Department briefed Chinese embassy while working on LC Mandarin course

Meeting in July 2019 attended by staff from Confucius Institutes at UCD and UCC

Officials from the Department of Education briefed staff from the Chinese embassy and the Confucius Institute while working on the introduction of a new leaving certificate course in Mandarin, newly-released minutes show.

A meeting between embassy staff and officials from the department took place in July of 2019, prior to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) being signed the following year between the Chinese and Irish education ministries.

The meeting was attended by staff from the Confucius Institutes at UCD and UCC – cultural institutions which are associated with by a State body in Beijing. The MoU that followed will see an adviser paid by the Chinese government take up an oversight role in the new Leaving Certificate subject of Mandarin Chinese.

The minutes of the meeting, which was convened to discuss the introduction of Mandarin as leaving cert subject, show that officials told the embassy that it would be “happy to consider” any proposals it or the Chinese government might have on implementing the new subject.

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A list of possible measures, shared with the embassy afterwards, outlines the role of the adviser which was ultimately created, as well as exchange programmes, and outline plans that would have seen China provide up to 10 fully qualified teachers, who could work in either the junior cycle or leaving certificate courses in Chinese.

The Confucius Institute in UCD also advised the department that it had carried out a survey on demand from schools for a course, and curriculum design. The minutes note that the Chinese embassy “agreed they will provide proposals to the Chinese Department of Education seeking agreement”. The embassy official present told the Irish department that “resources” would be delivered through the Confucius Institutes and Hanban, the Government affiliated agency which runs the institutes.

Critics of Confucius Institutes, which are co-located on university campuses, allege they are too close to the Chinese state. Several western universities have severed ties with the institutions in recent years due to concerns over academic freedom.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said subjects for the leaving cert are developed involving "extensive consultation" with stakeholders and the public, and that subject specifications are approved by the department and the State Examinations Commission.

“The Chinese government had absolutely no influence on the development of the specification,” the department said, adding that the process of appointing an adviser is “thorough, appropriate and is carried out to the highest standards”.

Ultimately, no teachers were sourced under the MoU as they were found locally. Leaving cert courses for Portuguese, Polish and Lithuanian have been developed in recent years, but the Department said there were local supplies found and no MoUs were necessary. Such deals have been struck with other countries before, the department said, adding that the arrangement for a language adviser is “similar” to one in place for Japanese.

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy said the courses were introduced “based on the needs and requirements of the Irish side”.

“The Chinese Ministry of Education and Center for Language Education and Cooperation (formerly Hanban) provide necessary assistance and support at the request of Irish education authorities.” UCD Confucius Institute said it was “not involved in the development of specification of Mandarin Chinese as a Leaving Cert subject”.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times