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July 7, 2011 4:29 am
Sweden could become the first country in Europe to offer Chinese lessons to all schoolchildren under plans floated by the Swedish education minister.
Jan Björklund said giving future generations access to Chinese language tuition was crucial to national competitiveness.
“Chinese will be much more important, from an economic perspective, than French or Spanish,” he told the Dagens Industri newspaper.
Other western countries have also started introducing Chinese to school curriculums in recognition of China’s growing global role, but Mr Björklund’s plan aims to put Sweden ahead of the pack.
English would remain mandatory for schoolchildren but Chinese would be added to the choice of additional foreign languages available in all primary and secondary schools, along with French, Spanish and German.
Sweden has long been known for having among the highest level of English language skills outside the Anglo-Saxon world. Its proposed embrace of Chinese could be seen as a symbol of a shift in power towards Asia.
“Not everyone in the business world speaks English,” said Mr Björklund. “Very qualified businesses are leaving Europe to move to China.”
Education ministry officials stressed that Mr Björklund did not want to undermine Sweden’s traditional strength in English, but said the choice of additional foreign languages now was “too eurocentric”.
Officials described it as a personal proposal by Mr Björklund, who is leader of the Liberal party. He said he would seek support from the rest of Sweden’s ruling coalition to make it part of government policy.
They said it could take 10 to 15 years to train enough teachers to make Chinese universally available.
“It boils down to teacher-training colleges expanding programmes,” said Mr Björklund. “If we decide to do this, it’s definitely possible.”
Sweden has growing economic ties with China through big Swedish companies such as Ericsson and Hennes & Mauritz, which are investing heavily in the country.
The Scandinavian nation has also been open to investment from China, including the takeover of Gothenburg-based Volvo Cars by Geely last year. Chinese companies are also at the heart of efforts to save Saab Automobile, another Swedish carmaker, from collapse.
“If we look towards the next generation, it’s almost unavoidable to think anything else than that China will be a very important global actor,” said Mr Björklund.
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