Italy: Incorporating Chinese into National Education System

[Source]????Guangming Daily?[Time]????2019-03-27 16:05:15?
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Foreigners learning Chinese
pic.gmw.cn/Visual China Group


The Confucius Institute taking part in 2018 Chinese Spring Festival Parade in Milan
Photo by the Confucius Institute at the University of Milan


In May, 2018, Italian and Chinese experts participating in the Belt and Road Forum
Photo by the Confucius Institute at the University of Milan


pic.gmw.cn/Visual China Group

Window of World Education

On March 17th, 2019, in his letter of response to the teachers and students of the Convitto nazionale Vittorio Emanuele II, President Xi Jinping said, “I’m very pleased to see that the students can express themselves in fluent Chinese. Your school has successfully opened a Chinese-language international scientific high school and nurtured a host of young men and women devoted to promoting China-Italy friendly relations.” “I highly appreciate your determination to promote dialogue of minds and cultural exchanges between the young generations of the two countries and cement the friendship between the two peoples.” These words fully show President Xi Jinping’s care and expectation for the overseas Chinese learners.

President Xi Jinping points out, “language is the best key of learning about a country.”The connection of “high-speed railway of language” requires not only the high-level manufacturing technique of manufacturers, but also the proactive integration of importers. Likewise, the realization of the overall and in-depth coverage of Chinese language in the national education systems of all overseas countries also calls for the comprehensive consideration and scientific planning about the “push” of chief promoters and the “pull” of receivers.

Being incorporated in the national education systems of overseas countries is one of the signs that Chinese is truly becoming global. As the pioneer of incorporating Chinese in its national education system, Italy has benefited from the continuous adjustment and optimization of the two sides of “push” and “pull”, and achieved fruitful results in building the “mechanism of all people learning Chinese”.

Circle of Friends of Chinese Language and Culture Keeps Expanding

Language plays a special role in advancing understanding, building consensus, promoting cooperation, and deepening friendship. The unique charm of Chinese language and culture has been drawing the eyes of sinologists from different countries. As an independent subject, “Sinology” has been introduced into overseas universities since early times. The deepening of the Sinology study has promoted the development of Chinese teaching, making Chinese take root in overseas universities and embark on a development process from the interest learning to the professional learning and from a study tool to a communicative language.

With the steady development of China’s economy and the continuous improvement of its comprehensive national strength, China is increasingly moving to the center of the world stage and is actively participating in the governance and reconstruction of many fields in the world, creating more platforms for the display of Chinese language and culture. The Chinese proposals, represented by the Belt and Road Initiative, have been recognized and accepted by more and more countries, continuously expanding the “circle of friends” of Chinese language and culture. It has also enabled the influence of Chinese language and culture to reach out of the culture circle of Chinese character, and has promoted Chinese language to transform from the “land type” language into the “land-ocean type” language and embark on the process of the “globalization”.

In December 2017, the General Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the General Office of the State Council issued Opinions on Strengthening and Improving Work Of People-To-People and Cultural Exchanges Between China and Foreign Countries, pointing out that efforts should be redoubled to internationally promote Chinese language and support more countries to incorporate the Chinese language teaching in their national education systems.

As Italy has officially incorporated Chinese in its national education system, the demand for learning Chinese is booming, which poses a great challenge of “demand outstrips supply” for Italy’s Chinese teaching. According to the present situation and the development vision of the Italy’s Chinese teaching, the Chinese government, through the policy communication, should send Chinese teachers and pedagogical materials, help to train indigenous Chinese teachers and indigenous Chinese pedagogical materials, and assist to localize the Chinese system and realize the independent, scientific, and systematic Chinese teaching in Italy.

The deepening regional cooperation and exchanges between China and Italy increasingly highlight the practical value of the Chinese language and bring the Chinese language and culture closer to the Italian people.

