Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education has begun teaching Chinese at eight public secondary schools, as the first stage of the ministry’s plan to include it in public education.
According to the ministry’s spokesperson, Ibtisam Al-Shehri, four schools in Riyadh, two in Jeddah, and two in the eastern province, including two girls’ schools, would participate.
Al-Shehri also noted that studying Chinese would be optional for students, not compulsory.
The Chinese Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chen Weiqing thanked Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Twitter for including Chinese in the country’s educational system.
“I hope that the emerging generation in the Kingdom will master the Chinese language, love Chinese culture, and embrace an honorable future for the two friendly countries,” he said.
Chinese was first introduced to Saudi schools during the crown prince’s visit to Beijing in February 2019, as part of an agreement between the two countries to strengthen bilateral friendship and cooperation.
Several initiatives were launched with different organizations in the education and training sectors to introduce the language to the public.
One of the biggest initiatives was in collaboration with the Arab Open University and Nabegh Educational Center to teach more than 3,500 teachers and employees in the education sector in 12 cities around the country.
Abdulrazaq Othman Abdullah, 38, is a graduate from China, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in administration and financial management. He and his wife taught Chinese to Saudi teachers in Madinah.
“The most important outcome from this project is to help the teachers overcome psychological barriers while studying a foreign language, and eliminate the assumptions associated with the Chinese language,” Abdullah told Arab News.
“It is very important that teaching Chinese begins from secondary school, it will broaden the students’ horizons and introduce them to a new culture and a new world that they would not know of without the language.”
Knowledge of the Chinese language will create a new field of opportunities for Saudis, be it in tourism, technology, commerce, investment, science, medicine, diplomacy, or education and academia.
The introduction of Chinese into the curriculum is a step toward opening new academic horizons for students of various educational levels in the Kingdom. Saudi universities are gradually including Chinese in their educational plans and academic activities.
“I have to admit that I was worried at the beginning, especially that I was teaching adults with years of experience in education,” Abdullah said.
“However, by the end of the experience I was very satisfied with the outcome. We as a population have a sense of curiosity, we like to seize opportunities and we are welcoming of everything new and willing to learn.”
From his experience as a student in China, Abdullah said that there were obvious cultural similarities between the two countries and that both societies were welcoming of each other.
During the crown prince’s visit to Beijing, Chinese leaders agreed to help facilitate Chinese language learning through its the country’s Confucius Institute, which promotes language learning and cultural exchange around the world.
China is home to almost a fifth of the world’s population, and has been growing significantly in the past four decades at an average of nearly 10 percent a year, transforming the country into a global leader in technology and manufacturing.
The inclusion of the Chinese language will enhance the cultural diversity of students in the Kingdom, and contribute to the achievement of the goals in education for Vision 2030.