Beijing keen to support new Confucius Institutes in India after two initiatives in JNU and VIT stall

China will train 300 Indian teachers in Mandarin Chinese under a first-of-its-kind initiative to lay the groundwork for more than 100 Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) schools to introduce courses of the language.

The Chinese government has offered to cover the expenses, including flight tickets, living costs and tuition, for the 300 Indian teachers to undergo six months of training in top Chinese universities, according to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the CBSE and the Chinese government on Friday.

The MoU proposes exchanges of academic staff, teachers and students. Under the agreement, China will also help India develop its Mandarin Chinese language curriculum and provide educational materials.

The training will pave the way for the CBSE to begin offering Mandarin Chinese courses in select schools.

A recent survey conducted to gauge the level of interest found that more than 500 schools were interested in offering Chinese classes.

India’s Ambassador to China S. Jaishankar described the agreement as one of “exceptional and long-term significance.”

“If Indian school students are provided opportunities to learn Mandarin,” he said, “their understanding and appreciation of China and its culture will grow enormously. We will truly be shaping the thinking of future generations.”

“This agreement is a great event in Chinese education,” said Xu Lin, Director General of the National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, or Hanban, which also runs China’s global Confucius Institutes programme. “It may take more than 20 years to promote the Chinese language in India. We will work with patience, confidence and perseverance in the next 20 years.”

While the CBSE is keen to train the teachers in a six month-long crash course, Chinese officials have expressed concern that the training programme is too short. “We need at least two years to give them training,” Ms. Xu said, “but the CBSE says it wants a six-month programme. The teachers will have to be on a very tight teaching schedule. Maybe they won’t have time to go shopping or to even sleep!”

Ms. Xu is also the Chief Executive of the Confucius Institute Headquarters, which oversees the 380 institutes China has set up at the university level in 180 countries under a global “soft power” push.

She said China was keen to support any Indian university that was interested in hosting a Confucius Institute. Two earlier initiatives to host institutes at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and at the Vellore Institute of Technology have stalled. In the first case, procedural differences between JNU and its Chinese partner university, Peking University, derailed the plans after long discussions. VIT runs a smaller language study centre after it faced difficulties in hiring Chinese language teachers. Manipal University in Karnataka, which is keen to open the first ever Indian campus in China, is also in talks with the Hanban to open what would be India’s first full-fledged Confucius Institute.

“I hope the existing two Confucius Institutes in India can play an important role for teaching Chinese and to introduce Chinese culture,” Ms. Xu said to a question from The Hindu about the status of the two initiatives, acknowledging that “a lack of teachers” was a problem. “We will do our best to cooperate with the Indian Embassy to send as many teachers as we can,” she said. “If other Indian universities want to host Confucius Institutes, we will do our best [to help] because we see BRICS countries as a priority.”