Texas has seen a dramatic rise in the number of K-12 students studying Chinese, according to a recent study by researchers at the Confucius Institute at Texas A&M University. Drawing on data collected and provided by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), researchers Randy Kluver, associate professor of communication, and Martha Green, a researcher with the Confucius Institute, found enrollment in Chinese language education grew by more than 2,000 percent between 2000 and 2015.
Over the period of a decade and a half, enrollment in Chinese language courses jumped from fewer than 1,000 students in five districts to almost 14,000 students in 48 districts.
Growth in Chinese language programs has been mostly at the secondary school level, but the researchers reported that programs are also growing in elementary and middle schools, and even in kindergartens.
They add that, although there was modest growth between 2000 and 2007, enrollment began to skyrocket around 2007-2008. They say indications are that enrollment will continue to rise, as students understand the geopolitical and economic opportunities that arise from engagement with China.
“This study shows that there is a clear recognition, both among school districts and their students, that China will help shape the future. By learning Chinese, students position themselves both to better understand that nation, and to develop bridges of understanding between the two nations,” says Kluver, who also is director of the Confucius Institute at Texas A&M.
The study notes that Chinese language instruction didn’t begin in Texas until the 1990s, more than 20 years after the resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and China. However, since that time the relationship between Texas and China has been growing along a number of dimensions, including economic and investment ties, education, and personal travel.
One of the important findings of the study is that most Chinese language instruction is centered in urban areas, notably Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston, each of which has thousands of students enrolled in the language, while few rural districts offer the language. Kluver and Green note that, although it is encouraging to see these programs develop, they believe if this pattern continues, students from more rural areas of Texas will find it more difficult to access the professions and careers that are likely to arise in trade, politics and cultural exchange between the U.S. and China.
They say they intend to continue data collection and analysis so as to provide information and resources for school districts across the state to help them build Chinese language programs.
The full report and data tables are available online at: Confucius.tamu.edu.
About the Confucius Institute: Texas A&M’s Confucius Institute, established in 2007, is one of five in the state of Texas, and one of almost 100 in the United States. Each of the Institutes seeks to enhance Chinese language education and cultural outreach so that U.S. students can better understand China.