Chinese in the classroom


Mandarin could become a compulsory part of the school curriculum in the Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital, and the surrounding province of Sindh, in a move that is further evidence of the warming relations between Islamabad and Beijing. The authorities want Mandarin to be taught by 2013 to all secondary school children in the region, according to a Sindh government statement.  It may be wishful thinking in a province where over 40 percent of people cannot read at all. But as a sign of China’s growing influence it is significant.
Mandarin will be added to a curriculum that already covers Urdu, Sindhi and English as compulsory languages but the ambitious proposal has raised questions about the pressure to be placed on teaching resources in the conflict and flood-hit region. “Our trade, educational and other relations are growing with China everyday and now it is necessary for our younger generation to have command over their language,” said senior provincial education minister Pir Mazharul Haq last week. The decision is another a grand gesture at a time when relations between the two countries seem never to have been closer, with Pakistan casting China as “its all-weather friend”,  in contrast to western allies that it often sees as duplicitous.
2011 has been grandiosely dubbed as the year of ‘Pakistan-China Friendship’:  in a visit to Beijing in May, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani declared that his government was “happy to see China shape the 21st-century world”.
Sino-Pakistani trade is estimated at $8.7 billion a year and Beijing estimates this will rise to over $15 billion in three years. This is still dwarfed by India’s $60 billion bilateral trade with China last year, but the Sindh authorities have surprisingly stolen a march on their Indian neighbours by suggesting the plan for its 4,000 state secondary schools.
Mandarin is the most widely spoken first language on earth with over 1.37 billion speakers. Proficiency may soon be key for competitiveness in the international labour market, but the announcement has been greeted with skepticism in a country which boasts very few native or foreign Mandarin speakers and in a state where Sindhi, the regional language, still dominates over the national language of Urdu.
Security problems, chronic-levels of teacher absenteeism, and poor facilities plague Sindh’s government schools, which were described by one Pakistani educationist as “dysfunctional at all levels”.
The bizarre nature of the announcement is further highlighted by the fact that the Sindh’s schools would join the ranks of Sweden in touting Mandarin as a compulsory foreign language. But whereas the Swedish education system is widely hailed as one of the best in the world and 85 percent of the population speak English, a third of all of Pakistani children receive no secondary education, according to the World Bank.
Sindh’s percentage of literate people – defined as the ability to read and write in any language – also dropped by one percent to 58 percent in 2009-10.
The Chinese government is naturally keen to have Mandarin become Asia’s lingua franca. Beijing funds the spread of Mandarin learning and culture through over 320 ‘Confucius Institutes’ – a Chinese equivalent of the Alliance Française – across 96 countries.
Despite bilateral bonhomie and China’s growing economic presence in Pakistan, the spread of Mandarin faces cultural as well as practical problems. It is unlikely the Chinese language will displace English as the language considered most valuable for career prospects in Pakistan.


  1. learning of languages is not bad act–we must learn Chinese language because it is our neighbor and hate corruption

  2. I think we all Pakistani should Learn Chinese Language because they are our best neighbour and most trusted friend as welll as Brothers …..Long Live Sino Pak !!!

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