Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Exam change won't dampen English fever

By Bai Ping (China Daily) Updated: 2013-10-26 07:54

If you're an English teacher in China and have heard about plans to reduce the role of English in the all-important national college entrance examination, or gaokao, don't worry, be happy! Chinese people's affinity for the language isn't about to wane, if anything it'll become stronger.

As part of a nationwide drive to overhaul the gaokao system, Beijing said on Monday that starting 2016, the score of English would drop from 150 to 100 on its plan, while the total marks for Chinese would be raised from 150 to 180. Currently, gaokao weighs English, Chinese and math equally. Even before the Monday announcement, Jiangsu province had caused a national stir by reportedly mulling the idea of excluding English from the provincial-level college entrance exam.

Teachers, students divided over <EM>Gaokao</EM> reform planBut

Sean McNally from Britain teaches Chinese children how to learn English through paintings. Many students in China have trouble learning English and using it in their daily lives. Meng Zhongde / for China Daily

I'll not read too much into such shifts, not even as the beginning of the end to a decades-long obsession with English, despite the fact that gaokao sets the direction for formal education across the country.

The reasons are simple. In any given year in the past few decades, hundreds of millions of Chinese students were learning English, driven by an instrumental motivation. Parents know English is the lingua franca of international business, which would offer opportunities for upward mobility and economic success if their children become fluent in it.

Cuts in the number of classes for English in schools may be a windfall for the many language tuition centers that have been thriving on parents' eagerness to give their children an early leg up and are estimated to have a combined yearly revenue of 200 million yuan ($32.89 million). They'll also encourage an earlier exodus of those who plan to renege on gaokao to private feeder schools of foreign universities.

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