CASH from the Chinese government is funding a school here to teach students Chinese Mandarin, the Herald can reveal.
The all-girls Loreto Secondary School in Bray currently teaches Mandarin to their students as an extracurricular activity.
The course is costing the school nothing.
Teachers and text books are supplied by the Confucius Institute, a worldwide organisation financed by the Chinese government which has the task of spreading Chinese culture throughout the world.
Today the school will become the first secondary school in Ireland to receive the title of Confucius classroom.
Schools which can claim the title of Confucius classroom are recognised as actively promoting the Chinese language.
They can also benefit from funding from the institute.
"This is not a physical classroom, but an acknowledgement of the school as a centre of Chinese learning," principal of the school, Catherine Donagh, told the Herald. Though there are other schools around the country which teach a module in Chinese for a number of weeks during transition year, the Loreto School in Bray is the only school teaching the subject continuously.
More than 40 students are currently learning the language.
Children at the school are being taught spoken Mandarin as well as Chinese character writing and aspects of Chinese culture.
Students also learn about Chinese films, architecture, dance and folk songs.
"The folk songs are particularly accessible for the students and are very pleasant also," Ms Donagh said.
Two pupils from the school were sent to Beijing last year to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Confucius Institute.
Shauna Casey (15) and Jenny Devlin (15) went to the gala performance with their teacher Eimear Carey where they sang Chinese folk songs on stage.
Ms Donagh expects the numbers attending the classes to remain at a steady level and hopes they increase.
She said that the children are really enjoying them. The fact that they come back week after week speaks volumes. It creates wonderful opportunities for them."
The children participated in Spring Festival in February, celebrating Chinese New Year. The event was held in the National Concert Hall this year.
Research from the Irish Institute of Chinese Studies at UCD in November 2009 revealed that a third of all employers in Ireland want students to learn Mandarin.
Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin has recommended a longer-term sustainable approach which works towards the development of Chinese as a full-time subject.
Ms Donagh thinks the Mandarin language is essential for our future relations with the emerging power.
"It would be great to have a cohort of Irish students who can speak some Mandarin, like those who can speak French and German today," she said.