English worth less in Beijing’s admission tests

 

 

 

 

 

 

  English worth less

in Beijing’s admission tests

 

 

By Wang Wen, Lü Dong, Ding Jing and Li Jiangtao

 

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 weighting. 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, according to sources with the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education.

 

WHY THE CHANGE

 

“The change highlights the fundamental importance of mother tongue in the curriculum,”said Li Yi, of Beijing Municipal Commission of Education.

Li added that the teaching of Chinese will focus more on its relation with other subjects and traditional Chinese culture and legacies.

Though the move is no more than a minor tweak, analysts say it 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 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,” adding that the change will mean students devoting more time and effort to Chinese.

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.

 

ENGLISH FERVOR

 

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 language figures prominently in the career of many and has spawned a booming industry teaching students tricks to pass the tests.

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. This translates into a lucrative industry of test-prep schools and English training programs, which profit from a rising middle class willing to send their children to overseas universities. English is also considered a career plus with government and enterprises.

Passing a national english test is a prerequisite to obtaining a diploma and admission to graduate school. Students take TOEFL, IELTS and other standardized tests to prove their language proficiency.

The Ministry of Education says that there are 50,000 companies specializing in English training, with the value of the market estimated at 30 billion yuan (almost 5 billion U.S. dollars).

Among them is New Oriental Education and Technology Group, China’s largest education service provider. The company went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2006, and has a current market capitalization of 4.15 billion U.S. dollars.

On learning of Beijing’s reform scheme, a member of staff at Hampson English, a language training school, said it was unlikely to lead the end of English in a future education system.

“If the points for English are reduced, the exam will test students’ ability to think in English and their comprehensive English skills instead,” he said.

 

TEST OR ABILITY ORIENTED

 

The change in scores will help relieve students from heavy academic burdens and reorient an educational system that has put undue emphasis on test results over acquiring and applying knowledge.

Beijing’s educational authority said the change would tackle an entrenched problem in English language learning, namely that students are taught to nail high scores in tests rather than master the language.

English teachers responded to the change with circumspection, saying the weight of English in the total score does not matter as much as reforming English education to help students use the language in real life.

“From primary school to college, it took 20 percent of all my study time to crack English. I also signed up for crammers twice in college to pass an English test required to graduate,” said Jiang Bo, an office clerk in Beijing.

“Although I put a lot of time and effort into English, I still have trouble communicating with foreigners, because smooth communication requires understanding of foreign culture and jargon — things I didn’t learn at school.”

 

 

 

 

 

Candidates of National College English Test sit the exam at Hubei University of Economics

in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province, on December 22, 2012.   Photo by Yang Hongbin

 

 

 

 

  China’s English fervor

under scrutiny

 

By Yao Yuan, Wu Jihai, Ming Xing and Yuan Ruting

 

Though the word “promontory” may sound unfamiliar to many native English speakers, Luo Jia, a 13-year-old Chinese student, knows its meaning, spelling and the exact sentence in the textbook where it appeared.

“I know the word even better than the uncommon Chinese character with the same meaning,” said Luo, as he located the synonym for “cape” while flipping through “New Concept English,” a textbook widely used in China’s English training programs.

Though he is more interested in biology and chemistry, the middle school student in Fujian Province attends English classes every weekend upon his mother’s order. The class teaches advanced English with a rich vocabulary containing words like “bedraggled,” “outlandish” and “parquet.”

Luo’s mother made a strong case for enrolling her son in the class. “English is very important, whether he stays in China or goes abroad, so I prefer he spend extra hours on language study, no matter whether he likes it or not.”

In China, English is among three compulsory “major subjects,” along with Chinese and mathematics, given equal importance in major exams. It is perhaps the most influential subject, considering the ubiquity of its exams and the gigantic market it has generated.

Every year, millions of college students take the country’s many standardized English tests, hoping to boost their resumes with language certificates. College graduates applying for post-graduate programs are all required to pass an English exam, even if their subjects are Chinese literature or organic chemistry.

Those exams are usually difficult, and the ensuing demand to pass them has created a lucrative industry of test-prep schools and English training programs, which also profit from a rising middle class willing to send their children to overseas universities or invest in their early education.

The country’s English fervor has aroused much controversy. Last month, Wang Xuming, former spokesman for the Ministry of Education, called for canceling English classes in primary schools to make way for Chinese classes. The Chinese zeal for learning English, he argued, was so strong that it has come at the neglect of their mother tongue.

It was also reported that the eastern province of Jiangsu was mulling a reform to exclude the English test from the college entrance exam, and to classify the students’ English levels using letter grades or a similar system, rather than percentile marks, as a reference for college admission.

The news has unleashed a torrent of support from netizens who have long complained about the huge burden brought by excessive English tests.

“Chinese students spend too much time learning grammar, but this kind of test-oriented English is of little use in real life,” microblogger “Youyouzi” commented on China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo.

Like Youyouzi, many Chinese are now questioning the effect of the country’s English learning craze on improving students’ English skills other than in exams. Research by the Shanghai International Studies University shows that of China’s foreign language learners, fewer than 5 percent are capable of using the language proficiently in transcultural communication.

Zeng Zihang, an office worker in Beijing, said his English classes in school involved little oral English training, and he could hardly utter a word when he first met his foreign business partners.

“My English study in college was all about memorizing CET-4 (College English Test) vocabulary and writing mock exam papers. It would have been a waste of time if I found a job that had nothing to do with English,” Zeng said.

But despite the widespread opposition to the excessive focus on exams, many experts and members of the public agree that China should not slight English education as it goes through rapid internationalization.

“English learning can broaden children’s horizons and help them understand a different culture,” said Chen Weiping, father of an eight-year-old in Beijing, who opposed Wang’s call to scrap English classes in primary schools.

“It’s totally fine for primary school students to study English. Just don’t give them too many exams,” he said.

Li Dazhi, educator at the China Association of Higher Education, said China began to stress English learning after the Cultural Revolution, when the country, plagued by low domestic productivity, aspired to learn from the Western world.

“The English fervor is not a bad thing. It illustrates the ambition and the open minds of the Chinese people and that we hope to embrace the world and learn from foreign countries,” he said.

But Li also said that China’s test-oriented English education was hardly successful in making young students more internationalized.

“I found many college students had good scores in English exams but were actually ‘deaf and dumb’ in English communication, and many of them knew little about Western culture,” Li said.

Last month, the Ministry of Education issued the second draft of a regulation on reducing students’ academic burden. It suggests banning unified English examinations in primary schools in an attempt to make English education less test-oriented.

Experts and the public have generally hailed the initiative, saying it will help lighten the students’ burdens while freeing English classes from exams so they can focus on cultural and practical aspects.

 

 

 

 

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