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Mixed reactions over cutting English classes

Updated: 2013-11-21 07:51
By Zhao Xinying ( China Daily)

A decision to push back English-language classes for Beijing primary school students to the third grade has received mixed reviews from city teachers, parents and experts.

The Beijing Commission of Education decided on Tuesday that primary school students in the capital will not begin learning English until the third grade.

Mixed reactions over cutting English classes

An English teacher helps Chongwen Elementary School firstgraders take an exam in Beijing last year. Under new rules, Beijing students will not study English until the third grade. Liu Ping/For China Daily

The decision will take effect in next year's fall semester. Currently, English classes begin in the first grade.

It is the commission's second major change to the city's education system in recent months. In October, it reduced the total score of the English-language portion of the gaokao, or China's college entrance exam, from 150 to 100. This change takes effect in 2016.

While some parents, teachers and experts said starting English classes in the third grade will add to an already heavy homework load, others said first- and second-graders are currently having a tough time learning both Chinese and English simultaneously.

"I think it's better for children to learn a language - including English - earlier," said Zhao Xingli, mother of a 9-year-old girl in Beijing.

"Children already have a lot of homework to do after entering grade three. I'm afraid that starting English (in the third grade) will add to my child's workload."

Cui Linlin, who teaches English at a Beijing university and whose daughter is a primary school student, said she can live with the decision.

"First- and second-graders in Beijing only have two English classes a week and I don't believe my daughter learns much from them," she said. "If parents expect their children to learn more, they can teach their children English at home, if they're able to do that. Or they can sign their children up for (extracurricular) English classes."

An English-language teacher at a primary school in Beijing, who asked to be identified only as Zhang, agreed with the decision, saying that children aren't able to handle English classes at such a young age.

"It's difficult for first-graders to learn English. They often mix the English alphabet with Chinese pinyin," said the teacher, who has been teaching English to first- and second-graders for three years.

"I think it will be much easier for students to start learning English in the third grade."

She said she believes students will be relieved that they won't have English classes during their first two years at primary school.

"English is one of the three main subjects besides Chinese and math. Children put a great deal of effort into studying English," she said.

Chu Zhaohui, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences, said schools should not force English classes onto young students, but the decision should be left to individual primary schools.

"Schools should assess a student's interest and ability to learn English, but any efforts to force students to learn English will end poorly," Chu said.

He added that starting English later will not put children behind the learning curve.

"Teaching English in grades one and two is usually not effective because students that age absorb little of what they learn," he said. "From the third grade through to high school, students have plenty of time to learn English."

Wang Haitao, vice-president of New Oriental Education and Technology Group, said the decision creates new business opportunities.

The decision was made during a meeting of directors from education commissions throughout Beijing to discuss how to reform the city's education system.

They also discussed reducing the level of difficulty of English tests in high school entrance exams.

The decision follows sweeping reforms passed by the central government, which specifically discussed reducing students' workloads and the number of subjects in national exams.

Fan Feifei contributed to this story.


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