First, in economy and trade, entrepreneurs of China and Italy have promoted exchanges, mutual learning, and win-win integration between enterprises in the two countries. In recent years, Chinese enterprises have actively invested in the Italian superior and well-known enterprises of oil refining, tire production, football clubs, etc., providing jobs for the Italian people and greatly improving the image of Chinese enterprises. And this has played a significant role in promoting the Chinese learning trend in Italy.

Second, in people-to-people and cultural exchanges, China and Italy attach great importance to building branded projects of tourism and cultural and people-to-people exchanges, so as to drive the common prosperity of relevant fields. By co-hosting the “China Cultural Year”, holding the “Focus on China” event at the Venice Film Festival, participating in the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, and inviting famous Chinese writers such as Mo Yan and Yu Hua to Italy for lectures, the two countries have brought Chinese traditional and contemporary culture to Italy through cultural projects, films and literary works. Through close communication and interaction with local people, the cultural curiosity can be satisfied, the two-way communication channels can be opened up, the charm of Chinese contemporary culture and art can be displayed, and the Italian people’s understanding of contemporary China can be deepened. Chinese learning has gradually become the subjective need and conscious behavior of the Italian people, which has laid a good public foundation for the incorporation of Chinese into the Italian national education system.

A Long History of Language and Culture Exchanges

Incorporating Chinese in the national education is no accident for Italy. Both China and Italy are ancient civilizations with a time-honored history and splendid culture, and the cultural exchanges between the two countries enjoy a long history. In 1732, the returned preacher Matteo Ripa set up the “Chinese College” in Naples, which is the first school in the European continent to teach sinology and oriental studies.

Italian educational institutions have a certain degree of autonomy, and the active introduction of educational institutions is a powerful “booster” for the incorporation of Chinese into the national education system. In the early 1970s, Italy began to pilot the Chinese teaching in high schools. In 2009, Convitto nazionale Vittorio Emanuele II, in collaboration with the Confucius Institute in Rome, opened the international science high school program with Chinese as a compulsory course, including not only Chinese language and culture courses, but also the history and geography courses with Chinese as the language of instruction. In 2013, the school officially opened the Chinese language course for primary school students.

After years of accumulation and improvement, Italy has cultivated many outstanding sinologists. Alessandra Lavagnino, Director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Milan, is one of them. As the translator of the Italian version of Dragon-carving and The Literary Mind, Alessandra Lavagnino said recently, “Over the past 40 years, I have witnessed the rapid changes brought about by the ‘China speed’ and I am obsessed by the extensive and profound charm of Chinese culture, The economic and trade cooperation between Italy and China has increasingly cemented along with the camel bells of the Silk Road and thousands of fleets on the sea. By jointly building the Belt and Road Initiative, the two countries will deepen their partnership and give each other better opportunities for development.”

The positive promotion of sinologists has produced fruitful results for the Chinese teaching in Italian universities. At present, the young sinologists in Italy are generally cultivated by the local universities in Italy, and all of them have doctoral degrees. Their research directions show a trend of refinement and specialization, which lays a solid foundation for the cultivation of high-level professional Chinese talents and also provides a teacher pool for the incorporation of Chinese into the Italian national education system.

The vigorous development of new media has injected new vitality into the incorporation of Chinese into the Italian national education system. With the improvement of the “Internet + people-to-people and cultural exchanges” mechanism, the entity and virtual exchange platform have realized the mutual supplement and sound interaction. “China experts” frequently appear in various live streaming platforms. On the one hand, they tell “my story with China” in fluent Chinese, share cultural adventures, explain cultural differences, reduce cultural barriers by cultural comparison and bring the two peoples closer. On the other hand, through the most direct way of live streaming, the two sides show the real face of the two countries and the daily life of the people, which helps to enhance the mutual understanding between the two peoples. At the same time, they give full play to their bilingual advantages and sum up their language learning and using skills through their own experience. They are indeed “envoys of folk language and culture”. The novel and rich forms and contents have promoted the exchanges and mutual learning among countries, regions and civilizations, enhanced the friendliness of Chinese culture, raised the confidence and enthusiasm of Chinese learners, and paved the way for the incorporation of Chinese into the national education system.

