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China Downplays English-Language Education With Series of Reforms

A language school in the Tianhe district of Guangzhou. Photo by Jussi Mononen CC: AT-NC-SA.

A language school in the Tianhe district of Guangzhou. Photo by Jussi Mononen CC: AT-NC-SA.

Efforts are underway in parts of China to strip English-language education of some of its importance within the country's school systems, a move that has been widely applauded online. 

The Beijing Municipal Education Commission has introduced a series of reforms to cool down enthusiasm for English in the education system since October 2013. The Commission has reduced the weight of the English ability test from 150 to 100 in the Gaokao, China's national higher education entrance examination. At the same time, the weight of the Chinese ability test will be increased from 150 to 180 in the new scheme that will go into effect in 2016.

English learning for primary school students will also be postponed from first grade to third grade.

The policy changes have been backed by Chinese Communist Party think tanks, such as the Intelligence Research Academy, whose head Zhang Shuhua argued in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference that English-language studies were “destructive” to education as a whole. Zhang stressed that language studies should be treated as a means for social reform and development rather than an end.

Compared to Beijing, education authorities from other provinces have taken even more radical measures. For example, the Shandong government decided to cancel the English-listening test for Gaokao in 2014, while the Jiangsu government is considering excluding the English ability test altogether from the Gaokao.

These changes have received quite a lot of support from users on China's social web, where there is a tendency to see English and Chinese at odds with each other. For example, in the comment section of a popular local media outlet, Phoenix's special feature report about the policy change, a netizen from Guangxi wrote:



How many Chinese have been hurt by the English education? It should have been abolished long ago. English is a language and should be studied as such. But Chinese students force themselves to remember the English vocabularies as imprinted signs for exam purpose […] For a period of time, some universities demanded that their students pass the English language examination as a precondition for their degree. Students are forced to spend all their time studying English and so neglect their own field.

Chinese is not only a language, it embodies our country's thousand-year culture. It covers both literature and humanity. Lifting the status of the Chinese language and cutting English from our education will benefit the country as well as the people.

An anonymous article widely circulated online even connected the policy with the official political propaganda of the Chinese Dream:

不立即废除英语高考,中国复兴梦是白日梦!【转】 学英语是是孩子的恶梦,中国人的肿瘤,应该做手术了。
[…] 为了学英语浪费了多少有志之士的心血?这是我国科技发展迟缓的一个重要因素。全民学英语是中国教育的一大失败,高层应当进行反思。

As long as the English test still is part of the Gaokao, the revival of the Chinese Dream is a daydream! [Repost] The English language is the nightmare of children, the tumor of the Chinese people. It's time for surgery […] How many people have put in hours of work sweating over learning English? This is a factor contributing to the backward development of our country's science and technology. Elementary English education is a failure of the Chinese education system, and upper-ranking authorities should reflect on this.

Some educators are uneasy about such advocacy for radical changes. Educator Ling Zongwei (@凌宗伟1376361860) rebuffed the ideological argument:


How can a nation be revived by rejecting foreign language learning? How can it integrate with the world? I am a bit skeptical about the policy and inclined to believe that the abolition of English-language education and examination is a conspiracy.

Current affairs observer Xu Jianming (@许建民) also found the education campaign disturbing:


The movement calling for the abolition of English-language education and examination is getting stronger and stronger. Students are by nature lazy and don't want to take examinations. During the Cultural Revolution, students were against examinations. They beat up teachers and tore down schools. Everything came so naturally. Eventually they lost their time and their education and were regretful throughout their lives. In the time of economic globalization, the development of India is driven by their popular English education. I do agree that we don't need to make English-language education compulsory, but abolition is another story.

“Grey-pigeon silver-water” (@灰鸽子银水) believed that the policy will result in an educational divide:


According to my experience in teaching high schools in Shandong and Henan provinces, to exclude the English test from the Gaokao would mean to deprive poor children of the right to learn English. Another window in their lives will be closed. In coastal provinces, children from wealthy families are able to pursue tertiary education aboard, or they have the chance to join exchange programs while they are attending local universities. The opportunity to learn English is always there for them.

Indeed, Wang Haitao, vice president of New Oriental Education and Technology Group, a private education institute to train students’ language ability and examination skill, stated [en] that the decision will create new business opportunities for families looking to supplement their children's English language education.

So far, public opinion is in favor of the education reform: 72 percent of approximately 35,000 respondents in an online poll conducted by Sina Survey expressed their support for the changes to the national examination system. However, in another online survey conducted by state-owned broadcaster CCTV, the same percentage of voters want to have mathematics taken off of the Gaokao, believing that it is useless except for counting money:


Math prompts public complaints also, following hot discussion over Beijing's reduction of English-language points on the Gaokao. Many think math curricula are too difficult for students. Do we need to use geometric function in our daily lives when we're buying vegetables? The poll question “should math be taken off of the Gaokao?” received more than 70,000 yes votes from netizens, calling themselves “mathematics exercise machine [calculator]”.

  • Onklo ENG

    Jes, it is reported in the Esperanto version of Global Voices too.

  • Pingback: China to Downplay English Language in Education...()

  • Pingback: China to Downplay English Language in Education...()

  • Alehandro

    I am Alehandro, twenty-four years old and I wish to apologize for my incorrect English!!

    How many rich and powerful Chinese are hurting the world through total lack of
    human rights, poisons released from their wonderful industries, wonderful battered
    alimony and goods, laborers who work for eighteen hours a day, complete
    shortage of democracy in their country and allied ones as North Korea,
    concentration camps where are jailed political opponents, no kind of political
    vote, sharp increase in cancer patients, killed children by Chinese authorities
    in order to stop population growth? I would be able to continue with infinite
    Chinese situations unworthy of the human beings. Someone wonders how many
    Chinese have been hurt by the English education? This is not a question? I
    imagine it is to laugh.

  • Alehandro

    Why don’t pacifists organise huge protests throughout the world against dictatorships as Russia, China, North Korea, Syria, Vietnam, Byelorussia etc? I have an answer, maybe it is because the pacifists are Socialist. Wow!!!

  • Alehandro

    China and Russia are not two Countries, they are an overall failure

  • Alehandro

    Russia and China endorse all of the communist and Islamic dictatorships in this world! Shame!

  • Pingback: China to Downplay English Language in Education...()

  • There’s one solution. The following para is taken from the the UK Berkshire 9/11 Truth / Keep Talking newsletter for November/ December 2013. The solution is in the last sentence.

    “A further sign of normality is a statement by the Prime Minister that
    schoolchildren should ditch French and German in favour of Chinese
    For those unfamiliar with Newspeak, the translation is: “I want everyone
    in the EU to speak English. If we can make such a mess of teaching
    French and German in our schools, then we can make an even bigger mess
    of teaching Chinese, but it will look to the Chinese as if I’m doing
    something really great, and that will encourage them to reciprocate by
    stepping up their teaching of English”. It’s another nail in the coffin
    for school language-learning, whose death was initiated by Baroness
    Catherine Ashton under Tony Blair. Mind you, if the Chinese were to
    introduce Esperanto into all their schools, then the British would have
    to follow.”

    If anyone wants a copy, email me: first name at second name dot org dot uk.

  • Ben

    Like it or lump it if china is to rule the world it will have to embrace the English language rather than destroy it.

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