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Eighty-one years on: Pretoria Chinese School part of the ‘Asian century’1

| August 28, 2015 | 0 Comments

By John Gelling

There may still be people in South Africa who have not heard about the school the Taipei Liaison Office representative2 recently described as an “African anomaly”.

He was referring to the Pretoria Chinese School (PCS), which offers something unique to the already multicultural South African educational landscape.

It is one of only a handful of schools outside of Asia where Mandarin is a compulsory subject for every single student, no matter what their cultural background may be. This makes for a cosmopolitan environment, where local and international Chinese and non-Chinese students are all welcome. It is here that the three foundational pillars of Chinese culture – respect, discipline and humility – are impressed upon staff, parents and pupils.

The way of the future

All PCS students joining the school in Grade 00 (we have a total of 456 pupils, with 112 pupils of Chinese or Korean descent) spend the next 14 years becoming proficient in the speaking, reading and writing of Mandarin at second additional language level – the result of a curriculum developed by the Chinese department at the school. Mandarin home language pupils are able to successfully and expertly write the Cambridge International AS and A-level examinations3 in Grade 12. Many parents seek out the school particularly for this reason. In addition, PCS offers an opportunity for pupils to excel in more than one language (English, Mandarin and Afrikaans).

The recent announcement by the minister of education that Mandarin is to be accepted as an official second additional language, with a Grade 12 examination available in 2018, is a very exciting opportunity. PCS issues its own certificate to pupils who successfully complete the Grade 12 course, and it is a big step in the right direction for pupils to be acknowledged formally for their hard work at the end of their school career.

Because of the close economic links being forged between South Africa and China, it is becoming critical that South African businesspeople gain an understanding of the Chinese language and customs.4 PCS is well positioned to contribute to this relationship and to equip learners with the necessary skills to embrace this in the future.

Rapid progress and stout support

There are firm plans in place to introduce a Teaching English to Foreign Learners (TEFL) course from the start of 2016, as we accept pupils from abroad who come to the school primarily to learn English. This course will also be available to other pupils whose proficiency in English is not yet at an acceptable level, and who need specialised guidance in this regard.

One of the things that has impressed me most since I was appointed as principal of PCS, at the start of September 2014, is the rapid pace at which the Grade 00–Grade 1 pupils learn to speak Mandarin – so much so that the Grade 1 Mandarin lessons are conducted almost exclusively in that language.

Every child and member of staff is given a Chinese name, which is used during the Mandarin lessons. The staff also have weekly Mandarin lessons where the history of the school, the Chinese language and the history of the Chinese culture are taught. A challenge is to improve the proficiency of the staff, who are predominantly South Africans, in their ability to speak Mandarin.

The Chinese community is deeply involved in the school, and we receive support from the Chinese Embassy as well as the Taipei Liaison Office. English lessons are offered on Saturdays to Chinese citizens, as well as to other adults who wish to learn Mandarin.

We respect and participate in special celebrations held for Chinese New Year, the Dragon Boat festival in June and the Moon Festival in September.

Chinese bridge competition

We are also proud participants in the Chinese Bridge Proficiency Competition, a large-scale international contest.5 The aim of this competition is to stimulate the interest of the youth in the understanding of Chinese language and culture. It becomes an important platform for international students to show their enthusiasm and help young people in the world to better communicate with each other.

Preliminaries are held in foreign countries, where students are assessed in the following skills: knowledge of China, Chinese cultural performance and prepared speech. The winners then go to China for the international semi-final and final.

Here we are!

PCS is proud of its heritage, the excellent education offered, and its close links to the Chinese community. Our goal now is to make the school known to the wider community as a mainstream South African school ‘with a twist’, which has been in existence for 81 years and has shown great capacity for both moving with the times and achieving consistent academic excellence. We honour our motto: ‘Labour and persevere’ every day.


1. The dominant role that could be played by Asia in the 21st century, because of its growing economic clout and global demographic trends. As a theme, ‘Asian Century’ has gained credence following the rapid economic growth of China and India since the 1980s, which has propelled them to the top ranks of the world’s biggest economies. While the term is first believed to have been coined in the 1980s, it gained traction following the release of a report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in August 2011. (Source:
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Category: Featured Articles, Spring 2015

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