High Court challenge brought by student over Mandarin Chinese Leaving Cert exam

High Court Challenge Brought By Student Over Mandarin Chinese Leaving Cert Exam
The student alleges that the refusal to accept answers given in traditional Chinese characters, rather than simplified Mandarin characters, is unlawful, underinclusive, and contrasts with the treatment of other languages. Photo: PA Images
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High Court reporters

A secondary school student has gone to the High Court over an alleged refusal to accept answers given in traditional Chinese characters in the Leaving Certificate Mandarin Chinese examination.

The court heard the curriculum requires that written answers given in the examination must be in simplified Mandarin characters, which are predominantly used in the People's Republic of China, Singapore and Malaysia.


However, 15-year-old student Ethan Boone, who was born in Taiwan where traditional Mandarin characters are used, has mounted a legal challenge to that requirement which he says is unlawful and illogical.

While he has lived outside of Taiwan for most of his life, his Taiwanese mother has been teaching him Mandarin using traditional Chinese characters, which the court heard are also used in Hong Kong and Macau.

Suing through his mother, Cathy Ho, the applicant from Clonee, Co Dublin claims the failure to allow for traditional characters in the marking of the Leaving Certificate exam is unlawful, underinclusive, and contrasts with the treatment of other languages by the Minister for Education and the State Examinations Commission (SEC).

It is also claimed that the Minister has unlawfully consulted with the Chinese Ministry for Education and that the Chinese Embassy is drawing up the curriculum for Mandarin Chinese.


Memo of understanding

It is claimed that the Irish Department of Education entered a 2020 memo of understanding regarding the introduction of Mandarin Chinese in secondary schools with the People's Republic of China's Ministry of Education.

This agreement also included a recruitment of a Mandarin advisor, whose salary is paid by the Chinese ministry, who would work with the Department of Education to develop Mandarin courses.

The Chinese Embassy in Dublin was updated regarding the development of the course in 2019, it is also claimed.

It is claimed that the 1998 Education Act allows the Minister to prescribe the curriculum for subjects following consultation with parties including trade unions, teachers, parents' associations and school patrons. However, the Act, it is alleged, does not permit consultation with a foreign government or ministry.


Mr Boone claims the Minister has refused his request to accept traditional characters.

His counsel, Derek Shortall SC, told the court that several other similar challenges over the refusal to accept traditional character in the exam are likely to be made before the courts.

Judicial review

In judicial review proceedings against the Minister for Education, The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the State Examinations Commission, Ireland and the Attorney General, the applicant seeks various orders and reliefs.

These include an order requiring both the Minister and the SEC to ensure that the marking of Leaving Certificate Mandarin Chinese exams shall consider any answer written in traditional Mandarin Chinese characters.


He also seeks various declarations including that the rules governing the examination of Leaving Certificate Mandarin Chinese are unlawful, unreasonable and are contrary to the Constitution, EU law, the 1998 Education Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.

He further seeks a declaration that a circular regarding the Leaving Cert Mandarin Chinese examination impermissibly takes into account a memo of understanding between China's Ministry of Education and the Irish Department of Education for the introduction of Mandarin Chinese language teaching in Irish secondary schools.

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At Monday's sitting of the High Court, Mr Justice Anthony Barr said he was prepared to grant the applicant permission, on an ex-parte basis, to bring his challenge.

The judge said that while he was prepared to grant leave, he did have "considerable sympathy" for the State respondents given that persons from China and other countries favour the simplified Mandarin characters.

The judge added that the proceedings themselves are "very unusual".

The matter comes back before the court in October.

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