If you don’t understand what that means, you better brush up on your Mandarin Chinese. Or, just ask a student in the Half Hollow Hills Chinese language program, which was recently named a national model for excellence.
A striking change is taking place within the global education platform. In 2010, the United States fell from top of the class to average in world education rankings, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Forging ahead however, is China.
Currently, 18 percent of American 15-year-olds do not reach an OECD-set level of reading proficiency, compared to 10 percent in China-Shanghai and Hong Kong, which are compared with countries because of the size of their populations, said the report.
China is also an ever-growing economic power. In order to prepare students to compete on a new global scale, the Half Hollow Hills School District has expanded its language program, and Chinese classes are quickly growing in popularity.
Half Hollow Hills is one of only two school districts in New York State to offer the language on both middle and high school levels. Herricks is the other. HHH isn’t just offering the language though. The program’s inclusion of technology and culture has earned it a place in the third cohort of schools in the Asia Society Confucius Classrooms Network. It’s membership means that HHH will now serve as a national example for Mandarin Chinese instruction.
The Network is backed by a branch of the Chinese government, which will provide HHH with $10,000 each year for three years to help fund the program. In it for China, is the potential to create future business partnerships with Americans.
“The complaint we hear most often with the American education system is the global achievement gap - that we’re not prepared to enter a global society. Our goal in Half Hollow Hills is to change that to best prepare our students for a global world,” language director Francesco Fratto said.
Mandarin Chinese may be one of the most important languages for students to learn today, but it is not the easiest for English speakers to pick up. On average, it takes four-times longer for an English speaker to learn Mandarin Chinese than a Romance Language, such as Spanish or Italian, Fratto said. Much of that has to do with the sheer volume of Chinese characters. There are about 50,000 characters in Chinese. One must know at least 3,500 of them to be considered fluent. Despite its difficulty level, Fratto said a goal of the program is to put Chinese on par with other core languages.
“If we look at the economic powerhouses of the world, all roads point to China,” Fratto said. “Whether we like it or not, China is here to stay. We need to teach Mandarin Chinese.”
While budget cuts are causing language programs to shrink across the state, HHH has found a way to keep its program cost effective by hiring two teachers who are well versed in both Mandarin Chinese and French. By teaching both languages, the district has been able to avoid hiring additional part-time staff. The $30,000 grant that district will receive over the next three years from the Asia Society Confucius Classrooms Network, is also enabling the program to continue.
“The funding will allow us to continue to grow our program during these tough budgetary times,” Superintendent Kelly Fallon said in a statement.
There are about 168 students in grades six through nine who are in the HHH Chinese language program, which started in 2008. As the first class of Chinese students head into 10th grade next school year, the program will expand as well, including having students take an exam similar to the Regents, since the current state language tests do not include Chinese.