Adviser paid by Chinese government to oversee Leaving Cert language course

Academics ‘wary’ of deal between Department of Education and Chinese ministry

An adviser paid by the Chinese government is to have an oversight role in the new Leaving Certificate subject of Mandarin Chinese as part of an agreement between the Department of Education and its counterpart in Beijing.

Under the terms of the memorandum of understanding (MOU), the Chinese education ministry will nominate and, with the agreement of the department, appoint an adviser for the Mandarin Chinese language course in secondary schools.

The Beijing ministry will also provide qualified teachers from China to teach the course, with the teachers being paid by the Department of Education as per the terms and conditions that apply to local teachers.

The adviser will, amongst other matters, facilitate teacher orientation and induction, provide “exemplars of good practice” for teaching the new course, and liaise between Post-Primary Languages Ireland and the Confucius Institutes .


The adviser may also, according to the MOU, teach modules on master-level teacher education courses, assist with the preparation of the Leaving Cert exam papers, and consider how a teacher exchange programme with China might be established.


According to the MOU, the department will ensure that the adviser and the Chinese teachers do “not organise or attend any activities that conflict with this MOU”. It is not clear from the MOU what this clause means.

The agreement, which was signed in August of last year, was published on the department’s website on Tuesday following media queries about its content.

Dr Isabella Jackson, an assistant professor of Chinese History at Trinity College Dublin, said the arrangement was "not ideal" but it could be argued that until there are more "homegrown" Mandarin teachers available, it might be the only way to run the subject. "I wouldn't want it to be a long-term thing," she said.

Dr David O’Brien, an Irish academic who lectures in the East Asian studies faculty of Ruhr University Bochum, in Germany, said the agreement with the Chinese education ministry should be looked at carefully.

“Given the importance the Chinese give to the teaching of their ideological understanding of the world and the role they see education having in the construction of their worldview, then [the MOU] is problematic,” he said.

History and culture

Senator Malcolm Byrne, of Fianna Fáil, said it was a good thing that young Irish people were learning about Chinese history and culture. However, the department would have to ensure that the arrangement with China was not used as a "propaganda tool" by the Chinese, he said.

A former language adviser to New Zealand, Prof Yu Wang, of the College of International Education, Capital Normal University in Beijing, is in the process of being appointed as an adviser here, a spokesman for the department said.

He said there was no link between the MOU and the fact that those taking the new exam in Mandarin will not be able to use the traditional Chinese script, and must only use the simplified script introduced by the Beijing regime in the 1950s.

“The Chinese government had absolutely no influence on the development of the specification” for the course, he said.

A group called the Leaving Certificate Mandarin Chinese Concern Group is urging Minister for Education Norma Foley to allow both types of script be used in the Mandarin exam, which begins next year.

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Dublin said the content of the new exam was totally decided by the Irish Department of Education.

“It should be pointed out that the simplified Mandarin Chinese character is universally used in the mainland of China as well as in Singapore,” he added.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent