This article originally appeared on VICE Asia
Since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s ascent to power in 2016, his administration has overseen a significant shift in the country’s foreign policy, particularly a pivot from the United States towards China. The president who is known for making controversial remarks targeted to the West has only had nice things to say about the Communist country, describing China as a friendly and generous nation, a partner for national development, and a potential military ally for the Philippines.
Now it seems relations are only about to get tighter between both nations as The Department of Education (DepEd) of the Philippines announced on Thursday its partnership with Confucius Institute to train 300 Filipino teachers on teaching Mandarin. Confucius Institute is affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education. The Chinese government funds its training programs.
According to DepEd, the program aims to support the sustainable development of the Special Program in Foreign Language (SPFL)-Chinese Mandarin in public secondary schools with the target of upskilling 300 public school teachers in the next five years.
The scholarship for teachers will garner them a Master of Arts in Education, Major in Chinese Language Teaching (MAEd CLT) and will be implemented by the Angeles University Foundation of the Philippines and Fujian Normal University of China.
DepEd noted that the two-year master’s degree program is designed to “enhance their language proficiency and their pedagogical skills in teaching Chinese Mandarin as a foreign language” and will include studying in China for six months.
Chinese embassy cultural counsellor Tian Shanting lauded the DepEd’s decision, noting that the agency is one of the key contributors in the promotion of friendly relations between the neighbouring countries.
Although learning Mandarin has been highly encouraged internationally for business and travel purposes, it seems not everyone is too excited about public school teachers learning and teaching the language – especially against the backdrop of Duterte’s friendly ties with China.
It also doesn’t help ease Filipinos’ suspicions of China, given its aggression in the West Philippine Sea and a territorial dispute over Spratly Island, where China has illegally built artificial islands for a naval base. In Manila, there is also concern over the recent influx of Chinese nationals moving to the country’s capital, to put up online gambling businesses.
This, along with the administration’s decision to remove the country’s native language from college curriculums in May, have further alarmed Filipinos who are questioning the sudden change in priority.
Confucius Institute itself has been widely criticised globally. In a 2014 article, The Economist wrote about critics’ concerns that “China’s funding comes at a price: that Confucius Institutes… and school-based Confucius Classrooms restrain freedom of speech by steering the discussion of China away from sensitive subjects.” Other countries have also terminated their contracts and partnerships with the Institute in the past, due to the belief that it is a way for China to expand its soft power internationally.
On Twitter, @bella_senyorita criticized how Filipinos don’t even know the basics of their native language anymore.
While user @ItsMeGrayKnight called the Philippines a province of China.
It also doesn’t help that the Philippines showed a dismal performance in English reading comprehension according to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results released last week.
User @damseLkeiLa argued that the country should be prioritising English after the disappointing PISA results.
While user @cessthehambog said that adding Mandarin into a curriculum would take away from Filipinos preserving their own language.
The Philippines has two national languages: English and Filipino. At least for now.