Study in Chinese in Banská Bystrica

Bilingual programme in Slovak and Chinese should release the potential of the most widely spoken language.

The 2018 TALIS study shows young people are not interested in becoming teachers. The 2018 TALIS study shows young people are not interested in becoming teachers. (Source: Sme)

With almost one billion speakers, knowledge of Mandarin Chinese can offer a competitive advantage. Gymnázium Mikuláša Kováča in Banská Bystrica is the first school in central Europe to offer a bilingual programme in this exotic language.

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“It is common place that families in West Europe hire Chinese babysitters to teach their children the language,” said Alena Paulová, the headmistress of gymnázium Mikuláša Kováča. “At our school, it is possible to study it academically.”

About 900 million people use Mandarin Chinese as their first language, which makes it the most spoken language in the world.

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“Chinese is a world trend and knowledge of this language is a competitive advantage,” said Paulová.

Her school, named after a Slovak poet and author Mikuláš Kováč, is the first in central Europe to have Chinese as the official language in the curriculum, included in September 2016. Apart from that, the school has been offering a bilingual Slovak-Spanish programme for 13 years.

“The five-year bilingual programme provides students with 43 lessons of Chinese language a week, which is twice as much as a traditional four-year programme,” said Paulová.

Study is oriented on natural sciences, with mathematics, chemistry, biology, physics, geography and physical education taught in Chinese. Students leave the school at the C level in Chinese, which is advanced user. In the future they also want to provide the HSK Chinese Proficiency Test, which is an internationally recognized certificate in Chinese.

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“In terms of content standards, we cooperate with the faculty of philology at the University of Matej Bel in Banská Bystrica and also the department of Asian studies at the Palackého University in Olomouc,” said Paulová, adding that the programme is supervised by the Confucius Institute at the Technical University in Bratislava.

“Every month they assess the work of our lecturers and teachers and the achievements of the students.”

The top students can earn a two-month study stay at highs schools and universities in China with scholarships and travel costs covered by the Chinese government.

Next round of admission tests for the programme will take place in April 2017, open to pupils in the 8th and 9th year of the elementary school.

“Knowledge of Chinese is not a condition as they will have 22 lessons for getting the basic command during the first year of study,” Paulová pointed out.

English, French or Russian

“English is a compulsory subject at all types of schools from the 3th grade, but most of the schools include it already in the 1st grade if they have enough qualified teachers,” Eva Koprena, the spokeswoman of the Ministry of Education, told The Slovak Spectator.

Apart from that, schools can add German, Russian, French, Spanish or Italian, according to their conditions.

Currently, there are 81 schools offering bilingual programmes in Slovakia. Most of them (51) offer English language, one school offers Bulgarian and one Russian language.

In the modern world, English is not enough. Many employers require two foreign languages. Staples, apart from English, are German, Spanish or French. Russian is experiencing a revival and exotic languages are arriving together with investors or economic migrants.

Special bilingual secondary schools, gymnázia in Slovak, offer study programmes in a foreign language. Most of them focus on English, but there are several schools that also offer other languages, such as Spanish, German, French, Italian or Russian.

The bilingual Slovak-French study programme at Gymnázium Metodova 2 in Bratislava has existed for 26 years.

“It is the result of good cooperation between Slovakia and France,” said Bronislava Jedličková, the deputy head for the French section of the school.

The bilingual programme is aimed at natural sciences, with mathematics, physics, chemistry and later also biology taught in French. Teaching staff are Slovaks with proficiency in French, backed by certificates.

“We also have three French lecturers, who teach French language and literature,” added Jedličková.

Gymnázium Ladislava Sáru in Bratislava runs a similar bilingual programme in Italian.

“In the fifth year, the students take school leaving exams [maturita in Slovak] in Italian language and literature – written and oral,” said Iveta Holubcová, teacher at Gymnázium Ladislava Sáru.

Students also have to opt for exams in one natural science subject taught in Italian. In case their grade is no lower than 3 (at a 1 to 5 scale), students can apply for the state language examinations.

The school leaving certificate is valid also in Italy, after being signed by the ambassador of Italy.

“Our graduates can be accepted to the universities in Italy under the same conditions as Italians,” stressed Holubcová.

International degree

Gymnázium Jura Hronca is the only state supported high school in Slovakia that offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme. It is an international education programme recognised worldwide. It consists of three stages and the main aim is to develop intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills that are required in the global world. The programme is present at 3,295 schools in 140 countries.

The IB programme is recognized by universities and institutions around the world.

“Many of our graduates study abroad and some of them have enrolled in top universities in the UK and US,” said Eva Žitná, vice-principal and head of the school. [W1] 

IB programme is divided into three stages. A Primary Years Programme for children up to age 11, Middle Years Programme for students aged 11 - 17 and the IB programme for the last two years of secondary education.

“Each programme takes into consideration the cognitive and social development of the particular age group,” said Žitná.

All education takes place in English, apart from Slovak language and literature lessons and other foreign languages.

“Many of the students come from families of foreigners or have spent part of their childhood abroad,” said Žitná, adding that they also have a few native speakers of English.

IB does not follow the state curricula, but utilizes concepts provided by the IB headquarters. It gives the teachers freedom in designing curricula and puts focus also on non-formal education and extracurricular activities.

“Students regularly attend theatres, exhibitions or participate in workshops, which can be included in their schedule,” said Žitná.

Study abroad

The new state educational programme offers more space for extra-curricular activities and many schools use it. Gymnázium Metodova offers students the opportunity to spend part of their studies in France.

“We have two partner schools in Brittany and two near Bordeaux, where students spend 11 or 12 weeks,” Jedličková said.

Overall, one-third of the students enrol in exchange programmes, either via partner schools or via programmes offered by agencies. Apart from that, Gymnázium offers exchange to Belgium, and students can obtain the internationally recognized DELF certificate in French language at various levels (A1, A2, B1, B2).

“We cooperate with the French institute in Bratislava in terms of further education of our teachers and engaging students in events and activities,” explained Jedličková.

Students participate in the European Day of Languages, Mois de la Francophonie, workshops with French authors and theatre plays.

“Our school offers students exchange at Italian schools,” said Holubcová. They take only about a week and the students spend the time with Italian families.

Partner schools are spread around the whole country, so they have the chance to visit Milan, Como, Bergamo, Vicenza, Padova, Bologna, Peruggia, Rome, Foggia and even Sardinia.

“Student exchange is an opportunity to come into contact with foreign (Italian) culture and language in various forms,” said Holubcová.

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