Pupils as young as nine will start learning Chinese from next year, a meeting of the education and families committee heard today.
Shetland’s bid to become part of the Confucius Classroom has been successful, it was confirmed last week, and planning for the innovative project will now start.
Jointly funded by the Chinese and Scottish governments, the move to introduce the Mandarin language and Chinese culture to the isles will not cost the local authority anything.
Global citizenship development officer for Shetland and Aberdeen Lewie Peterson said the prospect of the Confucius Classroom was “really exciting”.
Mr Peterson said: “It’s nice to have some positive news, it’s a really good opportunity. It’s uncharted territory for us and [something] exotic.”
Initially, one Chinese teacher and the teaching materials will be based at a “hub” in Sandwick Junior High School, but travel throughout the isles to other schools, teaching upper primary youngsters.
The project is expected to last two years, and an application can be made for a Chinese classroom assistant, if it is deemed desirable. Looking further ahead, partnerships between Shetland and Chinese schools could be set up.
Mr Peterson said he had heard from colleagues that the project was one of the best run and resourced to be involved in, and was also “very timely”, as the whole method of modern language teaching is currently being re-examined nationally.
Modern language teaching had previously concentrated on Europe, he said, but now: “We’re living in an increasingly globalised world. China will be the next superpower and it’s important to engage with the Chinese in business and environmental issues.”
He added that a lot of work between the Chinese and Scottish governments had already gone on, and Education Scotland was prioritising the Mandarin language in schools, as well as Chinese culture.
The details of the teaching, whether it will be in weekly classes throughout a term or in “blocks”, have yet to be worked out, and the planning stage is expected to take a year. The project will “start small”, said Mr Peterson, and will initially focus on schools that have shown an interest. One of these will be Mid Yell Junior High School, whose head teacher Mark Lawson visited China as part of the agreement about the Confucius Classroom. He will now be expected to help with the implementation of the project.
Councillor Peter Campbell said it was “very positive”, and councillor George Smith said it was a “massive project”.