Confucius Classroom Questions

18:01' 03-07-2018
The Chinese Government has spent $10 billion promoting Chinese traditional culture and language around the world. It has set up about 525 “Confucius Institutes” in 146 countries, all controlled from Beijing.

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    Photo: confuciusinstitute.unsw.edu.au

    Australia has the third highest number of Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms after the US and UK. Fourteen institutes have been established at Australian universities, including La Trobe and Melbourne in Victoria, and 60 schools around Australia have introduced “Confucius classrooms”.

    The Confucius Institute programs vary, but include language study, scholarships, culture and art workshops, and professional development for teachers. They also offer study tours, competitions and language proficiency testing.

    The institutes have attracted some criticism in the past, mainly around the issue of possible political influence by China on Australian students. A recent film by Canadian-Chinese filmmaker Doris Liu has reignited the debate.

    Ms Liu's documentary, “In the Name of Confucius”, details the Toronto School Board’s battle over the Confucius Classrooms program in 2014, leading to a vote to close the program. Toronto has a large Chinese community, which was reportedly split by the debate. Some universities in the US and Europe have also closed the institutes on their campuses because of concerns over inappropriate foreign government influence.

    The current NSW Coalition Government announced in May that it was reviewing the Confucius Classrooms program, out of similar concerns. Documents obtained under freedom of information laws by SBS News reveal that in 2011, the NSW Labor Government of the time committed to respect Chinese “cultural customs” and abide by “Chinese laws and regulations” when it established its Confucius Classrooms program.

    This in itself does not suggest an agreement to accept any kind of political influence. Defenders of the institutes say they are non-profit public institutions promoting intercultural understanding, similar to Germany’s Goethe Institut and France’s Alliance Francaise.

    The Chinese Language Teachers Association of NSW, representing over 160 Mandarin teachers, says there is no evidence of “political content” in the classes, and the curriculum was developed by the NSW Board of Studies. Locally qualified teachers do all the teaching in NSW schools, as is the case in every state.

    It is not known when the NSW government review will be completed.

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Keywords: australiachinese governmentconfucius institutes

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