Why Mandarin must be a target for our post-primary schools
With GDP growth of 10.3% in 2010, in the middle of a world recession, China has overtaken Germany as the world's largest exporter and is now the world's second-largest economy after the United States.
Mandarin is the official language of China and, unsurprisingly, interest in learning the Chinese language has surged.
There are already 50 million people learning Chinese around the globe, with ever increasing interest from schools.
However, according to research published in Doing Business in China: The Irish Experience, lack of language competence and ignorance of Chinese culture inhibits trade synergies between the two sides.
This has led to the research and promotion of Chinese culture and language in the Irish higher education sector, and in particular in University College Dublin.
A national survey of post- primary schools conducted by UCD Confucius Institute for Ireland found that Irish schools would like Mandarin on the curriculum.
In response to growing demand for Chinese culture and language teaching in Irish schools, the institute has worked proactively to deliver courses to 22 second-level schools across the country, from Dublin to Sligo.
This is expected to increase to around 50 schools in September .
So far, there is no nationally agreed syllabus. Courses vary in nature according to the needs and objectives of each school.
In some, Chinese teachers are delivering academic courses in the Mandarin language.
In others, Confucius Institute teachers work with local teachers to deliver broader courses in Chinese language and culture in Transition Year.
We are now developing a Transition Unit and teaching pack, so that schools all over the country can access a course in Chinese.
The absence of a formal Irish syllabus or examination course limits the recognition students can gain for their learning.
The continued demand for Chinese, even in the absence of such a qualification, confirms the importance of Mandarin in schools.
The growth of the Chinese economy and the enormous business potential to Ireland is far greater than that provided by countries such as France and Germany, whose languages are currently promoted by the post-primary Languages Initiative.
Chinese is, arguably, more important than even the current "mainstream" languages of French and German.
The resources that are allocated to the Languages Initiative and mainstream curriculum development could be re-distributed to include Chinese, the fastest-growing language on the planet.
This is really about the kind of future we are willing and able to shape and influence for our schoolchildren, who will be the decision-makers of tomorrow.
Although the challenge of introducing a new foreign language to an already crowded curriculum is great, I believe that the cost of not meeting this challenge could be greater still.
Mandarin is already a curricular language in many countries, including in the UK, where its popularity is steadily growing. If Ireland does not act quickly, it will be left behind.
Dr Liming Wang is co-author of Doing Business in China: The Irish Experience; Blackhall Publishing, Dublin (2010).