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Shanghai tried to ban English-proficiency exams in 2004, but those changes were largely ignored. Photo: Reuters

Shanghai bans primary school final exams for the subject of English amid education reform drive

  • Shanghai similarly banned exams for English classes in 2004, and that decision was widely ignored
  • The subject is still extremely important for Shanghai parents and schools

Pupils in Shanghai will not be taking final English-proficiency exams as Chinese authorities continue to implement sweeping reforms to ease the academic burden placed on students.

Primary school pupils will only take final exams in the subjects of mathematics and Chinese-language aptitude. The exams will be limited for students in grade three (about nine years old) and grade five (about 11 years old), according to a notice released by the city’s education commission last week.
The notice did say that all other subjects, including English, should still be evaluated, just not via a final exam.
Pupils get ready for the daily flag hoisting ceremony at a school in Shanghai. Photo: Getty Images
The changes come despite English being a highly valued subject and are part of the municipal government’s response to a recent nationwide campaign to reduce the workload for Chinese students.

English is a major part of a Shanghai student’s academic requirements, even though Shanghai officials banned examinations for English in 2004 – a move that was widely ignored.

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“The main purpose back then was also to reduce the exam burden on students,” said Xiong Bingqi, vice-president of 21st Century Education Research Centre.

“However, some schools continued organising exams or administered them in other forms, such as giving students a major English assignment before the end of the term,” he said.

He added that cancelling English exams for young students does not mean it has become less important.


Crackdown on private tutoring leaves industry, students and parents drawing a blank

Crackdown on private tutoring leaves industry, students and parents drawing a blank

Xiong said the total scores for English in both the zhongkao and gaokao, China’s two most important entrance exams for secondary schools and universities, are worth 150 points, the same as Chinese and mathematics.

“There’s not any school, student or parent who dares to ignore this subject,” he said.

Unlike other regions in China, where students start learning English from grade three, children in Shanghai start from grade one and have relatively high competence in the language.

Pupils wear masks at their desks in Shanghai. Photo: The Yomiuri Shimbun

Chinese education authorities have pushed for reforms to reduce academic demands on young students since the late 1980s.

Numerous directives have been issued over the past three decades in the hope of saving children from excessive workloads. They ranged from limiting school hours and homework to cracking down on academic competitions.

The education reform agenda has accelerated dramatically in recent months as the central government announced a range of detailed measures to alleviate students’ burden both at school and after school last month.

The changes included a crackdown on after-school tutoring businesses that included rules such as banning new companies, outlawing courses on weekends and forcing them to relicense as non-profits organisations.

On Wednesday, the Financial Times reported that private school owners in China are being pressured to hand over their institutions to the government.