On May 7, 2019, the Zambian government entered into an agreement with the Confucius Institute of China to officially introduce the Chinese language as a taught and examinable subject at both junior and senior secondary school level.
The signing of the agreement meant that the Zambian education curriculum will be reviewed and finalized in order to pave way for the first ever Chinese language examinations to be administered under the Examinations Council of Zambia (ECZ) in 2020.
Ministry of Higher Education Permanent Secretary Mabvuto Sakala signed the agreement on behalf of government at the Confucius Institute Headquarters in Hanban, China. The Ministry of General Education started implementing the teaching of Chinese as a foreign language in 10 pilot schools which were carefully identified and selected in each province. He said the introduction of the Chinese language in the Zambian education system will not only strengthen the current bilateral relationship but will also increase bilateral exchanges between the two countries.
However, this move by government was received with mixed feelings as people questioned the criteria that was used in arriving at the decision. Some stakeholders claimed that the introduction of Chinese language as a taught subject was the first step in China’s quest to takeover Zambia as the country is reportedly owing the Asian nation over USD US$5 billion.
Christopher Chomba, who is United Prosperous and Peaceful Zambia (UPPZ) Mandevu Constituency Chairperson said government should not introduce the Chinese language as a taught subject in Zambia as the move poses a very great danger to the country’s sovereignty. He explained that even though Zambia enjoys a good bilateral relationship with China, the introduction of Mandarin could lead to Chinese invasion in Zambia and affect the posterity of the nation as it may confuse the education system.
Meanwhile, the Teaching Council of Zambia (TCZ) welcomed government move arguing that the introduction of the Chinese language should not scare Zambians as it was a blessing in disguise to those students who have aspirations of studying in Chinese universities. TCZ Registrar Ebby Mubanga said the introduction of Chinese language was going to bring value to the country’s education system because Zambia is part of the global village.
According to statistics by the World Languages and Cultures, a total of 873 million native Chinese people and another 178 million people worldwide speak Chinese Mandarin which brings the total of Mandarin speakers to 1.051 billion people in the world. This is by far the most spoken language in the world followed by English at 510 million and Hindi at 410 million people.
In addition, China is the world’s second largest economy, meaning its international influence is huge. According to the Ministry of Commerce and Trade in Zambia, China is the largest investor in Zambia with more than 280 companies in the country. It is also expected that China will remain an important trade, investment and economic partner for many years to come.
As such, the introduction of Chinese language in Zambian schools is one strategic move that will not only foster strong relations between the two nations but will definitely create more value for the local people since China has invested a lot in the Zambian economy.
Most of the massive infrastructural projects that are being undertaken across the country are under the auspices of Chinese companies. Learning of the Chinese language will make it easier for local people to conduct business with the Chinese. Most Zambian business men buy different goods from China and as such the learning of the language will strengthen trade relations between the two nations.
Not only this, the teaching of Chinese language in Zambian schools will create employment for those proficient speakers of the language. The majority of Chinese companies operating in Zambia are in dire need of workers who can speak the Chinese language fluently so as to make it easier.
Furthermore, we do agree with the Teaching Council of Zambia (TCZ) who said the introduction of the language as a taught subject will help students who have ambitions of studying in Chinese universities. It is a requirement for anyone who intends to study in Chinese universities to first learn the Chinese language for one year before they can proceed to the next level of their studies.
However, we do not agree with the sentiments that were made by stakeholders including Christopher Chomba from UPPZ, who said the introduction of the Chinese language is a first step in China’s quest to colonize Zambia. In as much as Zambia owes China so much money, it has not been China’s intentions to take over the country. Moreover, there are currently two international languages that are being taught as examination subjects in Zambia. These languages include French and English. The learning of these aforementioned languages has not in any way compromised the sovereignty of Zambia although English was adopted from our former colonial master British.
It is high time that the Zambian government take necessary measure that will ensure the successful implementation of the Chinese language in Zambian schools. One of the measures that government should take is to employ Zambians who have studied the language as well as some Chinese nationals to train locals not only in speaking the language but teaching it.
Government should ensure that the local people are prioritized when it comes to awarding of jobs. Employing locals will mean that the money that they will be paid will stay in the Zambian economy as well as used to honor various tax obligations.
The government should also ensure that the Chinese language is introduced as an optional subject. If the subject is introduced as an optional learners will be given freedom of choice and it will be successfully implemented as only those who are eager to learn will be able to understand it. It should be known that Mandarin is one of those complex language to know and it requires earners to have sharp learning abilities.
Chinese may well become indispensable; it may leave those who don’t learn it behind, as Beijing would have the world believe. But, as growing numbers of Zambian students enroll in Mandarin courses, it seems that, either way, Chinese is already well on its way to finding a place among the assortment of lingua franca that calls Africa home.
It is in our considered view that the introduction of this amazing language will contribute to the development of Zambia and further enhance strong bilateral relations between Lusaka and Beijing.