Confucius Institute Helps Chinese Teaching in Italy

At present, the Chinese teaching at the stage of basic education in Italy is mainly divided into two modes: one is establishing Confucius Classrooms in cooperation with the Confucius Institute, and the Confucius Institute assigns Chinese teachers to conduct cooperative teaching; the other is operating schools with long-term Chinese teaching and a mature Chinese teaching system. On the one hand, through the cooperation with Confucius Institutes, Italy has opened high-quality Chinese courses. On the other hand, through the cooperation with primary and secondary schools in China, Italy has offered the exchange opportunities for students to experience the Chinese language and culture. The active introduction of educational institutions reflects Italy’s positive attitude towards Chinese teaching at the stage of basic education. It is a strong driving force for the incorporation of Chinese into the Italian national education system, and also guarantees the smooth transition of the incorporation process.

Language policy and attitude directly affect the dissemination of language, and the strong support of the Italian government is the decisive basis for the incorporation of Chinese into its system. In order to meet people’s increasing need for the Chinese learning, the Italian government has issued a series of supportive policies to build and improve the standardized, unified and systematic Chinese teaching system.

In 2008, the Italian Ministry of Education announced that Chinese will be incorporated in the senior high school graduation examination. In February 2016, the Italian Ministry of Education openly recruited Chinese teachers for primary and secondary schools, and in September of the same year, the Syllabus of Chinese Teaching for Senior High Schools was issued, marking the official incorporation of Chinese into the Italian national education system. These measures, on the one hand, reserve a “teacher pool” for the long-term sustainable development of Chinese at all stages of education in Italy. On the other hand, they make senior high schools play the role as “a connecting link between the preceding and the following” in the Chinese teaching in Italy, ensuring and improving the overall level of Chinese teaching in Italy. With the incorporation of Chinese into the Italian national education system, the number of young Chinese learners has soared.

Facing the new trend of “lower age” of Chinese learners, the Italian government takes proactive measures. On the one hand, it coordinates the planning and builds a “step-by-step” incorporation model for higher education to the second stage of education and then to the first stage. On the other hand, it strengthens the training of the Chinese teachers in local primary and secondary schools, ensuring the smooth incorporation progress step by step.

In June 2013, Xu Lin, former Director-General of Hanban, said at the joint conference of some Confucius Institutes in Europe that the achievements of Italian Confucius Institutes in Chinese teaching are among the best in Europe. Italy is the first country in Europe to carry out the Chinese research and teaching. It has a good foundation and can play as the locomotive in Chinese teaching and cultural dissemination.

By the end of 2018, Italy has opened 39 Confucius Classrooms based on 12 Confucius Institutes. Confucius Classrooms work together with the local primary and secondary schools to lead the learning and use of Chinese to the deep level and then introduce them into the life, and guide the teenagers to observe and evaluate the Chinese language and culture from the right and development perspective. While raising the Italian teenagers’ interest in Chinese language and culture, this action brings the teenagers of the two countries closer, and lays a sound foundation for the popularization of Chinese among the Italian teenagers.

Italy’s model of incorporating Chinese into the national education system shows an obvious trend of “step-by-step” development from higher education to basic education, and Confucius Institutes and Classrooms play as an important assisting and driving force in providing educational resources and coordinately improving curriculum syllabus. Data from the Development Report of Chinese Language and Characters (2018) showed that the courses of 432 Confucius Institutes around the world are incorporated in the credit system of their schools, accounting for 85% of the total number of Confucius Institutes globally. It is clearly that Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms effectively push the progress of the incorporation of Chinese into overseas countries’ national education systems, and play a unique role in boosting the mutual learning of Chinese and foreign cultures, promoting the diversified development of world culture, and building a community of shared future for mankind. It is also the most successful model as well as the most effective way to promote Chinese language and culture to go global “on a large-scale and in a systematic way”.

