Students and adults will soon be able to gain a formal qualification in a language currently not offered in the Western Bay.
A Chinese Community School will open on February 13 and offer classes in Mandarin Chinese from beginner to NCEA Level 3.
The school will be based at Tauranga Girls' College and will be open to all Western Bay students and adults.
The Chinese Community School was the brainchild of Tauranga Girls' College principal Pauline Cowens, who is passionate about Asia and building on the relationship between the two countries through education.
"It started when I travelled in 2004 to China with Graham Young (former Tauranga Boys' College principal) and Terry Collett (former Mount Maunganui College principal), we went as principals and I found the country very interesting and realised we could form a natural relationship at the benefit of education," she said.
"But to understand the people, you must be able to know the culture and know the language."
Mrs Cowens said Chinese was taught with an after-school tutor at Tauranga Intermediate but students could not continue the language into their senior years. She acknowledged Chinese was being taught at a Tauranga church but this was done by tutors, and students could not gain a formal qualification.
Creating a Chinese language school had been on her mind for some time.
She said there was a strong demand for a formal qualification in Mandarin and having qualified teacher Vivien Ting was "the key for us".
Mrs Cowens said there wasn't enough interest to operate a Mandarin class at one school and have the programme duplicated at other schools with low student numbers, so she contacted other Western Bay principals, the Ministry of Education and NZQA and discussed the viability of organising a new language school. "Because this would advantage not just Tauranga Girls' College students but all students across the Western Bay."
"The long-term benefits are huge. It's great for the future commerce of New Zealand ..."
Priority One Instep manager Lyn Parlane said: "When we heard of the project we immediately got on board because we believe in preparing young kids for their future and increasing their skills and being able to work within a global marketplace.
"We want these kids to have the opportunity that other kids have in other regions."
Priority One, the Acorn Foundation and the Venetta Jessie Miles Trust recognised the importance of China, and Asia in general, to the future of Tauranga and of New Zealand.
Their financial support meant course fees were "hugely subsidised" for the first pilot year, Mrs Cowens said.
Mayor Stuart Crosby endorsed the project via letter, saying: "New Zealand is in the process of building a significant economic relationship with China who is currently our fourth largest trading partner and our third most profitable export market.
The ability to communicate effectively in forming these relationships is a vital ingredient to New Zealand's economic success.
"Tauranga has enjoyed a strong, active Sister Cities relationship with Yantai, China for the past 25 years and I believe that the establishment of a Chinese community school in Tauranga will provide further valuable education opportunities to grow and enhance our understanding of each other's unique perspectives, language and culture."
Classes in Chinese are available at all levels from beginner to NCEA level 3, with a planned class for primary and intermediate students to run on a Saturday morning.
Mrs Cowens said that bringing together students from schools across the Western Bay of Plenty would provide the numbers and resourcing needed for sustainability of the Chinese language project beyond the pilot year.