Pupils from across England to visit China with Mandarin Excellence Programme

Pupils in London practising Chinese calligraphy - Source: British Council
Pupils in London practising Chinese calligraphy - Source: British Council

More than 100 pupils from across England will visit China, for first time since the pandemic, as part of UCL-led Mandarin Excellence Programme.

Since its inception in 2016, the Mandarin Excellence Programme has empowered more than 11,000 young learners in England on the path to fluency in Mandarin Chinese.

Funded by the Department for Education and delivered by the Ioe, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society in partnership with the British Council, it gives pupils an unprecedented opportunity when it comes to language learning.

The trip, involving 132 students from five schools across England, marks a significant milestone as the first international school tour organised under the Mandarin Excellence Programme since 2019.

Pupils will venture to Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an and Chengdu over the course of two weeks engaging in an extensive programme of cultural activities with pupils in connected Chinese schools, all of which will incorporate cultural exchange, friendship building and language learning at their core.

Activities will range from cultural lessons, from calligraphy to cooking, to sporting and arts activities, including martial arts and dancing.

Katharine Carruthers, Director of Ioe, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society’s Confucius Institute for Schools and the programme’s Strategic Director, said:"We are delighted that some MEP students are able to visit China for the first time since 2019 through the Mandarin Excellence Programme. The MEP students are the next generation of fluent Mandarin speakers in the UK.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for them to experience China in person through real-life situations, advancing their language skills and motivating them to continue with their Chinese language studies into future years."

The schools taking part are Finham Park School in Coventry, Queen Mary’s Grammar School in Walsall, Alexandra Park School in London, St Mary Magdalene Academy in London and Dartford Grammar School in Kent.

Andrew, a year 10 pupil from Dartford Grammar School, said: "It’s my first experience of going to Asia and because it’s a very different culture, I’m really looking forward to it. I’m most looking forward to visiting the Great Wall of China, ever since I started learning Mandarin Chinese in year 7 it’s fascinated me.

"I think while we’re in China there will be less of an emphasis on passing exams but more on learning about the Chinese way of life, so we might learn more idiomatic phrases and about the culture. It’s a really good opportunity and if any future students at my school or any others take Chinese and are presented with the opportunity to either visit China or to live and work in China for a longer period, I would highly recommend that they take it."

Mili, a year 10 pupil from Alexandra Park School, said: "It’s really exciting because you’re meeting new people and you’re talking in a language that, up until three years ago, you didn’t really know... It’s like ’oh wow, this is actually pretty impressive and amazing that we’ve had the opportunity to do this!’"

Mandarin is the most widely spoken language in the world and is recognised as a valuable skill for young people in the UK to acquire.

Research by the British Council found that Mandarin is the second most important foreign language for the UK’s influence on the global stage.

Shannon West, the British Council’s Principal Schools Consultant, said: "The visit to China offers students an unparalleled opportunity to immerse themselves in this vibrant and dynamic culture, practise their Mandarin skills as well as their inter-cultural skills.

"This unique experience will stay with them for life and will motivate them to continue their studies and build lasting people to people links between the UK and China."

Earlier this year, the Department for Education announced an expansion to the Mandarin Excellence Programme, to reach an expected 100 participating schools by September 2024.
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