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The growing allure of Chinese language in learning institutions

Kenya is gradually becoming a hub for the Chinese language in Africa, with students and teachers passionate about the language now having a larger platform to collaborate with their counterparts within the continent. This follows the launch of the East African Confucius Institutes Alliance at the University of Nairobi.

Michael Njoka, who teaches Chinese language at Kenyatta University Confucius Institute and other international schools in Nairobi, hopes that the alliance will offer him more job opportunities based on his teaching experience and fluency in Chinese.

“We always look for greener pastures as we work and better terms of working. I am looking at the alliance as a plus and an added advantage to me because I am going to venture into the rest of East Africa and see how I can help young people who want to learn the language. After all, I love teaching,” he tells Nairobi News.

Mr Njoka is happy that his passion for the Chinese language has created him employment. His journey began as a university student before he won a Chinese scholarship for a two-year study course in China. When he came back to Nairobi after graduation, he landed his first job and he has been earning a living through teaching Chinese for over ten years.

He is not alone. Torah Fredrick, an alumna of the University of Nairobi says that learning the Chinese language requires passion and sacrifice. According to him, the language sounded too hard for him when he first attended the lessons. He therefore made the journey easy by joining the Confucius Institute at the University of Nairobi choir where they sing and dance Chinese songs.

“I was already pursuing a degree in Social Work so Chinese was like a hobby because I already loved singing. Our choir went for a Music Summer Camp for two weeks in China and interacting with Chinese people inspired me to come back and study the language,” Fredrick tells Nairobi News.

He is happy that his passion helped him pass three levels of Chinese lessons and later earned a six-month study scholarship which took him back to China for a second time where he perfected his fluency and language skills. His fluency in the language has since then offered him translation job opportunities in Chinese companies in Nairobi to facilitate communication between Kenyans and their Chinese employers.

“I am mostly working with construction and manufacturing companies where besides offering my translation services, I also do consultations, tours and assist in doing market research,” he says.

Just like teacher Njoka, Fredrick also hopes that the launch of the East African Confucius Institutes Alliance has more opportunities for teachers of Chinese language and so he hopes to further his Chinese proficiency and tap on the available opportunities.

“My level now is a certificate in Chinese. However, I still have plans to further my study up to master’s level and then become a tutor because I believe that there are wide opportunities and there is still a lot to be done in teaching the language,” he says.

Fredrick is among Kenyan students who have learned Chinese at CIUON and received scholarships to study in China respectively within the last twenty years. Many of the beneficiaries like teacher Njoka have obtained master’s and doctoral degrees in China before being employed upon their return home in their respective fields.

Apart from the university students, learners in primary and secondary schools like Nairobi’s State House Girls, Brook House, and Kilimo Primary School in Nakuru also learn the Chinese language offered by Kenyan teachers. It is hoped that the number of young Chinese learners will increase within learning institutions and create more job opportunities for teachers of Chinese language across the country in the future.

This is after, the government through the Ministry of Education recently approved the inclusion of the Chinese language in the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC). Principal Secretary for the State Department for Parliamentary Affairs, Aurelia Chepkirui Rono, says that the initiative has created a growing demand for Chinese teachers and learning resources.

“To support the teaching of Chinese language education in Kenya under the CBC, we are poised to sign the intergovernmental collaborative agreement between China and Kenya for cooperation on joint Chinese language education in Kenya,” said Ms Rono.

She spoke at the University of Nairobi on Thursday during the launch of the East African Confucius Institutes Alliance where she represented education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu and Principal Secretary, Dr Beatrice Inyangala.

East African Confucius Institutes Alliance boasts 67 Confucius Institutes and 10 Confucius classrooms in 47 countries. The Chinese International Educational Foundation president Prof Yang Wei, says that the alliance will enhance the multilateral significant contribution of the institutions to the promotion of cultural exchanges within the continent.

“With the mutual respect and friendly cooperation between Chinese and African hosts, the Confucius Institutes remain true to connect culture and hearts via language, building bridges of culture, friendship, and heart between our people, making significant contributions to the consolidation of friendly relations between China and Africa for generations,” says Prof Wei.

The launch of the alliance happened during a three-day joint conference of Confucius Institutes in Africa that brought together directors of the respective Confucius Institutes and African teachers of the Chinese language from Kenya, Madagascar, Egypt, Cameroon, and Chad.

Confucius Institute at the University of Nairobi has been offering Chinese language lessons to students for the last twenty years. It became the first Confucius Institute in Africa and the first to offer a Chinese language major in Kenya. The institute also became the first in Africa to establish the first teacher training program in Chinese

Bachelor of Education. Other universities with Confucius Institutes are Moi, Egerton, and Kenyatta Universities. Nearly 230, 000 students benefited from respective Chinese programmes in 2023 across the continent.

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