The Confucius Institute at the University of Missouri was established in April of 2011 in order to foster economic and educational connections between Missouri and China. Since its establishment, the Institute has partnered with local schools to bring the Chinese language and culture to children grades K-12.
The Institute is providing teachers, lesson plans and materials to schools so that the students may learn Mandarin. Local educators say that the assistance of the Confucius Institute is instrumental to their students in a time when Missouri has increasingly strong business ties to China.
In a first grade class at Columbia Independent School, children are cutting out black and white shapes to make pandas. But this lesson’s cultural significance goes beyond just arts and crafts. Director of Columbia Independent School’s lower school Beth Gardner says the school is trying to expand its global perspectives to include Mandarin Chinese.
“We want to bring as much of the world into our school as we can. I think that it will just give our children even more of an advantage on having an appreciation for the world and respecting different cultures,” Gardner said.
The school has partnered with the Confucius Institute beginning this academic year. Director of the Institute Wen Ouyang says she thinks the Midwest is behind the rest of the nation when it comes to Chinese language education, which is why it has become so important to have a Confucius Institute in Missouri.
“The purpose of establish the Confucius Institute is to help American students and other non-native speakers. These two schools, they decided they need to let their children to study Chinese,” Ouyang said.
Columbia Public Schools will have a new configuration beginning in 2013. The district will use this as an opportunity to incorporate Chinese into the language curriculum. Columbia Public Schools World Language Coordinator Suzanne Yonke says she anticipates Chinese language classes being available to 6thgrade through high school students.
“China is becoming more of a presence in the United States of course with the trade agreements, and so it is going to be more and more important that our students can speak Chinese or any other language in order to conduct business in an every day level,” Yonke said.
The Chinese government has stated that its intent with the Confucius Institutes worldwide is to spread its influence to other countries. Because of this, Confucius Institutes on other campuses have occasionally dealt with controversy. But locally, MU Vice Provost Handy Williamson says there is little concern about the possibility of bias in the Confucius Institute at the University of Missouri.
“I got many enquiries from persons in the school of journalism regarding the old argument about Confucius Institutes being a platform for propaganda, which could not be further from the truth as far as we can tell,” Williamson said.
Gardner says the assistance the Confucius Institute has given to Columbia Independent School has been invaluable.
“They’ve been wonderful to work with. They’ve provided us with the teachers who come in, they’re very dedicated, they’ve worked really hard to get to know our school community and our children and their families,” Gardner said.
This story is part of the China Connection, a multimedia project that explores various economical, educational and cultural links between Missouri and China. More at The China Connection.