English-language studies 'destructive' to China's education, says CPPCC deputy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 March, 2013, 12:05pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 March, 2013, 2:43pm


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The head of a national research institute in China said English-language studies were "destructive" to education, which is facing an "unprecedented crisis".

Schools are placing too much emphasis on English, said Zhang Shuhua, head of the Intelligence Research Academy, adding that language studies should be treated as a means for social reform and development, but, instead, they are seen as an end.

He called it putting the cart before the horse. Zhang made the remarks on Monday at a discussion session during an annual gathering of China's political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Zhang said many students with good academic performance have been blocked from universities because of poor English test scores, government news portal reported on Monday.

He added that recent “English enthusiasm” in China has taken up a large chunk of educational resources, at a high cost but with little gains. 

Zhang argued it was “absolutely unnecessary” to impose English-language studies on students who pursue professions in Chinese medicine, ancient Chinese language, Chinese history and others that do not require the use of a foreign language.

In China, children start to learn English as early as kindergarten. In middle school, it is seen as the most important subject next to Chinese and mathematics. University students must pass a language test before they can graduate; some also take a more difficult test to pursue post-graduate studies. 

Because students devote more effort into passing English tests, they spend less time studying for courses for their major, dealing a "heavy blow" to overall education, Zhang said.

In any case, Zhang continued, despite their efforts, Chinese students may be mastering useless "mute English", referring to poor oral language skills.

The CPPCC deputy cited a 2010 survey by China Youth Daily that showed 80 per cent of people polled agreed that there is a language crisis and that Chinese skills are deteriorating. Of those, more than half blamed the emphasis on foreign language study.

Zhang suggested elementary and middle schools focus on teaching Chinese and maths and reduce other subjects such as biology and chemistry, which should be non-required courses. He urged that English-language programmes be reformed to move away from exams and adopt more applicable lessons. 

Founded in 2011 by national think tank Chinese Academy of Science, the Intelligence Research Institute mainly gathers, arranges and reports on domestic and global academic research and theory.