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China's English obsession slowing down

Beijing, Oct 22 , 2013 (PTI) 17:11 IST
Chinese schoolchildren perform morning exercises at their school in Shanghai. File photo - Reuters
China's obsession to learn English to catch up with the rest of the world showed signs of wariness amid complaints of stressful experiences of students over mastering the language as well as fears that it could overtake Mandarin in the long run.

In the first step to slow down the process of learning English, the government plans to remove it from the nationwide higher education entrance test called 'Gaokao' for which millions appear every year to get admission into top colleges and universities following complaints students are finding it tough.

It was reported earlier that the eastern province of Jiangsu was considering removing English from college entrance exams and classifying English levels with letter grades rather than percentile marks. Shanghai and Shandong are considering similar moves.
Also there are fears that the equilibrium between English and Chinese may eventually be lost in scholastic admission tests, as Beijing redistributes subject scores.

Currently, the two languages, along with math, have the same weight and Beijing education authority wants to raise the value of Chinese by shifting points from English to Chinese in college and senior high school entrance exams from 2016, and started soliciting public opinion on the proposal on Monday.

The scheme would also allow high school students to take English exams more than once in pursuit of the best score for college admission.

Currently, Beijing students start English on the first day of primary school, but in the near future, English will not begin before third grade.

"The change highlights the fundamental importance of mother tongue in the curriculum," Li Yi of Beijing Municipal Commission of Education told state-run Xinhua news agency.

Analysts say the move takes a swing at a system that evaluates students by a rigid test system without giving full play to students' unique strengths.

Since early August, a national dictation contest akin the American Spelling Bee competition requiring contestants to write Chinese characters upon hearing the words has brought out a strong nostalgia for traditional Chinese culture. The contest was broadcast on national TV and topped the ratings.

The Chinese version of the spelling bee is a wake-up call for parents and kids to brush up their mother tongue.

Sang Jinlong, deputy head of Beijing Academy of Educational Sciences, said, "The general public are dissatisfied with a school system that gives emphasis to English over Chinese." Sang said the change will mean students devoting more time and effort to Chinese.

English is more than just a school subject in the world's No 2 economy. Placing English at every juncture of education and career development created a huge demand for English tutoring.

The importance of English is self-evident as the economy opens wider to the outside world and is a compulsory subject from primary school to college.

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