Berks County IU 14: Cost-effective Lessons in Asian Languages and Cultures

In Berks County, IU 14 offered to help one Chinese-language teacher establish a program. Quickly, IU officials realized they had tapped into an unmet need. Throughout the county, parents and businesses were asking for classes in Chinese, Korean, and other languages, but school districts struggled with the costs of hiring teachers and adding courses.

So, IU 14 established the Asian Studies Collaborative, blending state-of-the-art technology with global outreach to bring students high-quality language instruction and introduction to Asian cultures. The Berks County teacher who sought help creating a Chinese-language program, around 2009, needed quality resources, so IU 14 found help through Ohio State University's flagship Mandarin program, says Bill Miller, director of the office of innovation and technology.

Then, IU 14 connected with the University of Pittsburgh's Confucius Institute, which partners with the Chinese government to bring master's-degree candidates from China's Wuhan University to teach in the U.S. "The supply chain is a good one," said Miller. "We're getting highly qualified teachers." The teachers from China now reach students throughout Berks County and beyond over IU 14's distance-learning network. A federal grant allowed IU 14 to upgrade its cyber-learning infrastructure and offer instruction to member districts at no cost. School districts can 'dip their toes' into Chinese-language instruction without hiring full-time teachers, says Miller. "It's a very effective way to introduce new programming to the schools," he says.

The Asian Studies Collaborative has blossomed, with cultural exchange programs, a statewide forum on Muslim culture, and mock student versions of Asian diplomatic talks. The Chinese Government has designated IU 14 a Confucius Classroom, which brings in further resources. Wuhan University is discussing the possibility of contracting IU 14 to conduct distance-learning boot camps that prepare its Confucius Institute teachers for American education. "We're getting more and more involved in a broader range of international studies," says Miller. "There's a need there, and we'll see the programming continue to grow."

See all IU Spotlight Articles