Hmmm…So..should we learn Chinese?

Via the Journal – a site I haven’t really worked out the purpose of yet – we have this little piece on whether we should all be learning Chinese.

There are a couple of key pieces of information:

Richard Barrett, who set up Treasury Holdings with Johnny Ronan, suggested from the audience that Irish people should be learning Chinese to equip us to fully embrace the possibilities for trade with the surging Asian economy.

I have issues with this, as indeed I have issues with anyone who pipes up and says “we should be learning X language for Y overly simplistic reason”. I may be wrong but I understand that Richard Barrett does a lot of trade in China which will probably explain his interest in getting our young people to learn China. But it’s not the sort of trade I want to see this country wasting any more money on collectively. Treasury Holdings was a development company and yes, some of its loans were taken on board by NAMA. In other words, this is not a sector of industry which would necessarily create a lot of sustainable economic growth for large numbers of enterprises.

I want to see our young people creating things; being given the freedom to create things. They will need communication skills as well – I will come to that in a moment – but above all, before they can trade with another country, they need something to sell. We are not teaching them to create stuff to sell in general. I’m sure there are people out there trying…individually – but if we were going to put any money and effort into the economic future of the country it should start with problem solving and creating things. So if we’re going to bring something new into the education system, it shouldn’t be ONE particular language, suggested by a property magnate.

I’d be in favour of much improved programming and design skills but that’s another argument later.

The thing is…we don’t trade much with China; not compared to how much we trade with France and Germany. And we already have problems getting our young people to learn to speak either effectively. I’ve written about this elsewhere so I am not going to go into the details now. To get our young people speaking any of the Chinese languages effectively out of school is a massive task when we can’t get them speaking an Indo-European language effectively.

One of the issues I have in Ireland is that it’s possible for someone like Richard Barratt to pop something like this out and have the Taoiseach have to respond to it without any real understanding of how possible it is – where are all these Chinese language teachers going to come from, for example – and how much is it going to cost given the rarity of the skill – and what directly is it going to bring the country if we don’t also – and more importantly – teach our young people to create something that we can trade with? Being able to speak Chinese and English is not enough. You need something to trade with.

Maybe I am missing something here.