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Swire Success in the Year of the Dragon

  • Junior School

As we celebrate the Lunar New Year, we are reminded of the importance of honouring South East Asian culture and teaching Mandarin within the Modern Foreign Languages Department here at Watson’s. 

As a subject, not only does the language promote multiculturalism, it also equips our young people with a valuable skill that they can use in the future, particularly in this ever-expanding global economy. Learning Mandarin is also shown to have key cognitive benefits such as improving problem-solving skills and memory retention. As such, we are delighted that our Swire Chinese Language Centre (SCLC) was established in 2016 and continues to prove an integral part of our community partnerships programme.

The SCLC is a collaborative venture between ourselves and two other founding schools in the South of Edinburgh (James Gillespie’s and Boroughmuir) and funded by the Swire Chinese Language Foundation. Our Centre seeks to increase access to high quality Mandarin tuition for pupils of all backgrounds and abilities with the provision now encompassing 25 primary and secondary schools in Edinburgh and East Lothian.


Watson’s were amongst the first to teach Mandarin in Scotland and the Swire Chinese Language Centre now accounts for at least 20% of National 5 qualifications in the language, achieved by young people in the country. 

Discussing how the SCLC came to fruition, Principal, Melvyn Roffe said: 

“We had an amicable conversation with Boroughmuir and Gillespie’s, operating in the same area, about what we should be doing together. Out of that came an idea that we would be a centre of excellence for Chinese teaching as there was none in local schools.” 

£2.6 million will have been awarded to our Centre across this 10 year project by the Swire Chinese Language Foundation - a registered charity founded by British multinational company John Swire & Sons which looks to promote Chinese language and cultural learning. The programme has seen much success in Edinburgh with Mandarin being embedded in partner schools to the point where some have now employed their own teachers of Mandarin. 

“In a typical year, a significant number of all qualifications in Chinese in Scotland are being gained by children who at some point or other have been through this scheme,” added Mr Roffe. “That wasn’t us using fee-paying parents’ money, it was finding a way of working with other partners to do something at scale.”

David Dempster, Headteacher of one of the Centre’s fellow founding schools, Boroughmuir High School, said:

“Working in partnership with George Watson’s College has been an incredibly positive and productive experience. We have been able to share our ideas and our resources to allow the teaching of Mandarin to develop in a way it never could have had we tried it alone.


The financial support of John Swire & Sons to develop Mandarin would have been difficult to process if it were not for our partnership with our independent school partner, George Watson’s College. The partnership working of independent and state schools provides huge benefits to both sectors and is something that most definitely should be encouraged across the Education sector.”

All in all, the Swire Chinese Language Centre is a ground-breaking collaboration between independent and state schools that has provided access to high quality Chinese language teaching for thousands of pupils in schools across Edinburgh and East Lothian. It has also provided opportunities for pupils from a very wide range of schools to experience success in language learning whilst getting to know Chinese language and culture, often including truly memorable visits to China. Here’s what some of our S3 pupils had to say about learning the language at Watson’s:

Minny: “I find it 中文 非常 有趣, (very interesting). The language itself is 美 (beautiful) and it’s so interesting to learn about other cultures. Also, China is becoming an increasingly powerful nation and I believe that, especially in future, Chinese will be a very important language to understand. I would say to pupils beginning 中文 (Chinese) that it will be hard in the beginning but as you go on, you’ll be amazed by how much you can understand.” 

Dylan: “Studying Chinese is a great way to learn about other cultures, and get a deeper understanding of the world as a whole. Chinese is a great language for this because of its diverse history, both in the country it comes from and the language itself. China is also a massive country and is growing fast; it is becoming more and more important in today’s world.” 

Coby: “I really like Mandarin because I find it incredibly interesting and much more unique than other languages. I think it’s very useful to learn a language in general, and Mandarin specifically really challenges the brain. If I was to give advice to people starting the language, it may seem complicated at first, but it is really fun to learn and improve, not just your writing, but your speaking as well.”

Preschool LNY

As we approach the official Lunar New Year on Saturday 10 February, pupils across Watson’s have spent time in class learning about Chinese culture. A number of our senior pupils have made dumplings with a variety of fillings, our Houses have competed in Jianzi (a traditional Chinese sport), while our Preschoolers have had an introductory lesson in speaking the language and writing numbers using magic paper. Every year we are delighted to welcome Yee’s Hung Ga Kung Fu Association to Watson’s for our annual Lion Dance in Assembly - one of the most important traditions at this time of year. The performance gives pupils the chance to experience the authenticity of the Chinese celebration, bringing prosperity and good luck for the upcoming year. Following this all senior pupils who study Mandarin look forward to the annual Lunar Banquet at China Red - the perfect way to round off the celebrations before our half term break! 

In the Lunar New Year of the Dragon, we are reminded that these legendary creatures in Chinese culture represent great power, good luck and strength - all elements we hope our association with the Swire Chinese Language Centre will continue to represent within the Watson’s community - both now and in the future.

All photos were taken as part of pupils' involvement in the Lunar New Year celebrations.

  • Swire