by Nick Kolyohin
JERUSALEM, July 5 (Xinhua) -- Israel's Ministry of Education has been encouraging students to take Chinese classes due to the growing importance of China in the global arena.
Since the ministry introduced Chinese as an elective course in its national curricula in 2009, the language has been gaining popularity among all the grades.
Tamar Cohen Kehat, inspector of Chinese language teaching at the ministry, told Xinhua that the country started the Chinese teaching in 10 schools in 2009, and now approximately 3,000 Israeli students are learning Chinese in about 40 primary, middle, and high schools.
"This year, about 50 students took the matriculation exam in Chinese and got five points, a level between HSK's level 2 and 3," said Cohen Kehat.
HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi) is an international standardized exam that rates proficiency of non-native speakers' abilities in using the Chinese language.
Israel and China have boosted cooperation in various fields in the last decade, a trend that lures increasing Israelis to discover the language.
Besides studying to speak Chinese, Israeli students also learn about different aspects of China like its culture, traditions, and heritage.
"As China has become Israel's primary trading partner and Chinese turned a world language, a growing number of people in Israel are seeking to learn more about China and its culture," stressed Cohen Kehat.
In addition to schools, universities across the country are offering also courses and degrees in Mandarin. "We have a lot of exchange programs with Chinese schools," said Cohen Kehat.
Located in the city of Shoham near Israel's international Ben Gurion airport, the Shachaf school is one of the pioneers in the country that have provided Chinese courses.
About 35 students in 5th and 6th grades study the language in the school, and the children seem to be fascinated by what they are taught.
Natan Kaner, 6th grader at Shachaf school, said that he likes the most to learn about the culture of China, such as the Chinese calligraphy and the food tradition.
Kaner said he wants to visit China in the near future "to learn more about it," and he thinks "it is very important" to study China.
Kaner's classmate Noga Gordon, 11 years old, said that China is an interesting place. "We have learned about a lot of places in China that I would like to visit other than just seeing them in the pictures."
Gilat Furer, teacher of Chinese language and culture at Shachaf school, told Xinhua that she wishes to visit China with her students.
Furer teaches Chinese in several schools. Providing knowledge about China, she also teaches students about Chinese culture like paper cutting, Peking opera, Terracotta Warriors, and the Great Wall.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has disrupted Furer's plan to help students learn more the Chinese language. In the course of the past year, she taught students "more about the Chinese culture rather than the language because it was too difficult to teach them how to speak through online lessons," the teacher explained.
Gil Eisen, manager of Shachaf school, expects more students to study about China. "I want to start the course about China, if it is possible, in the first grade."
In Shachaf school, students choose voluntarily to study Chinese, not obligatory. Some of the pupils are running with small China flags during break time between classes.
"It's very important for our children to face another culture, and another way to speak and talk. We want them to be global citizens," Eisen added. Enditem