Beijing to remove English classes from early grades at elementary schools

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 November, 2013, 1:25pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 November, 2013, 3:59pm

All Beijing public elementary schools will stop teaching English language courses to students in grades one and two in a bid to reduce the study workload for children, local media reported on Wednesday.

Currently most students in Beijing begin studying English from grade one and often have two English classes every week. However starting next year, newly-enrolled pupils will not study English until the third grade, several Beijing newspapers cited deputy director Fu Zhifeng of Beijing Municipal Commission of Education as saying in a forum.

The latest education reform also promised to reduce difficulties in high school and college entrance examinations. According to Fu, this latest decision was in line with the extensive reform packages Chinese Communist Party introduced after its third plenum last week.

Phone operators at the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education responding to inquiries on education policy on Wednesday morning said they had not been given instructions about the reform yet.

Staff at several Beijing elementary schools also said on Wednesday they had not received any directives from the Commission.

The Beijing education commission last month revealed a proposal seeking to reduce the number of points allocated to the English language examination of the college-entrance exam. Feedback showed overwhelming public support for the proposal, the Commission told media.

The South China Morning Post also reported at least two other provinces were considering whether to reduce the emphasis on English language education by removing items from the curriculum or making it more flexible.

Online reaction has been divided over the rumours. Many hailed the reform that they said could help ease the heavy burden of compulsory English study for students despite the chance they may never use it in their future lives and careers.

But others argued that the English language is a skill everyone should acquire in the 21st century, and instead of reducing weight on English language education, authority should renovate the teaching method and to strengthen teaching quality.

Xiong Bingqi, vice director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, a charitable public policy research centre, said the reform, even if indeed carried out, would be unlikely to ease the burden for students and their parents.

Parents would simply send their children to extra-curricular training institutions, Xiong told the South China Morning Post in a telephone interview. This would eventually increase the burden for less wealthy families, leading to “less of a burden inside school, but a heavier burden outside school.”

Instead, Xiong called for a thorough reform of the current exam-orientated curriculum that tests students only through their performance in unified exams. He suggested phasing out a unified college entrance examination and allowing universities to come up with their own entrance exams.