eople in China are keen learners of English and they have long made it a required course for students. The strong emphasis the language is given has aroused doubt and controversy, leading some people to argue for its weight to be reduced, while others see it differently.
Li Guangyu, board chairman of Yuhua Education Group and representative to the 12th National People’s Congress (China’s top legislature), suggested that English tests be removed from the national college entrance examination – an exam taken every year by millions of Chinese students, and that English change from a required course to an optional one.
This will reduce the burden on students and parents alike, Li argued. From third grade through twelfth, each Chinese student spends altogether over 5,000 hours on English on average, Li estimated. “If students study for eight hours a day, then around one fifth of the best decade of their life is spent on English,” he added.
But the fruits borne by such an effort are not satisfactory. “After 10 years of learning English, many students can neither speak English fluently, nor read English books or literature,” Li said. And once out of school, people whose occupations do not require English will soon forget the language; making the time and money spent on English in the past a waste, Li argued.
Li also contended that the excessive emphasis people give to English has led a considerable number of parents signing their children up for extracurricular English courses, adding to families' financial burden. Data from the Ministry of Education shows that students at primary and high schools in China total 163.78 million, Li said. “Say every student spend only 1,000 yuan (US$145) on English outside class. Chinese students spend altogether 163.78 billion (US$23.7 billion) yuan on it every year.”
Nevertheless, most parents don’t share Li’s views. According to the White Paper on the Learning Situation of Young English Learners in China 2016 by China-based consultancy iResearch, the top reason why parents have their children learn English is that “English is an indispensable language tool,” while studying for exams only ranks third.
“I believe abolishing English tests is a bit hasty, even reckless,” said Yu Minhong, chairman of China’s famous education company Neworiental Group and member of the 12th National Committee of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress (China’s top political advisory body). Learning English is not a decision made by the State any more, but an inevitable need if China integrates further with the world, Yu argued.
But Yu also suggested that English should have its weight reduced in the college entrance examination or become less difficult to give regard to students from less developed parts of China.