In a week marked by a high-profile meeting between President Bush and China’s President Hu Jintao, the College Board signed an agreement with the government of China intended to boost the numbers of Chinese-language teachers in American public schools through teaching exchanges, professional-development programs, and new instructional materials.
The agreement, announced April 19, is expected to help build Chinese-language programs in some 2,000 public schools over the next five years. Currently, only a few hundred schools in the K-12 sector offer instruction in the language. (“Students Taking Spanish, French; Leaders Pushing Chinese, Arabic,” March 29, 2006)
“This is about helping more students learn about the language and culture of China,” College Board President Gaston Caperton said in an interview. “It’s a breakthrough. … This will boost [American schools’ capacity for] Chinese-language instruction tremendously.”
The New York City-based College Board operates the Advanced Placement program.
Under the agreement, 150 guest teachers from China will teach in U.S. schools over the next several years. Some 300 American teachers will receive financial support and other resources to pursue certification for teaching Chinese, and several hundred others will have the chance to travel to China to learn more about the language and culture.
‘A Great Leap’
Advocates of international studies and improved foreign-language instruction called the agreement historic.
“This is a very bold plan, and it’s going to take a lot to implement it,” said Michael Levine, who directs the international education program for the New York City-based Asia Society. “But if implemented well, this plan, with a lot of help from others, could make possible a great leap forward in America’s understanding that this is a critical language and culture.”
The Asia Society promotes international studies—and teaching about Asian cultures and languages, specifically—in public schools as essential for building the nation’s global competitiveness.
The College Board previously collaborated with the Chinese Ministry of Education to design the Advanced Placement course and test in Chinese language and culture, which will be offered for the first time next school year.
A College Board survey found that at least 2,400 high schools were interested in offering the AP course, but that most lacked the resources and staff to do so.
China’s education minister, Zhou Ji, called the agreement a “remarkable effort in promoting the Sino-American educational cooperation and exchanges, and strengthening the mutual understanding and friendship between our two nations,” according to a statement from last week’s event. China has similar projects in other countries.
While the initiative is a positive step toward building a pool of well-qualified teachers and expanding Chinese-language offerings, it will not make a dent in the need or demand for such programs nationally, said Cynthia Y. Ning, the executive director of the Chinese Language Teachers Association, housed at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
“This is a big step up from what is currently the case, but far below what is happening overseas” to provide Chinese-language offerings, Ms. Ning said. “Even to meet this demand, we’re highly stressed. People shouldn’t have overblown expectations … that this will begin to give us everything we need” to build strong Chinese programs.
The university’s Center for Chinese Studies has received a grant from the Education Ministry to train teachers from China who are also fluent in English to adapt their skills to American classrooms. That program, Ms. Ning said, could possibly produce 20 qualified teachers a year.
“The whole thing about language is that [teaching a foreign] language is really, really hard to do well,” she said. “There are no quick fixes.”