ANGELES CITY, Philippines—A center that teaches Mandarin and Chinese culture at a university here has been strengthening friendship and understanding among Filipinos and Chinese amid political tension arising from a territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“It’s for friendship … so we can understand each other,” said Zhang Shifang of the Confucius Institute at Angeles University Foundation (CI-AUF), which the Chinese government established in 2010.
Zhang, 41, heads the CI-AUF, the third in the Philippines. The first Confucius Institute was set up at Ateneo de Manila University in 2006 and another opened at Bulacan State University in 2009.
The Confucius Institutes in the Philippines are among 358 centers in 105 countries so far, said Lourdes Nepomuceno, CI-AUF director.
Although the Philippines and China are locked in a territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea, the two teachers avoided the topic in an interview before the Chinese New Year.
“We leave the political side to experts,” Zhang said. “We are just promoting language and culture. This is cultural diplomacy.”
On Jan. 12, Education Secretary Armin Luistro recognized the CI-AUF as the lead institution for the training of local Chinese teachers for a special language program in Mandarin.
Liu Yandong, a Politburo member of the Chinese Communist Party and chairman of the council of the Confucius Institute in Beijing, cited the facility in the 50-year-old AUF as one of the 30 most outstanding CIs in the world in 2011.
“The recognition comes because of the quality of the program. It has influenced mainstream government,” Nepomuceno said, referring to partnerships made chiefly with the Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Foreign Affairs, Bureau of Customs and the National Library.
“Others think the center promotes the philosophy of Confucius or it is religious. It’s not,” she said. She likened the Confucius Institute to the Goethe Institute of Germany, Instituto de Cervantes of Spain, and British Council of the United Kingdom.
The CI-AUF’s partner is Fujian Normal University (FNU), said to be one of China’s oldest and most respected universities. It sends volunteer teachers to CI-AUF’s language and arts classes. The center has 50 teachers.
Top students in Grades 7 to 12 will start taking Mandarin next year through a 40-hour module as part of a career path.
The CI-AUF, also in partnership with the DepEd, has trained 300 teachers in the last two summers to teach Mandarin. Those who passed the Chinese proficiency test have been teaching in pilot schools in Paoay Lake National High School in Ilocos Norte, Mabolo National High School in Cebu City, and Zamboanga West National High School in Zamboanga City.
At least 60 teachers will be sent to Shanghai this summer for cultural immersion as a requirement for a certificate course.
The CI-AUF has opened a China book room at the National Library to be a “window to China.”
Learning Mandarin can be practical, too, according to Zhang, who shared the experience of a Filipino who landed a job in Macau although his language skill was poor.
The CI-AUF is going to graduate its first batch of eight scholars in Bachelor of Secondary Education major in Chinese language teaching in April.
The CI-AUF has grown because the host university, through its chairman, Joseph Emmanuel Angeles, and its chancellor, former Commission on Higher Education Chairman Emmanuel Angeles, support the program, Zhang said.
Being a nonprofit institution, the CI-AUF can teach Mandarin at a cost of only P3,500 for a 40-hour module.
“Mandarin’s the new English,” Nepomuceno said.