Bridge of Language Connects Peoples’ Hearts

Italy is not only the end of the ancient Silk Road, but also the intersection of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. Whether from the historical or the geographical perspective, Italy can play a huge role in the cooperation of the Belt and Road Initiative.

On March 13, 2019, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said it was in line with Italy’s interest to sign the memorandum of understanding on the Belt and Road Initiative with China. He clearly denied any possibility that it would hinder the signing of the agreement. If signed, Italy would be the first in the Group of Seven European Nations (G7) to formally sign the framework agreement. The Belt and Road Initiative has brought unprecedented new opportunities for Italy’s development. The discussion on 50 cooperation projects of multiple fields will be the “ballast stone and booster” for Italy’s economic recovery. With the further deepening of Chinese-Italian economic and cultural exchanges, Italy will need a large number of high-level professional Chinese talents, which is the core power to promote the incorporation of Chinese into the Italian national education system.

In order to attract Chinese students to study in Italy and open up channels for training and exchange of high-level talents, the Chinese and Italian governments signed and launched the “Marco Polo” and “Turandot” programs in 2006 and 2009 respectively. After more than 10 years of development, the number of Chinese students studying in Italy has increased steadily every year. According to the 2017 report of the Intercultural Foundation in Italy, among the 500 randomly surveyed Italian high school students, 15% of them said that their knowledge about China was from the Chinese students around them.

Chinese students have driven the development of the regional economy, making Chinese supermarkets and restaurants spring up. The frequent “Chinese elements” in daily life have greatly stimulated the Italian people’s curiosity about Chinese language and culture, and have greatly increased their interest and demand for Chinese learning. According to statistics, in Milan alone, there are six universities that have opened Chinese courses. 43 schools in Lombardy have made Chinese a compulsory course. There are also various Chinese classes in the society. Italian people learn Chinese spontaneously and consciously, becoming an important “bottom-up” force of pulling Chinese into the Italian national education system, as well as the main power of bringing Chinese into communities and families and promoting “Chinese learning for all people”.

The establishment of the complete teaching system of Chinese in Southeast Asian countries and traditional immigrant countries cannot be done without the inheritance and promotion of language and culture by overseas Chinese. Likewise, the League of Chinese Schools, organized by 16 Italian Chinese schools, has continuously explored and accumulated experience in promoting the building of the standardized, normalized and specialized Chinese education, creating a strong atmosphere for the inheritance of Chinese. Meanwhile, the increasing influence of Chinese businessmen in Italy and the rising number of Chinese teenagers are highly valued by the Italian government and schools. In order to promote the harmonious integration of Chinese communities and Italian society and deepen the friendship between the two peoples, the Italian government vigorously advocates and popularizes the Chinese teaching. The role of language as a “bridge” has also become the key factor for the incorporation of Chinese into the Italian national education system.

The arrival and sound development of a language in other countries requires a comprehensive consideration of the reality and vision of both “supply side” and “demand side”. The “push” side is indispensable, but “overexertion” which will trigger the anxiety of acceptance should also be avoided; the role of “pull” side should not be ignored, but more attention should be paid to “measure one’s ability” to ensure the smooth incorporation. Only by enhancing the “push”, strengthening the “pull”, and gathering them both, can we provide lasting power for the incorporation of Chinese into the national education systems of all countries and ensure the sound and sustainable development of overseas Chinese teaching.

Author: Li Baogui, a professor of the College of International Education of Liaoning Normal University; Zhuang Yaoyao, a graduate student of the College of International Education of Liaoning Normal University. This article is the phased result of the general project of the National Social Science Fund of China—“Localization Dissemination Mode of Chinese in Italy and Its Enlightenment to the International Dissemination of Chinese” [project lot number: 18BYY065]

(Guangming Daily, March 21st, 2019, Page14)

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