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Debate rages over proposal to ax English

By ZOU SHUO | China Daily | Updated: 2021-03-08 08:35

Children take offline classes offered by Rise Education Cayman Ltd, a Nasdaq-listed education company, in Beijing. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Political adviser wants language dropped as core subject at schools

A national political adviser's proposal that English be dropped as a core subject for Chinese primary and secondary school students has triggered heated discussion among experts and netizens.

In a proposal to the ongoing two sessions-the annual meetings of the country's top legislature and top political advisory body-Xu Jin, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and also a member of the Central Committee of the Jiu San Society, one of China's eight non-Communist political parties, said that English should not be a core subject like Chinese and math and more course hours should be given to improving students' skills in physical education, music and art.

Xu said English and other foreign languages should also not be included as compulsory subjects for the national college entrance exam.

While English takes up about 10 percent of class hours, less than 10 percent of university graduates use the language at work, he said.

Moreover, smart translation devices can offer sophisticated translation services and in the age of artificial intelligence, translators will be among the top 10 professions to be eliminated, he added.

His proposal has triggered heated discussion on social media platforms and the hashtag "removing English as a core subject for primary and secondary school students" had been read 120 million times on Sina Weibo, a microblogging platform, as of Sunday.

Some netizens agreed with his proposal and said they had wasted too much time studying English at school and did not use it in their daily lives. Others said the idea is not in line with the country's pursuit of further openness and will likely not be adopted by authorities.

According to a online poll by China Youth Daily, more than 110,000 respondents opposed the proposal and said English should be taught early at schools to enable China to compete with other countries. However, around 100,000 people supported the proposal and said it would be better to spend more time learning Chinese language and culture.

Zhang Lianzhong, a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the Ministry of Education made English a compulsory course from third grade in 2001.

The decision had proved to be a smart one as hundreds of millions of Chinese students have broadened their horizons and improved their cultural awareness and critical thinking ability through learning the language, Zhang said in an interview with Beijing News.

Xiong Bingqi, deputy head of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing, said the key is to reform China's exam-oriented education system so that English teaching will focus on improving students' language skills, not exam-taking ability.

Removing English as a core subject will only result in greater imbalances between urban and rural students in English proficiency as urban students will more likely resort to costly after-school training to learn the language, he said.

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