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Mandarin popularization narrows educational gap

LI MENG | 2021-12-16 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

FILE PHOTO: This is a blackboard on which basic knowledge about Mandarin and language use norms are introduced.

In narrowing regional education gaps and gaps between urban and rural areas, the promotion of Mandarin (also called Putonghua, meaning standard Chinese language) is an essential step, as Mandarin popularization is closely related to the realization of educational equity. In addition, constantly improving Mandarin levels across the country is also conducive to consolidating national cultural identity.

Gap between regions 
According to the Outlines for Implementing the Projects of Popularizing the Standard Spoken and Written Chinese Language issued by the Ministry of Education and the National Language Commission in 2017, the average popularization rate of Mandarin across China has exceeded 70%, while the popularization rate between eastern and western regions, and between cities and villages, is quite imbalanced. The gap between the west and the east of China totals 20 percentage points, and the popularization rate in big cities exceeds 90%, while rates in many rural areas remain at only about 40%. The number is even lower in some regions where groups of ethnic minorities live. 
In central and western regions, there are still many young and middle-aged farmers and livestock workers who are unable to communicate basic concepts in Mandarin, which has become an important factor hindering individuals’ efforts in lifting themselves out of poverty, one that affects local economic and social development, and that even impairs unity and harmony within ethnic groups. 
As the policy of popularizing Mandarin is enacted nationwide, some improvement has been made regarding Mandarin levels of students and teachers from primary and middle schools in poverty afflicted areas, yet significant problems still exist. For example, insufficient attention to Mandarin use, weak pronunciation, and imperfect training systems for Mandarin are common. In poor areas, local dialects are used at a high rate in many classrooms. These are realities that we must face directly. 
Educational equity requires balanced overall development of the education system, and teaching resource equity is an important part of this. As personnel working at the frontlines of education, teachers’ Mandarin levels will directly affect students’ abilities to use the national standard language. Such abilities are closely related to students’ schooling at different stages and even future employment. In remote areas, multiple factors—weak “hardware” resources coupled with lower Mandarin levels among teachers restrict the local progress of education. 
Measures at the national level 
Systematic promotion of a standardized Chinese language can be traced back to the time of the 1911 Revolution. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, standard Chinese language began to be referenced as Mandarin. The National Speech Reform Conference, which took place in 1955, established the rule that Mandarin should center on Beijing’s speech variety as the standard. In February 1956, the State Council issued the Directive on the Promotion of Putonghua, describing Mandarin as the language that takes Beijing speech as the standard, the language spoken in north China as the basic dialect, and rules adopted by works in standard modern vernacular language as the grammatical norm. 
On a national level, new measures have been taken to popularize Mandarin. In 2020, the Ministry of Education organized 50 nationwide bases for national language and word promotion to conduct one-to-one teaching assistance and mutual aid through remote platforms. Online trainings were also carried out to help teachers from 52 counties—which are still under the poverty line— improve their Mandarin levels. Starting from the autumn semester of 2021, the Ministry of Education decided to implement a Mandarin speaking program among children in preschool during the 14th Five-Year Plan period. 
In summary, a series of strategic plans have been implemented on a national level from legislative perspectives, which aim to popularize Mandarin. Administrative departments of all levels and local education institutions should begin working in a coordinated way for joint mechanism. As the frontline of Mandarin promotion, schools should strive to create a favorable campus atmosphere for Mandarin speaking. 
Li Meng is from the Base for National Language Promotion. 
Edited by BAI LE