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Children must learn Chinese or UK will struggle, says Tesco

TESCOs chairman has slammed the UK for teaching too little Chinese in schools and has demanded more government cash for the subject. However, David Reid praised Scotland for having given children an "advantage" over English youngsters by creating more chances to learn the language.

Speaking at RBS headquarters in Edinburgh yesterday, Mr Reid said only 10 per cent of UK schools offered Mandarin.

He said: "This has to change. The unprecedented speed and scale of changes in China means the UK cannot afford a slow transformation, as that will deny British young people the support they need to best prepare them for a future in which China will play a big role."

Mr Reid was speaking at a 48 Group Club event – an independent business network committed to promoting positive relations with China.

He added: "In opportunities for learning about China, young people have an advantage in Scotland."

Dr Judith McClure, convener of the Scottish China Education Network, said Scotland had a more cohesive approach to teaching the language, born out of trading with China in the 1950s.

Dr McClure, who is headteacher at St Georges School for Girls, Edinburgh, has been a key figure in the provision of Mandarin education in Scotland.

Since 2007, Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS), the government organisation which leads the school curriculum, has overseen the creation of eight Chinese teaching centres, across 14 local authorities.

The "Confucius" classrooms are a shared resource to enable all schools, both primary and secondary, in a local area to benefit from education in both Chinese language and culture.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "This compares with five such hubs in the whole of England and demonstrates Scotlands serious engagement with China."

Bernard McLeary, chief executive of LTS, said Scotlands young people needed to be outward looking to be successful in facing both the challenges and opportunities of globalisation.

He said: "China is a strong economic force and demand for fluent speakers of Chinese languages is increasing throughout the world. Its only right children in Scotland have the opportunity to learn these skills and widen their horizons."

In January, Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, said: "If we are to make the most of our relationship with China, we need to understand China better, through our schools, universities, cultural institutions, our businesses and in government. I am determined to do that."

Highers in Cantonese and Mandarin will be launched in May by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

Confucius classrooms are in St Georges, Edinburgh; Perth High; Grange Academy, Ayrshire; Bathgate Academy, West Lothian; St Ninians High, East Dunbartonshire; Our Ladys High, North Lanarkshire; and Hillhead High in Glasgow. On Thursday one is to be launched at Hazlehead Academy, Aberdeen, serving the city, Aberdeenshire, Moray and Angus.

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