Mainstreaming and professionalizing Chinese-language education: a new mission for a new century.

Author:Kwoh, Stella
Position:7C Paper

Since 1990, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese) has satisfied the California foreign-language requirement and has been a part of the curriculum of many public schools and universities throughout the-state of California. Many students from Chinese heritage schools take Chinese classes in mainstream schools. The number has increased partly because of the beginning of SATII-Chinese in 1993. Due to a diverse student population, the growing number of second- and third-generation Chinese American students learning Chinese, and the AP Chinese courses and tests to be started by the College Board in the high schools in 2006 and 2007, Chinese programs at the K-16 (kindergarten to college senior) levels are on the increase. In addition, worldwide cultural and economic exchanges between China and the rest of the world make schools and parents more enthusiastic about starting a Chinese program for their students. We can indeed say that this new century is the century for moving Chinese language education from heritage schools to mainstream schools and the society.


The Start of AP Chinese: Before and After

Before the College Board announced the start of AP Chinese in 2003, there were more than 200 elementary, middle, and high schools that offered Chinese-language education. Many teachers did not have a valid state teaching license to teach Chinese. After the College Board announced its plan to start AP Chinese courses in 2006 and AP Chinese tests in 2007, more than 2,400 K-12 (kindergarten to high school) mainstream schools planned on starting Chinese programs.

Teachers in Chinese Heritage Schools

With a severe shortage of qualified and experienced Chinese-language teachers, the teachers in Chinese heritage schools became possible candidates to teach mainstream K-12 schools. Based on a survey conducted by the National Council of Associations of Chinese Language Schools (NCACLS) in 1995, there were 5,540 language teachers teaching in its member schools. The Chinese School Association in the United States (CSAUS) conducted a similar survey in 1996 and reported 1,300 language teachers teaching in its member schools. Unfortunately, there has not been a systematic teacher-training program among Chinese schools and neither Chinese school associations have come up with a plan to encourage their teachers to receive training and to get certified. Fortunately, the author has been able to observe some efforts made by both NCACLS and CSAUS to find ways to work with teacher-training institutions to certify teachers in their member schools.

Challenges Faced By Mainstream Schools

Teacher Shortage. With the prediction of a severe teacher shortage and the lack of a certification program for Chinese-language teachers in teacher-training institutions, the teacher shortage will inevitably last for a long time. School administrators will need to be very creative and resourceful to recruit their teachers for the Chinese programs.

Curriculum, Pedagogy, and Instructional Model Selection. This will inevitably bring up the debate of traditional and simplified characters, the different phonetic systems (mainly Zhuyin and Pinyin), and teaching Chinese as a foreign language or in a dual-language immersion program. Fortunately, we have started to see some agreeable approaches that best serve Chinese-language learners.

With regards to the debate between traditional or simplified characters, more scholars and teachers agreed that it is necessary for...

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