A new initiative has been announced by President Obama that would encourage 1 million schoolchildren to learn to speak Mandarin Chinese within the next five years.
Right now there are around 200,000 students across the country learning the language. The new program would increase that to five times the current number and was set up as a way for the United States and China to learn more about each other.
“If our two countries are going to do more together around the world, then speaking each other’s languages so we can understand each other is a good start,” Obama said.
If one million students were to participate, that would still be less than 2% of the total number of US students. As of the fall of 2015, there were 55 million students enrolled in public and private elementary and secondary schools across the US.
“Estimates suggest that between 300 and 400 million Chinese students are learning English today, while only about 200,000 American students are studying Chinese,” Travis Tanner, senior vice president and chief operating officer at the 100,000 Strong Foundation, told Foreign Policy in an email. “We must bridge that gap.”
The initiative, One Million Strong, will be led by the 100,000 Strong nonprofit organization. The group was created in 2009 as a response to Obama’s calls, who had said that he would like to see 100,000 Americans studying in China between 2010 and 2014. The nonprofit is encouraging national standards developed for Mandarin for K-12 education, as well as a doubling of Mandarin teachers in the country, writes Kyle Feldscher for The Washington Examiner.
The new program would expand on that by creating a standardized national Chinese curriculum that would allow for flexibility at the local school level while at the same time preparing all students for the AP Chinese language exam and further advanced study of the language. The initiative would also promote advances in language-learning technology and online instruction, promote investment in teachers colleges, and create a consortium of governors who will support the learning of Mandarin within public schools.
The program was created in an effort to allow Americans to gain a better perspective of Chinese culture, prepare American students to deal with China in their future jobs, and ensure that all American students learn about the country.
Individual states have already made progress toward the goal. In Delaware, Governor Jack Markell recently recognized 20 high school students who spent a portion of their summer learning abroad in Hangzhou, China as part of a free summer abroad program for students learning Mandarin.
Meanwhile, in Wyoming, students at Paradise Valley Elementary are in their third year of learning Mandarin in a dual language immersion program.