Speaking at a briefing in Riyadh, attended by the Chinese ambassador to the country among others, Al-Sheikh said the program was inspired by a wish to diversify languages taught in the education system, as well as an understanding of the growing global economic importance of China and therefore Chinese languages.
“I hope that the teaching of Chinese will not be limited to language”
“When we say China or the Chinese economy is expected to be the primary economy (in the world) in eight years, this means establishing a strong relationship with this economy based on the common interests of the two countries,” he said.
Teachers will be trained in an intensive year-long program, before teaching in schools across the country.
“This expansion should be accompanied by training a number of teachers in programs developed in cooperation with the Chinese side for a year and with the department of external education to qualify teachers to teach Chinese,” the minister added.
The strategic goal is to make Chinese the “third language” in the Saudi education system, along with Arabic and English.
One prominent Saudi columnist, Hussein Shobokshi, wrote in the Saudi Gazette that Chinese knowledge taught in Saudi Arabia should not be limited to language, but cultural and philosophical subjects too.
“I hope that the teaching of Chinese will not be limited to language only, but will also include cultural dimensions such as the study of the ideas of Confucius, Sun Tzu and other influential philosophers of Chinese thought,” he wrote.
He also noted the importance of Chinese ties in modern business, but said it should not overtake the teaching of English in the Saudi school system.
“Teaching the Chinese language in the Saudi curriculum is a realistic step that reflects the strategic economic relationship between the two countries, and cultural and educational exchanges will further strengthen that relationship. However, teaching Chinese should not replace English”.