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Punahou's connection with China
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The Mandarin language program at Punahou

Punahou has one of the largest enrollments of students in grades K-12 taking Mandarin language courses in the US, and is perhaps the only school in Hawaii that offers courses in Chinese as early as the preliminary grades.

"We have a Mandarin program offered as part of the first-grade curriculum that is the fruit of our 35 years' experience with Mandarin. Currently, 400 students are taking Mandarin courses." Dr. Scott noted that both his children studied Chinese in the first grade and wish to continue this study in seventh grade.

A Punahou School high school student working with a first-grader on her calligraphy in a classroom
A Punahou School high school student working with a first-grader on her calligraphy in a classroom

Thirty-five years ago when Punahou was about to introduce courses on Chinese, there was debate about whether to offer Cantonese or Mandarin. "It was reasonable that Punahou parents would want their children to learn Cantonese so that they could speak with their grandparents. But we made the decision to teach Mandarin because it was the official language of China," says Hope Staab, Director of Punahou's Wo International Center.

Dr. Scott adds that the National Association of Independent Schools also concluded that "Mandarin is the language of the future. If you are not teaching Mandarin, your school isn't a 21-century school." Many schools in the US are choosing to add Chinese to their course offerings, sometimes at the expense of other languages. Scott noted that the language courses available in schools and student enrollment reflect historic trends: "In the 1960s and '70s, we had Russian, French, Latin, German. Now most of the students only want to learn Japanese and Chinese, though Spanish has always been popular."

Speaking of Punahou's Chinese program, one must also mention the Luke Center for Chinese Studies, which has made important contributions to the Chinese language activities at the school as well as to the school's internationalization. Punahou Board Chair Warren Luke and his family have close connections to Sun Yat-sen. Luke's wife Carolyn is the granddaughter of Luke Chan, whose great uncle Lu Haodong was the first martyr of the Canton Uprising. As Sun Yat-sen's confidant and supporter, Luke Chan helped Sun Yat-sen and his family escape to Hawaii after the uprising failed. Warren Luke is also chairman of the Sun Yat-sen Foundation in Hawaii, whose mission is to highlight the many contributions of Hawaii and its people to the formation of early China. Through these direct and indirect connections with Sun Yat-sen, Warren Luke brings a unique perspective to linking China to the people of Hawaii. He believes it is very important that people in Hawaii have a better understanding of China and the role that China plays in the Pacific and Asia, and that people in China understand what is going on in the US.

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