New Brunswick

Professor agrees with education minister's take on Confucius Institute

Prof. Alan Sears says he supports Education Minister Dominic Cardy's drive to get the Confucius Institute out of New Brunswick schools.

Alan Sears questions whether there's proper oversight of Chinese culture program in public schools

According to the Confucius Institute of New Brunswick's website, the program hosted 5,441 New Brunswick students in 2016. (Confucius Institute of New Brunswick website)

Prof. Alan Sears says he supports Education Minister Dominic Cardy's drive to get the Confucius Institute out of New Brunswick schools.

"I share the concerns about people representing a foreign government teaching in Canadian schools," Sears, an education professor at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, said Thursday.

The Confucius Institute, which has operated in at least 28 schools in the province, teaches students about Chinese language and culture but avoids discussions of the country's authoritarian, one-party system and its human rights record.

Cardy has said that students have complained to him about the program's "one-dimensional" approach to teaching about China. He said he plans to get rid of the program, although Premier Blaine Higgs has taken a different view.

Higgs said this week that the government would abide by the contract with the Confucius Institute and not do anything that might jeopardize with China.

Sears, stressing he was expressing his own opinion, said the Confucius Institute takes a superficial approach to teaching about diversity, which he called the F-word approach — food, fun and festivals. 

Alan Sears, an education professor at the University of New Brunswick, said there should be more oversight of the Confucius Institute's teaching. (CBC)

"What we want children to understand are much deeper things, and those kinds of things are not covered in that program."

Having children understand a national community is not the same as understanding ethnocultural communities Sears said. 

"From what I hear the Confucius Institute doesn't deal with things at that level of complexity."  

Sears said he wants to know who is providing oversight on what is being taught by the institute.

Education Minister Dominic Cardy wants to terminate the operation of the Confucius Institute in the province. (Gilles Landry/Radio-Canada)

"Many New Brunswick teachers teaching about ethnocultural diversity would have guests in their classroom — people from China, people from Indigenous communities, you name it." 

Sears said those school teachers have a plan and classroom objectives to meet that are overseen. It's not clear who oversees what the institute is doing, he said. 

"The purpose of this education in Canada is to prepare people to enter civic conversations, to be citizens and that's a complex thing in terms of ethnocultural diversity." 

 When asked what he thought the educational objectives of the Confucius Institute were, Sears was blunt. 

"I think the educational objectives of the Confucius Institute are to give people a benevolent and benign view of China, and that it is a wonderful place, full of happy people and not a threat to anyone else in the world." 

He said he's concerned that students might not be able to raise critical questions.

For example, he has been told the institute uses a map that shows Taiwan as part of the People's Republic of China. 

"It's the same colour and everything else," he said. 

Sears said he has no objection to showing maps like that and saying they reflect the perspective of the Chinese government, but a good social studies class would also get the perspective of Taiwan, which doesn't want to be part of China.   

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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