How Pakistan tried to teach its children Mandarin—and failed

Failed attempt.
Failed attempt.
Image: Reuters/Samrang Pring
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A Pakistani programme to teach Mandarin to thousands of its schoolchildren has collapsed spectacularly—but undeterred, authorities have decided to try again.

Perhaps in reciprocity to the massive investments that the Chinese government has been sending westward in the past few years, the government of Pakistan’s Sindh province in 2011 decided to teach Mandarin to school kids.

“Our trade, educational and other relations are growing with China everyday,” Sindh education minister Pir Mazhar-ul-Haq said in 2011 at the unveiling of the policy, “and now it is necessary for our younger generation to have command over their language.”

The plan was to roll out the programme across the province—with a population of over 42 million—by 2013 and make it a compulsory language for students from the sixth grade onwards. In 2014, the Sindh government even allotted Pakistani rupees 121 million ($1.1 million) for the scheme.

But four years later, Pakistan is reportedly still struggling with developing a curriculum and structure for the language’s introduction.

“There were technical issues, which is why the programme has been delayed,” Sindh province’s Khursheed Junejo, the chairperson of the Sindh Assembly’s standing committee on school education, told the Express Tribune newspaper. The report did not elaborate on these “technical” problems.

The province now plans to introduce the programme in the next fiscal year.

School administrators, however, remain rather skeptical. ”Urdu, English, Arabic and Sindhi are already being taught in schools,” Syed Khalid Shah, who heads the private schools management association in Sindh, told the Express Tribune. “How many more languages will be added to our syllabus besides the professional subjects? We cannot afford it.”

In March this year, the Sindh government signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese education department of China’s Sichuan province, a month before Chinese president Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan. According to this agreement, Mandarin will become compulsory in the province’s schools within the next three years.

By then, some of China’s promised $46 billion worth of investment in Pakistan may also materialise.