country and proposed another foreign language in Class 8, but parents remained adamant on teaching the language,” said Avnita Bir, school principal. “After struggling to find native Chinese teachers, we finally hired an Indian teacher.”
Schools from other boards, too, are struggling to offer the language. “It is very difficult to pick up the language; the accent and the script are tough. Teachers who are fluent in both Chinese and English are hard to find,” said Pratibha Mirashi, managing director, NSS Hillspring International School, Tardeo, that introduced Mandarin a couple of years ago, but discontinued as they were very few takers.