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ABU DHABI: Mandarin is fast gaining popularity as a subject across UAE schools and colleges.

While 10 government schools are offering it as an additional language, private institutes like Swiss International Scientific School Dubai (SISD) and Hartland International School are firming up plans to introduce students to what is billed as the ‘language of the future’.

Catching them young

Fiona Cottam, principal, Hartland International School in Dubai said they have tied up with the Chinese Language Institute to offer Mandarin classes.

“We are also looking to get 300 Chinese fiction books for our school library,” she said.

Dr Christine Jacob, head of languages at SISD, said they hold Chinese language classes as an after-school activity from early years to secondary school.

“We also have a Chinese Cultural Club. We are contemplating including Mandarin in the school curriculum,” she added.

Shaun Robison, CEO, BBD education consultancy, said considering the strong economic ties between the UAE and China it was imperative to develop a community of Emiratis and expats who can communicate in Mandarin.

The move to introduce Mandarin to children may have come now, but the pursuit to promote Chinese in the UAE goes back to 2009 when Zayed University launched their language faculty - International College.

Enthusiastic response

In the first year as many as 600 students enrolled for Korean and Chinese language classes.

“I am fascinated by the history of China and how it has emerged as a major exporter of goods. I want to learn the language and culture of this great nation,” says Zayed University student Sandra Owais, 26. Currently 1,233 people are enrolled in the programme.

Intellectual exchange

Last year the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) signed a pact with the Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchange (CSCSE) under the Ministry of Education (MOE) in China.

As part of this agreement, degrees offered by universities in Dubai’s education free zones are now recognised in China for the purpose of employment and education. This not just promotes the UAE as an educational hub for China, but also removes any bottlenecks for people who studied in the UAE and are looking to migrate to China. “China is Dubai’s largest trading partner and this initiative presents a platform which provides access to quality higher education opportunities for Chinese students,” said Dr. Abdullah Al Karam, director general of KHDA.

This year Dubai Knowledge Park (DKP) and Dubai International Academic City (DIAC) offered scholarships to 600 Chinese students to promote intellectual exchanges between the two countries.

“Chinese students will interact with our residents and this will help everyone understand cultures better. This way we can prepare them for careers in a competitive world,” says Mohammad Abdullah, managing director at DKP and DIAC.

More than 1.2 billion people around the world speak Chinese, making it the most spoken language in the world followed by Spanish and English.