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Foreign languages in Punjab govt schools: Mandarin course remains stillborn, first batch of teachers set to test Japanese skills

Amarinder Thursday asked the state education department to consider teaching foreign language, such as Chinese, Arabic and French, in schools to help improve the chances of students’ employability globally.

Written by Divya Goyal | Ludhiana |
June 12, 2021 9:08:27 am
Punjab schools, Foreign languages in Punjab govt schools, Japanese language in schools, Punjab govt, Punjab govt schools, Amarinder singh, Punjab news, Indian expressThe order comes nearly 10 days after the Delhi government had issued a similar one. (Express File)

The officials in the Punjab education department have taken with a pinch of salt Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh’s suggestion of offering a course in foreign languages as an optional subject in state-run schools. They cite how a similar announcement made in 2018 for teaching Mandarin in government schools has failed to take off.

Amarinder Thursday asked the state education department to consider teaching foreign language, such as Chinese, Arabic and French, in schools to help improve the chances of students’ employability globally.

“In 2018, after CM asked officials to start teaching Mandarin as an optional subject, we tried our best but could not get enough qualified instructors. We contacted several universities and even private coaching centres looking for qualified teachers, but the project just couldn’t take off,” said a senior official from Punjab State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT).

In a positive development, meanwhile, the first batch of teachers, whom government started training in Japanese language last year under its Skill Development Mission, is set to appear for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) to get qualified as ‘Master Trainers’.

However, indicating that learning a foreign language can be a cumbersome task at times, the number of teachers enrolled for the course has reduced to half in nearly one year.

Expecting some major investment from Japanese companies under its Invest Punjab programme, the state government had started training teachers in Japanese language in July last year with the first batch of 35. Gradually, 20 of them opted out.

“Fifteen teachers will be completing their training in Japanese in July and will then appear for the JLPT. After clearing JLPT, these ‘master trainers’ can further train 25 candidates each and they will then become eligible for jobs offered by Japanese companies. Since most of them are government teachers, it is the prerogative of the education department to see if they can teach Japanese to students too,” said Swati Thakur, project coordinator, Punjab Skill Development Mission, adding that an instructor was arranged who has been teaching Japanese to the teachers through online classes.

Kanwaljeet Singh, a computer teacher, who has undergone Japanese training, says, “An added qualification is always welcome. We have been taught writing, speaking and listening in Japanese just like one prepares for the IELTS. We are yet to be told what our next role will be after completing this course.”

Specifying reasons on why so many teachers opted out of the training, Thakur said, “Japanese learning requires time and dedicated effort. Some left as they felt burdened with their other job duties; some found it difficult to learn the new language and some were also down with Covid.”

Meanwhile, experts in Chinese and French say that the government has taken a step in the right direction by deciding to offer foreign languages as an optional subject.

Cecilia Antony, coordinator & professor, department of French & Francophone Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh, said that learning French would not only be highly beneficial for students but also might create employment opportunities for qualified French trainers.

“Some central government schools have been offering German and the experiment has been very successful. Instead of tying up with private institutes, the government should think of hiring their own French teachers. Students who aren’t very good in English can also do well in French. A lot of students from Punjab move abroad, especially to Canada, and French has a great value there too. French is the official language of Canada’s Quebec province. Many students from the region pursue post-graduation and PhD in French from PU which can be another career scope,” said Antony.

Vijay Kumar Singh, chairperson, PU’s department of Chinese & Tibetan languages, termed the government move as “a right step”, but arranging qualified instructors in Chinese might be an issue. “In our department, we have only one teacher as of now who can teach Chinese. It’s difficult to comment on the number of qualified Chinese teachers in Punjab,” said Singh, who specializes in Tibetan.

Meanwhile, Punjab school education minister Vijay Inder Singla said that they are yet to work out modalities but the initial plan is to start online classes for students who opt for the foreign languages as a subject. “The CM discussed with me that students in government schools, who mostly come from rural backgrounds, feel low and face difficulties on global platforms. The plan is to start online classes for students who want to opt for any foreign language. They can be from any class. Any additional qualification is always good,” said Singla.

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