Mandarin teacher Jing Wang with her Grade 8 class at Kearsney College. Wang, from Beijing, has just joined the school as part of a partnership with the HanBan Confucius Institute in China.

Durban - For pupils growing up in the global village, it is important to learn to communicate in the most widely spoken first language in the world, schools in KwaZulu-Natal say.

Kearsney College, one of few schools to offer Mandarin as part of its academic timetable, has welcomed a teacher from Beijing, Jing Wang, to its staff this month.

She joins the school as part of a partnership with the HanBan Confucius Institute in Beijing and will be teaching Mandarin to 25 Grade 8 pupils this year.

Mandarin was first introduced at Kearsney College in 2005 for the choir, which was to travel to China. Since then, it has been offered to boys in grades 8 and 9.

Headmaster Elwyn van den Aardweg said the involvement of the Confucius Institute built on that and took the lessons to a “superior” level.

“We strive for excellence at all levels - academically and extramurally - with a goal of empowering boys to reach their full potential and putting them in an unassailable position to contribute effectively to a global economy and society,” Van den Aardweg said.

Wang, who arrived in South Africa three weeks ago, said her pupils already knew how to say, “Hello,” “How are you?” and, “I’m from South Africa,” in Mandarin.

“The boys are very smart and learn quickly,” she said, adding that they seemed particularly interested in learning to write in the language.

Wang said that by the end of the year her pupils should be able to have a basic conversation in Mandarin.

The HanBan Institute is affiliated to the Chinese Ministry of Education and promotes the Chinese language and culture.

Westville Boys’ High has been teaching Mandarin at a conversational level for four years, also with the assistance of the HanBan Institute, and the lessons are compulsory for the Grade 8 pupils.

Gordon Road Girls has been offering the language for five years and it is an option for pupils in grades 4 to 7, once a week, after school.

The Basic Education Department is exploring having more public schools offer Mandarin.

“There are currently six Confucius Institutions in South Africa and, with the help of the Chinese government, a curriculum for the teaching of Chinese will be developed to be offered in some schools around the country,” department spokesman, Elijah Mhlanga, said.

The Mercury