An extra 21 Confucius Classrooms are being created in Scotland to teach primary pupils one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.
The classrooms support Scotland’s 1+2 languages policy, which aims to allow every child the opportunity to learn two languages in addition to their mother tongue by 2020.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the expansion in Beijing while meeting 80 Scottish school pupils benefiting from a summer learning exchange programme in China.
She said: “We want our young people to be better prepared for life and work in a multicultural, global marketplace and Mandarin is one of the world’s most widely spoken languages.
“Evidence shows that early language learning improves literacy and that young children learn languages more easily.
“Extending the Confucius Classroom learning programme to primary schools will improve language learning opportunities to more Scottish pupils, in addition to the 20,000 who already benefit.
“We now have this golden opportunity to make a difference in further improving how language skills are offered and delivered to our young people.
“I am determined to give all of our young people every opportunity to improve their language and literacy skills and raise attainment for every child in Scotland.”
Currently, more than 200 schools and 20,000 schoolchildren across Scotland learn about China and its language.
This includes those who learn through the 14 Confucius Classrooms in secondary schools across 18 Scottish local authorities.
The Hanban, which promotes Chinese language and learning, will provide additional funding to extend the programme and will also offer local authorities help to partially fund an extra six Mandarin teaching posts across Scotland.
Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon has used her visit to China to urge the country to do more to promote gender equality and women’s rights.
She invoked Hillary Clinton’s famous “women’s rights are human rights” speech before an audience of senior women in government, academia and business.
This September will mark the 20th anniversary of the then US first lady’s address at the United Nations’ fourth world conference on women in the same city.
Amnesty International has accused the Chinese government of a crackdown on human rights activists and women’s groups in recent months.
It follows the arrest and detention for more than a month of five female activists who were planning to mark International Women’s Day in March by launching a campaign against sexual harassment.
In her remarks to an audience at the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, Ms Sturgeon said gender equality, as well as being a fundamental human rights issue, was “one of the great economic opportunities of the 21st century”.
The First Minister, who is on a trade visit to China and Hong Kong, told her audience: “There are currently well over two billion working age women across the world.
“But there is virtually no country, on any continent, where women have equal economic opportunities to men.
“For virtually every nation, fully empowering women is probably the single simplest way, in which they can sustainably increase their productive potential.
“Gender equality can help to transform the global economy.
“I know that much of the work we do in Scotland will strike a chord here in China. Gender equality is incorporated in your constitution. Women account for 45 per cent of your workforce.
“And you recognise the importance of women being fully involved in decision-making.But like all societies – certainly including Scotland – there is also more that China can do.
“The truth is that virtually all countries are on a journey towards true gender equality, but none have completely achieved it. We all need to learn from each other how best to make progress.”