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Reforms offer language-business openings

Updated: 2013-11-28 07:19
By Shen Gang ( China Daily)

Reforms offer language-business openings

Rod Jones, CEO of Navitas 

Growth predicted in private schools, training sessions

Beijing's decision in October to reduce the number of points allocated to the English language test in the college entrance examination may be seen by some as an indication that the country is de-emphasizing English-language education.

But several English-language education providers say gaokao reforms present business opportunities instead of a setback.

"This may lead to growth for international and domestic English-language schools in China and could lead to a significant increase in English training and in test scores," said Rod Jones, CEO of Navitas, a listed English-education services provider, in Shanghai this month.

His reasoning is clear-cut.

"For students studying abroad, the reality is that English-language requirements are increasing rather than decreasing, so we see no end in the demand for good quality English-language providers," he said.

Navitas is an Australian global education leader providing pre-university and university programs and English-language courses to more than 80,000 students across a network of over 100 colleges and campuses in 23 countries. Navitas held its annual business partner conference in China for the first time.

"China represents the company's largest student base," Jones said.

In 2011, the market for English-language education services reached 46.3 billion yuan ($7.6 billion) in sales, according to Beijing Zhongzhilin Information Technology. Soon after Beijing announced its education reform plan, the stock price for New Oriental Education, China's largest listed private education company, jumped more than 20 percent on Oct 24.

There is a long history of reforms to gaokao. In 1978, gaokao was uniformly designed - students saw the exact same test. Since then, different provinces or municipalities in China have altered the exam according to their regional needs.

In 2002, provinces began designing their own exams, though major Chinese cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, had a great deal of influence on what was included in the test.

Last month, the Beijing Education Examinations Authority announced that the number of points for the English-language test in gaokao will drop from 150 to 100 in 2016. The number of points for Chinese will rise from 150 to 180.

Beijing is not the only city that will reform its gaokao. In Shandong province, the English-listening comprehension test will be canceled in 2016.

"It's ... not an intent to lower the English-education requirement," said professor Gao Hongde, an English-language researcher at the Teaching Research Center of Shandong Province. "It was a great challenge to guarantee all schools, in urban and rural areas, conducted the listening comprehension test simultaneously."

Professor Huang Zhihong in Guangdong province said English-language education will be strengthened rather than weakened by the reforms.

"Guangdong was the first province in China to introduce English classes in compulsory education in the early 1980s. The rapid growth of the economy in the coastal province benefited a lot from English-language tutoring services over the years."

English-language education providers also help students who choose to seek higher education abroad. In order to be admitted to a university abroad, they will have to take the International English Language Testing System exam or the Test of English as a Foreign Language.

Last year, the number of high school students who took either test reached 480,000, said Zhang Jin with the Ministry of Education's National Education Examinations Authority.

Zhang also said there was an increasing number of high school graduates who took IELTS after gaokao to apply for universities abroad. Students aged under 18 taking the TOEFL increased 30 percent last year compared with 2011.

"In China, almost everybody is talking about rethinking and reviewing English teaching and assessment," Zhang said. "It's significant today for everybody to keep in mind how much China's development has benefited from English-language teaching and learning over the past 30 years."

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