Debate rages as China seeks to reduce emphasis on English language education

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 October, 2013, 9:38pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 October, 2013, 9:38pm

Education reforms seeking to reduce the emphasis on English in college entrance exams have sparked debate online.

Starting from 2016, Beijing authorities will reduce the 150-point English examination in college entrance exams to 100 points, while at the same time raising the number of points attributed to Chinese and mathematics, the affiliated website of China’s Communist Party newspaper Guangming Daily reported on Monday citing an education reform proposal.

Quoting a source at the Beijing Education Examinations Authority, the report said the proposal also suggested the removal of English entirely from the curriculum before grade three.

The measures are designed to “focus on English-language application and basic skills, while playing down its selection function,” the website cited the source as saying.

The revelation comes amid calls in recent years to place a greater focus on Chinese in the curriculum and to lessen the emphasis on English.

Online comments on news portal showed an overwhelmingly positive response from online users – many of whom appeared to be parents of students.

“For millions of college entrance exam takers, how many actually use the English they learnt in their jobs? Learning English is an enormous waste of effort, resources and money. I strongly recommend having it as an elective course …” read a comment that had drawn over 1,800 likes on news portal

Some others went further calling for English examinations to be phased out of college entrance exams entirely. “We should have it as a stand-alone test that certain institutes can require their applicants to take, but not demand everyone take.”

But many others expressed different views. One microblog user on Weibo who called the proposal a “setback of history” and “complacent and conservative”, urged the public to attach greater importance to English language education because it “empowers people to communicate with the world by themselves” without any potential deliberate distortions from other parties.

Another blogger agreed. “More people need to learn to speak English if China is to play an important role in global affairs,” he commented.

However, a number of microblog users remained sceptical that the proposal if adopted would ease the burden faced by students. “Reducing the weighting of the English exam will never work. Students will have to study hard for the exam even it is only worth 50 points,” read one comment.

For countless students in China, English language is compulsory throughout almost all of their student careers – all the way from grade one elementary school to postgraduate studies – despite the fact that it is not required for most professions and majors.

State-run China National Radio estimated about 200 million students in China were currently studying English.

Deputy principal Xiong Bingqi of 21st Century Education Research Institute told the radio station that the importance of the college entrance exams reform was that it would ensure that students were not judged solely on their performance in a single examination.

“Educational institutions should be granted more freedom when enrolling students. Each school is supposed to decide whether it requires students to pass English exams based on its own academic requirements and characteristics,” he said.