July 12, 2005

U.S. Schools Lack Adequate Chinese Language Skills

NEW YORK -- U.S. schools lack resources and teachers to meet the demand for Chinese language and culture studies, despite the growing importance of China's economic and political relationship with the United States, according to a study released by the Asia Society on Tuesday.

The study, designed to expand awareness of the need for more classes and teacher training, questioned several dozen experts in a variety of fields to see what it would take to have 5 percent of American high school students learning Chinese by 2015.

"We are saying we have to convince the American public that globalization is here to stay. You can't hide from it and the education and policy institutions need to gear up right now, because the Chinese are gearing up to engage with us," said Michael Levine, the Asia Society's executive director of education in New York.

China has become an increasingly important U.S. trade partner. Its economy is growing at about 9 percent a year and could become the second largest in the world, after the United States, in the next two to three decades.

Levine pointed to an initiative launched by Chinese public schools in collaboration with the city of Chicago, where 2,300 inner city students are learning Chinese.

That number is expected to double in each of the next two years. Chicago has imported text books and Chinese language teachers from the Shanghai.

The Asia Society plans to target philanthropists and U.S. businesses, as well as higher education and governments for funding and implementation of new language programs.

It cited a $1.3 billion U.S.-China Cultural Engagement Act that has been proposed in the U.S. Senate for training new teachers and to promote technological innovations and cultural exchanges.

Other initiatives proposed by the study include a fast track certification program for teachers, online language training programs, and new advanced placement courses to qualify students to take the College Board's first new language exams created in 45 years. The Chinese exams are due in 2006.