Protests sprang up around the world as the Olympic torch passed through en route to its final destination in Beijing, China.

After all, protests were expected since the Republic of China has never been known for its respect of human rights. In fact, many questioned China’s right to host the Olympics later this summer.

However, human rights issues aside, no one can question that the world’s most populated country has developed into an industrial and business power.

That’s why it was encouraging to see that Sharpsville Area and Sharon school districts have started a joint program to teach Mandarin Chinese this coming year. Not only is it an example of school districts working together, it’s a positive step for students to learn a skill that may help them in the future.

The school districts are still working out the details of how they will share instructor Uwu-Chun “June” Chen. Sharon is thinking of starting with students in third or fourth grade while Sharpsville is considering the course as part of the middle- or high-school curriculum.

At Sharon it won’t be an elective, every student will be exposed to Chinese. Superintendent John Sarandrea, pointing out that one-third of the people on Earth speak Chinese, stressed that learning languages has a positive effect on other cognitive abilities.

This especially should be true with Chinese, since it is more a language of symbols and characters than letters. Unlike western languages, there isn’t a true alphabet.

Mandarin Chinese is also know as Standard Chinese, spoken in Beijing and major cities in that country.

The schools started the program after local businessman Jim Winner, who deals in the global economy, spoke to area superintendents about the growth of China as a player in world trade. In 2000, China was fourth in Gross Domestic Product behind the United States, Japan and Germany. Today its GDP is second to the U.S. and rising rapidly. Chinese banks hold the paper on billions of dollars in loans from our government.

Obviously, since the U.S. imports so many goods from China, it would be beneficial to have representatives who speak Chinese. The same is true when it comes to selling U.S. products in a country with 1.3 billion consumers.

For example, Lou Perry of Shenango Township has made several trips to China representing a local company the last few years and said that while he picked up a little bit of the language, he agreed that it would have helped to be fluent.

Even though the Chinese may be considered business “enemies” on some fronts, such as the recent controversy over tariffs on imported steel pipe, because of their world standing they must be dealt with on all levels of business and industry.

Congratulations to Sarandrea and Sharpsville Superintendent Mark Ferrara as well as their school boards for recognizing the need to change their curriculums to fit the needs of the modern world. And even more kudos for recognizing that through joint programs, districts can provide better service for less money to their residents.

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