China Challenge Day boosts the 4 C’s at St Birinus

Year 7 students (aged 11-12) at St Birinus School in Didcot enjoyed our first China Challenge Day of 2023 developing their grasp of China’s modernity and gaining hands-on cultural enrichment.

Phil Mahoney, Head of Mandarin at the school, commented “having started learning Mandarin last September, a full-day experience in school was a great opportunity to open my students’ eyes to China’s significance on the world stage.”

The activities were collaboratively planned in advance between Engage with China and the school, which ensured everything was highly relevant and captured the energy of an all-boys’ context. 

Mr Mahoney continued, 

“From quantifying China’s vast population through measuring it with water, team-building tasks involving prioritising the developmental needs of a country, to a calligraphy class in which the students created their own lucky red envelopes, the Challenge Day captured the boys’ imaginations and improved their critical cultural awareness. The day was highly successful in developing our boys’ confidence, collaboration, courage, and creativity – the key skills our Mandarin department seeks to develop in all.” He continued, “This was a chance to complement the language learning of the Mandarin for Excellence School programme taught at St Birinus and to set into context modern China, its history and culture. 

Engage with China Director, Theresa Booth, who delivered the Challenge Day, said,

“it was so good to see the boys so focussed and really embracing the activities, cogitating over concepts and learnings. It was a delight to work with this group, to expand their knowledge and understanding of China beyond their in-school mandarin language on the Mandarin for Excellence Programme (MEP) and for them to recognise China’s on-going potential and impact.”

The Mandarin Excellence Programme is a unique intensive language programme in around 70 state schools in the UK that started in 2016. There are now around 8,000 students enrolled on the programme and on track to fluency in the language. The MEP is funded by the Department for Education and delivered by the UCL Institute of Education in partnership with the British Council with teachers from China involved in much of the teaching.

Engage with China delivers extra-curricular China Challenge Days involving 5 hours of face-to-face teaching time with age-appropriate materials for KS2-KS4 sparking the imagination through a dramatic introduction to China’s cultural and historical context.

Published by H-J Colston

H-J is Joint CEO of Chopsticks Club and a regular speaker on China. Through training and events, she has been building cultural literacy about China from the boardroom to the classroom since 1993. She designed and delivered a “Doing Business in China” course at Pearson Business School. She was invited to meet President Xi Jinping during his state visit to the UK in 2015 in recognition of her work in building China-UK relations. She has a degree in Chinese Studies from the University of Durham. Find out more at and

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