China-funded Confucius Institutes meet in Colombo with an eye on the future

China-funded Confucius Institutes meet in Colombo with an eye on the future

Colombo, June 28 (newsin.asia):  The Chinese government-funded Confucius Institutes and Centers in Asia met here on Wednesday to evaluate the  work done so far and chalk out plans for a brighter future.

The 2018 Conference of Partial Confucius Institutes in Asia held at the BMICH and the Universities of Colombo and Kalaniya, took stock of the working of the Confucius Institutes (CIs) in the Asian region, identified lacunae in their functioning, and chalked out plans for the future in the light of the experience gained thus far.

The Colombo conference was organized by the Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hamban) in China and the Universities of Colombo and Kelaniya. The  conference attracted delegates from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh ,Nepal, Sri Lanka, India,  Iran  and Turkey.

Participants from China and the other countries expressed the need for CIs but from different points of view.

The Chinese delegates saw the CIs and the Confucius Centers (CCs) as being part of Chinese President  Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) providing a linguistic and cultural foundation to it. But the Asian delegates, who come from countries with BRI projects in them, saw the CIs and CCs as being useful as job providers in BRI projects. The CIs and CCs they said, help their youth get jobs in the Chinese companies investing in BRI projects.

Yan Guohua,  Vice President of Beijing Foreign Studies University, said that the CIs and CCs began by teaching the Chinese language and culture, but they now include the social sciences in their  curriculum. The standard of Chinese language teaching has also gone up, he added.

Prof.Lakshman Dissanayake, Vice Chancellor of Colombo University, said that his university opened the Confucius Institute in 2016, and in the last year and half, has been catering to “different groups with different needs.”

Prof. Dissanayake noted that with the growing presence of the Chinese in Sri Lanka,  it has almost become “mandatory” for Sri Lankan administrators, businessman and tour operators  to learn Chinese, to be able to deal with the Chinese, do business with them and to cater to the increasing number of  Chinese tourists.

He pointed out that with the increasing involvement of Chinese companies in the economic development of Sri Lanka, employment opportunities have opened up for Sri Lankans with knowledge of Chinese and Chinese culture. The CIs help them acquire the appropriate knowledge and linguistic skills.

The Vice Chancellor further said that the CIs in Colombo and Kelaniya Universities have enabled “people to people” contact between Sri Lanka and China which will lead to the “coexistence of diverse peoples with different cultures.”

In this context he referred to the China-Sri Lanka cultural cooperation agreement with the Sripali campus of Colombo University.

Prof.Dissanayake urged the conference to think up ways of improving standards and adopting the best practices in the field of higher education.

Yu Yunfeng, Deputy Chief Executive of the Confucius Institute Headquarters and Deputy Director General of Hanban, China, said that the number of  Confucius Institutes have grown by leaps and bounds in the last ten years.

There are now 525 Confucius Institutes (CIs) and 1,113  Confucius Centers (CC) in 146 countries, he said.

Yu said that the CIs and CCs are constantly leaning from their experience. Participants are also learning from each other to provide quality service.

“We are  open and broadminded. The CIs are integrating with local communities and attempting to use local teachers and local teaching material,” he said.

The CIs and CCs  are adjuncts to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and provide the ideological basis for the BRI. The BRI is founded on the principle of mutual understanding and shared development – values which are fostered by the CIs and CCs, he added.

Madhawa Dewasurendra, Additional Secretary Ministry of Higher Education, Sri Lanka, said that Sino-Indian relations are based on cooperation over the years which has met pressing needs both economic and political.

“While Chinese investments in Sri Lanka have increased job opportunities, China has opened the doors to higher  education through scholarships,” he noted.

Delegates with Ven.Dhammajothi Thero, Director Confucius Institute, Colombo University:Photo: Tang Lu

Ms.Pang Chunxue, Charge de’ Affaires at the Chinese Embassy noted  that the countries in which CIs have come up are on the Belt and Road Initiative and added that  the CIs provide the values on which the BRI is based.

“The CIs’ goal of bringing people together matches the goals of the BRI which are to narrow gaps in development between countries,” she explained.

Prof. Ashfaq Ahmad Chattha of the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, Pakistan, said that his university has developed Chinese  language courses job oriented.

“There are courses for agriculture students. The university has teamed  up with other universities to provide Chinese courses for engineering  students and for women too,” he added.

Dr.Chattha  said that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has created enormous job opportunities for Pakistani youth, thanks to a bilateral agreement between China and Pakistan which enjoins Chinese companies to employ qualified locals.

He further said that there is a tremendous interest among Pakistanis from all walks of life to learn Chinese as economic relations between Pakistan and China grow from strength to strength.

Dr.Kumari Priyanka Jayasooriya Menike of Kelaniya University in Sri Lanka said that while the number of students wanting to learn Chinese is increasing, there is a shortage of teachers, both local and foreign.

The Kelaniya university,  which started teaching Chinese way back in 1994, still has to make do with part time teachers.

“This is because teachers’ salaries are too low. Many students go to China for higher studies in Chinese but do not come back to teach. They take jobs in the Chinese companies. Government should make it mandatory for students who go to China on scholarships to come back to teach for some time,” she suggested

(The featured image at the top shows a young Sri Lankan Buddhist monk trying his hand at writing Chinese characters.Photo: Tang Lu)