Concerns over International program being taught in NSW Schools

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Concerns over Chinese program being taught in NSW schools

NSW Greens education spokesman David Shoebridge. Picture: AAP.
NSW Greens education spokesman David Shoebridge. Picture: AAP.

Pressure is mounting on the NSW government to make public a review­ of its Chinese government-funded Confucius Classrooms prog­ram amid heightened national concerns about transparency and the potential for foreign influence.

The review of foreign support for language and culture classes ­operating in NSW schools — and in particular the Education Department’s embedded Confucius Instit­ute, established in 2012 — was requested by former education minister Rob Stokes in May last year. The process was expected to take six months but a report has yet to be made public.

NSW Greens education spokesman David Shoebridge yesterday issued a formal call for papers in the state parliament, requesting the Berejiklian government release the final report, any draft reports, and any agreements or deeds between the Department of Education, its schools and the Confucius Institute Headquarters, know as Hanban, in Beijing.

The call, issued under standing order 52, is expected to go to a vote tomorrow and, if passed, would compel the release of documents within 14 days.

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the review­ would be released by the end of the month.

Concerns over Confucius Instit­utes have been growing in light of recent reports about the extent of control Chinese headquarters have over teaching in the centres, with federal Attorney-General Christian Porter announcing the government was looking into whether deals between 13 Australian universities and the Confucius Institutes are in breach of new foreign-­interference laws.

But that probe does not extend to state deals.

The NSW Education Department’s Confucius Institutes were launched in 2012, with a $150,000 establishment grant from Hanban. Each Confucius Classroom receives a $10,000 start-up plus up to $10,000 per year to support school-based projects. Critics have long expresse­d concerns about classes presenting a sympathetic and unbiase­d view of Chinese culture.

The department’s program currently­ oversees Confucius Classrooms in 13 public schools.

Each class has a qualified Chinese-language teacher and an assistant teacher provided by Hanban.

A departmental document says the role of the “native speaker assistant teacher” is to “participate in learning activities in the classroom with the teacher, such as modelling language pronunciation, script-writing, structures and text” and “discussing aspects of culture to develop intercultural understanding”.

Learning materials are also provided by Hanban.

The Education Department has not published a copy of the agreement in full. However, its website reveals the NSW Confucius Instit­ute board of directors is responsible for ensuring that its Chinese headquarters by-laws and constitution, which lay out the rights and obligations of all Confucius Institutes worldwide, are observed.

They include the obligation to “uphold and defend the reputation and image of the Confucius Instit­utes” and “accept both supervision from and assessments made by the headquarters”.

Details of previously secret agreements between Hanban and Australian universities emerged last month, revealing that several had moved to lessen China’s control­ over institutes.

A 2009 agreement struck by the University of Queensland, where Chinese and Hong Kong students have clashed recently, contained a clause stating that the university must “plan promotional activities to establish and increase” the Confucius­ Institute brand.

University of Queensland vice-chancellor Peter Hoj said that agreement was being renegotiated, and the university would seek to make the contract public.

More recen­t agreements, including those signed by the universities of ­Western Australia and Newcastle, give the university the ultimate right to “determine the content of the curriculum” taught.

Mr Shoebridge said a foreign ­entity should not be in control of curriculum and teaching staff in Australian schools.

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