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Learning Chinese widens job opportunities for Kenyans

By OTIATO OPALI in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily | Updated: 2023-04-04 09:25

Wang Shangxue, director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Nairobi, addresses local students on Oct 29, 2022. LI ZHUOQUN/XINHUA

Maureen Achieng took up Chinese language studies during her undergraduate education so that she could get a chance to go to China. However, as jobs became hard to come by and her interest in the Chinese language grew, she took the studies of the Chinese language more seriously and today she teaches the language at the Confucius Institute at the University of Nairobi.

During Achieng's days as a student, the Chinese language had not been officially adopted into the Kenyan education curriculum and she was lucky to learn the language at the Confucius Institute.

In 2019, the Kenyan government introduced the Chinese language as an optional subject for young learners along with other foreign languages such as French, German and Arabic while implementing its competency-based curriculum. Achieng sees this as a windfall because from her experience, learning a new language as an adult was not easy.

"As an adult, I did not have sufficient time to learn the language due to other responsibilities. I also struggled with the pronunciation of some words and writing Chinese characters," she said.

"Giving young students the opportunity to learn an additional language is better because they have more time and their brains can handle a new language while their speech apparatus can easily adapt to a new way of speaking. It also gives them exposure to the culture early enough," Achieng added.

Faith Nyamboki, the curriculum development officer for Mandarin Chinese at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, said that since its introduction in 2019, they have developed, approved and validated Mandarin Chinese curriculum designs for upper primary school and junior secondary school as well as for teacher training colleges. Meanwhile, the development, approval and validation of curriculum designs for the other levels are ongoing.

"The ministry of education introduced the Chinese language into the Kenyan curriculum because learning foreign languages is a prerequisite for global citizenship and promotes international consciousness by fostering a positive attitude toward other nations," Nyamboki said.

As a Chinese language lecturer, Achieng sees numerous benefits for Kenyan students who opt to study Chinese as a foreign language. These include employment opportunities as teachers, translators, interpreters, tour guides, among others. They also stand a chance to earn scholarship opportunities for further studies in China and later land business opportunities in both Kenya and China.

Minimal conditions

"As a country, we have learned that working with Chinese people is easier since they have given us loans with minimal conditions and friendly interest compared to other countries we have previously worked with. Whenever we give projects to the Chinese, their work is so efficient and examples abound in the Standard Gauge Railway, the Nairobi Expressway, Thika Superhighway, numerous bypasses and buildings among many others," Achieng said.

However, she added that the Chinese language becoming a new subject means Kenya does not have enough qualified teachers to teach the language in schools. Despite this, Achieng said that Kenya has a good number of Chinese speakers who can teach but they might not be registered by the country's Teachers Service Commission.

"During the early stages, the ministry of education should be flexible and register those who have master's and bachelor's degrees or diplomas in teaching Chinese and also collaborate with other stakeholders to equip the untrained Chinese teachers with the pedagogical aspects of the language," Achieng said.

According to Nyamboki, curriculum implementation is a multi-stakeholder engagement process and they are working with various stakeholders, including the ministry of education, the Teachers Service Commission and the Kenya National Examination Council to ensure the curriculum they develop is implemented effectively, including teaching and examination of the subject.

"We have developed the curriculum using a panel system comprising practicing teachers, teacher educators, university lecturers from various universities offering Chinese in Kenya as well as the four Confucius Institutes in Kenya," Nyamboki said.

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