Lawmakers in China have proposed limiting the time students spend studying English , which has sparked outrage, with many parents claiming that it will impair their children's chances of a better future.
The idea has been interpreted as an attempt to further decrease Western influence, and it is part of a decade-long trend to minimize time spent studying foreign languages in favour of promoting Chinese culture.
The recommendation was made public last month when the Ministry of Education responded to the People's Congress members' suggestions of raising cultural confidence and limiting the proportion of English teaching.
According to one unnamed legislator, "studying English is vital, but it should take less time."
"Reform English teaching techniques and transition to grading-based education to emphasize oral communication and real-life applications," suggested another.
While the government rejected those recommendations, it also promised to promote traditional Chinese culture even more.
It further stated that English accounts for only 8% of the whole curriculum, or less than one-third of the time spent learning Mandarin.
However, the comment sparked worry on social media from individuals concerned that English language teaching will be further marginalized, harming students' future career chances.
"Kids must learn English from an early age; most of the world's leading academic journals are in English; can you simply rely on a translation tool to read them?" one Weibo post read.
"If those delegates truly want to contribute to education reform, they might advise lowering the grading percentage of English in the college admission exam rather than lowering the quantity of English study in class," another user suggested.
According to the authorities, the goal is to create "cultural confidence," which is one of President Xi Jinping's favourite initiatives, and a few policies to reduce teaching time have already been adopted.
The authorities issued a guideline in 2013 pushing for fewer English tests outside schools.
Last year, Shanghai, frequently used as a test bed for new laws, prohibited final exams in English in local junior high schools. It also prohibited schools from assisting pupils in obtaining textbooks and learning materials from other countries.
China's parents attend communication boot camps to learn how to instruct their children.
Last summer, China also implemented the "double reduction strategy," which aimed to lessen curricular and extracurricular demands on students.
It limited the employment of private tutors outside of school hours and prohibited the use of foreign curriculums and foreign teachers residing abroad.
According to Julian Fisher, a Beijing-based education consultant, lowering English sessions could assist fix China's school inequity.
"English is likely the college entrance exam subject with the greatest possibility for affluent metropolitan families to gain an advantage," he added. "This was one of the elements driving the double reduction policy, which prohibited after-school tutoring."
The reforms have also had a significant impact on overseas schools. According to international education service company NewSchool Insight, there will be 932 recognized international schools by 2021. However, only 25 new schools launched last year, the lowest number in five years, with another 21 postponing their plans to open.
According to NewSchool Insight, the main reason for the postponement was the double reduction policy and its severe constraints on for-profit educational institutions.
Regulation reforms have also discouraged foreign educational institutions from investing in China.
Harrow School, a well-known English boarding campus with many branches in Asia, has cancelled plans to construct a new school in Shenzhen. Westminster School, a British elite private institution, has cancelled plans to develop six international schools in China.
Moves to marginalize English, according to Koh Soon Lee, an associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, appear to be a step back.
"Many Chinese students intend to study abroad for postgraduate [education], and ignoring English learning at an early stage will impact their ambitions," Koh explained.
Koh stated that even though international schools are privately owned in China, they must negotiate with the authorities.
"International schools in China try to skirt the policy by adopting more of the national curriculum and using government-approved Chinese textbooks." "They're attempting to appear less Western," Koh explained.
Moony Li, a Shanghai-based international schoolteacher, corroborated the pattern, adding, "In my former position… Our English curriculum now includes Chinese materials such as Geography of China and Politics of China.
"Even though we are allowed to use foreign textbooks at my current position, there is a statement placed on each English textbook stating that 'any content in the publication that is conflicting with China's national constitution and regulations will not be approved.’"
Li voiced fear that a crackdown on English study would lead to increased employment instability, and she claimed that ideological constraints on language learning were excessive, causing alarm among families and teachers.
On the other hand, Fisher believes it is more likely to be a pragmatic decision resulting from the authorities' efforts to shift the school system into a dual track of academic and vocational models.
"Most British children do not study a second language after middle school, and most attend a state school." "China changing course should not be interpreted as an attack on the West; ideally, it is merely a re-calibration," he said.
Source: Global Times
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