High school Chinese classes suffer cuts at University of Iowa

IOWA CITY – According to the University of Iowa, state budget cuts are closing some college centers and could mean the end of Chinese classes at high schools in Iowa City.

The Confucius Institute – which offers Chinese classes at West High, City High, and Liberty High – is expected to close in July 2019.

It is one of seven centers that the IU intends to close in response to budget cuts. The university hopes the closures, along with funding cuts to three other centers, will save $ 3.5 million.

“It is a very unfortunate decision that has been taken, given that this is a very good opportunity for high school students,” said Xi Ma, program coordinator of the Confucius Institute. ‘… Taking courses in high school or in the early years of university enables them to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to better serve people of diverse languages ​​and cultural backgrounds.

The institute has been offering Mandarin Chinese classes at West High School and City High School in Iowa City since the 2016-2017 school year, and will begin offering them at Liberty High School this fall, said Diane Schumacher, principal. of the Iowa City School District curriculum.

The institute also organized cultural presentations in primary and secondary schools in the district.

Four levels of Chinese lessons were available to high school students last year, Schumacher said, and students received college credit through a dual enrollment program. Class sizes ranged from three to ten students.

“It’s definitely not enough kids that we can afford to hire a teacher and have a teacher there to teach for us,” Schumacher said, noting that the classes cost the district $ 250. per student. ‘… This is something the Confucius Institute was able to do, to help children access this language. But with the budget cuts, “we anticipate that this could lead to changes in what we are able to deliver.”

Without the institute’s support, the district expects Chinese classes on its high school campuses to be cut short. On campus, students will only have access to Spanish and French courses.

German-language high school classes were recently phased out due to budget cuts as well, Schumacher said.

Some high school students from Iowa City come to IU for additional language lessons.

“It won’t be as convenient for them, it’s more difficult when it’s in college,” Schumacher said. “It’s a little easier to say, ‘I’m going to go down the hall and take this class.’

West High Chinese language student Diego Rivera, 17, said he hoped students would seek Chinese lessons at UI. He said he chose to study the language after completing Spanish lessons at his school.

“It’s Chinese, it’s very, very hard,” Rivera said. “But sure, if you’re willing to devote the time to it, it’s worth it – you’ve just learned one of the most widely spoken languages ​​in the world.”

Rivera said he is keen to learn Chinese because of his interest in international affairs – knowledge of the Chinese language in this area, he said, “is essential.”

Ma said the Confucius Institute was still looking for a way to continue its programming – which includes community classes, cultural festivals and vocational training – after the institute itself closed.

“I hope there is a way to move the (high school) classes to other places, to keep those classes sustainable,” she said. “I hope we find a way to do it, but I’m not sure. “

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Confucius Institute program coordinator Xi Ma and guest teachers from Shanghai Yue Liu and Binxin Li (foreground, left to right) pose with students from North Central High School during a presentation by Chinese culture in May 2014. (Courtesy of the Confucius Institute)

Sylvester L. Goldfarb