Chinese lawmaker proposes removing English as core subject
Published: Mar 05, 2021 12:16 AM
Students of grade 9 attend a class at the No. 1 Middle School Affiliated to East China Normal University in east China's Shanghai, April 27, 2020.Photo:Xinhua

Students of grade 9 attend a class at the No. 1 Middle School Affiliated to East China Normal University in east China's Shanghai, April 27, 2020.Photo:Xinhua

Is English really that important? A Chinese lawmaker at the two sessions has proposed removing English as a core subject for Chinese students receiving compulsory education, triggering heated discussion on Chinese social media. 

The proposal was made by Xu Jin, a member of the Central Committee of the Jiusan Society and also a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). It has also been proposed by other lawmakers in previous years.

Some experts said the idea is just narrow-minded populism and is unlikely to be adopted, as China's importance in globalization means that it needs the global language to share views and technology with the outside world. Others said it was reasonable as the majority of Chinese people do not use English in their lives, except during their education.

"In the compulsory education stage, English and other foreign language courses should no longer be set as the main subjects equivalent to Chinese and mathematics, and should be removed as compulsory subjects from the college entrance examination," Xu said.

Xu believes the amount of time spent on English by students will not lead to commensurate results in future employment. English teaching hours account for about 10 percent of students' total class hours, but English is only useful for less than 10 percent of college graduates, he said. 

Instead, smart devices offering translation could provide professional, competitive translation services and more problem-solving than English teaching goals that run through the entire compulsory education, Xu said, adding that translation is one of the first occupations that will die out in the era of artificial intelligence. 

If English was not a compulsory main subject, students could spend more time improving their education in areas such as music, sports and arts and lay more emphasis on cultivating independent thinking and innovative capabilities, Xu said. 

Many agreed that Chinese students spend a lot of time learning English but do not really use it later in life, and suggested it could be an optional course instead.

One online poll showed most were in favor of continuing to have English as a main subject as they believed it was necessary to participate in global competition, while a smaller number of people supported Xu's proposal, saying they would rather more time was spent learning Chinese language and culture.

Learning English is not a simple issue about compulsory education, but part of China's opening-up policy and support of globalization, in which English is a basic skill for Chinese to get involved and deliver messages, ideas and technology from China to the world, said Shen Yi, a professor at Fudan University's School of International Relations and Public Affairs.

Shen told the Global Times those people who want to remove English from compulsory education are showing narrow-minded populism. In the long run, it will result in education inequality and eventually lead to class division, he said.

Xiong Bingqi, director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing, believed the proposal is unlikely to be adopted by Chinese authorities. He said the key way to improve the country's education is to reform the college entrance examination, or gaokao, making it a more diverse evaluation mechanism. 

Some industry observers believed there is interest in Xu's proposal, partly because removing English from compulsory education will naturally lead to interest in other extracurricular training classes. 

Previously, lawmakers have proposed making physical education a main subject, equivalent to math and Chinese, as a way to diversify China's examination and evaluation mechanism.