Uganda’s public schools will officially introduce Mandarin language lessons in February with the backing of the Chinese government.

When the Ugandan school year begins on Feb. 4, Chinese classes will be compulsory for two years in some senior secondary schools and become optional thereafter, according to Grace Buguma, director of Uganda’s national curriculum development center.

This is the first time Chinese language will be taught in Uganda’s public secondary schools. Some private schools, especially those with Chinese pupils, already offer Chinese courses. Makerere University, the country’s oldest and most popular higher learning institution, has also offered Chinese lessons for over five years, although it has not been officially introduced as a degree program.


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Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.

35 secondary schools have been selected for the Chinese language program, with plans to expand the lessons to all Ugandan senior secondary schools in two years, according to Uganda Ministry of Education assistant inspector Nelson Okello. Teachers have been trained and selected for the program and a Chinese language curriculum has been designed, he said.

“The Chinese government sponsored the development of the Chinese language curriculum,” said Okello. “After the establishment of the curriculum, the ministry of education included Chinese language into the secondary schools’ syllabus.”

Okello said that 35 Ugandan teachers have been trained locally to teach Mandarin with support from China, which also provided tutors. Other teachers will come to Uganda from China.

“China has become a world power,” said Jerome Atuke, a ministry officer in charge of secondary school language education. “Therefore, learning the Chinese language is necessary, especially in countries that are benefiting from China’s generosity.”

“Our country has received a lot of donations and grants from China in the past few years,” Atuke added.

Esther Mbayo Mbulakubuza, Minister to the Office of the President, told The News Lens in an interview that the move to introduce Mandarin in Uganda’s schools makes sense in an age of robust China-Uganda ties. “The decision to teach Chinese in schools was informed by the increasing bilateral trade and the growing friendship between the two countries,” she said.

Mbayo expressed appreciation towards the Chinese government for making it possible for Uganda to start teaching Chinese in its schools. She said the Chinese government had provided textbooks and some teachers to make it possible.

Growing economic ties

China has recently become a key trade partner with Uganda. Nowadays, more Ugandan traders travel to China to purchase goods than those who go to the whole of Europe.

“There is at least one or more items made in China in all homes in Uganda,” said Iganga town trade officer Thomas Wagudda. “Just walk into any shop anywhere in the country and you will observe that a good number of items there are made in China.”

“That makes it necessary for our children to study the Chinese language. That can probably help them easily join Chinese universities,” said Wagudda.


Credit: AP / Stephen Wandera

A Chinese shoe seller watches as a customer inspects his wares at a shop in Kampala.

Ali Mbali, a businessman who often visits China to buy goods, expressed his support for the Chinese language program.

“I stopped going to Europe to buy goods for my supermarkets,” said Mbali. “I instead go to China and buy all I need. It is therefore good that the Chinese language is going to be taught in our schools. We need to learn the language so that we can easily communicate with the Chinese when we go there for trade.”

Stephen Mukasa, the headmaster of Laka High School in Apac district, said he is happy his school will teach Chinese.

“Chinese has become an international language. It is used all over the world,” said Mukasa. “I am happy that my students are going to be learning it.”

Simon Takala, a student at Adolf secondary school in Kyenjojo district, said he will seriously study Chinese as he wants to get a job in one of the numerous Chinese companies in Uganda.

William Katoko, a parent to a child who will study Chinese, said: “I have encouraged my child to study Chinese language because it is increasingly becoming among the mostly used language in the world.”

Officials at Makerere University have said they will introduce a bachelor’s degree in Chinese language and culture this year. They also said they will train graduate teachers of the Chinese language. Many students at the university have expressed a willingness to study the language and become qualified teachers.

There are over 50 Chinese companies in Uganda dealing in various infrastructure projects including the construction of electricity dams, roads, buildings and bridges. There are also thousands of Chinese nationals in Uganda dealing in trade. A good number of shops and supermarkets in Kampala, the country’s capital, and many outlying towns are managed by Chinese.


Credit: Reuters / Feng Li

Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In his speech on Independence Day celebrations on Oct. 9, 2018, Uganda’s president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni underscored the good relationship between Uganda and China. He also appreciated China’s contribution towards Uganda’s development.

“I commend Chinese companies for establishing companies in the country which have employed some of our youth,” said Museveni, according to Kampala newspaper Bukedde. “I appreciate the cordial relationship between Uganda and China.”

Museveni visited Beijing in September 2018, where he met Chinese President Xi Jinping and signed three economic and humanitarian agreements between the two countries.

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Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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