Challenge to exclusion of traditional Mandarin characters in Chinese language Leaving Cert

Student (15) born in Taiwan challenging requirement to use simplified version of language

A secondary school student has brought a High Court challenge against an alleged refusal to accept answers given in traditional Chinese characters in the Leaving Certificate Mandarin Chinese examination.

The court heard that the curriculum requires that written answers given in the examination must be in simplified Mandarin characters, which are predominantly used in the People’s Republic of China, Singapore and Malaysia.

However, Ethan Boone (15), who was born in Taiwan where traditional Mandarin characters are used, has challenged that requirement which he says is unlawful and illogical. While he has lived outside of Taiwan for most of his life, his Taiwanese mother has been teaching him Mandarin using traditional Chinese characters, which the court heard are also used in Hong Kong and Macau.

Other languages

Suing through his mother, Cathy Ho, the applicant, from Clonee in Co Dublin, claims that the failure to allow for traditional characters in the marking of the Leaving Certificate exam is unlawful, not inclusive and contrasts with the treatment of other languages by the Minister for Education and the State Examinations Committee.


It is also claimed that the Minister has unlawfully consulted with the Chinese ministry for education and that the Chinese embassy is drawing up the curriculum for Mandarin Chinese.

It is claimed that the Department of Education entered a 2020 memo of understanding regarding the introduction of teaching Mandarin Chinese in Irish secondary schools with the ministry in China.

This agreement also included the recruitment of a Mandarin adviser, whose salary is paid by the ministry, who would work with the Department of Education to develop Mandarin courses. The embassy in Dublin was updated regarding development of the course in 2019, it is also claimed.

It is claimed that the 1998 Education Act allows the Minister to prescribe the curriculum for subjects following consultation with parties including trade unions, teachers, parents’ associations and school patrons. The Act, it is alleged, does not permit consultation with a foreign government or ministry.

Ethan claims that the Minister has refused his request to accept traditional characters. His counsel, Derek Shortall SC, told the court that several other similar challenges over the refusal to accept traditional characters in the exam are likely to be made before the courts.

Orders and reliefs

In judicial review proceedings against the Minister for Education, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the State Examinations Commission, Ireland and the Attorney General the applicant seeks various orders and reliefs.

These include an order requiring both the Minister and the commission to ensure that the marking of Leaving Cert Mandarin Chinese exams shall consider any answer written in Traditional Mandarin Chinese characters.

He also seeks various declarations including that the rules governing the examination of Leaving Certificate Chinese are unlawful, unreasonable and contrary to the Constitution, EU law, the 1998 Education Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.

He further seeks a declaration that a circular regarding the Leaving Cert Chinese examination impermissibly takes into account a memo of understanding between China’s ministry of education and the Irish Department of Education for the introduction of Mandarin Chinese language teaching in Irish secondary schools.

At Monday’s sitting of the High Court, Mr Justice Anthony Barr said he was prepared to grant the applicant permission, on an ex-parte basis, to bring his challenge. The judge said that while he was prepared to grant leave, he did have “considerable sympathy” for the State respondents given that people from China and other countries favour the simplified Mandarin characters.

The judge added that the proceedings themselves are “very unusual”. The matter was made returnable to a date in October.