Image credit: Bridget O’Donnell.
Schools are placing too much emphasis on English, said Zhang Shuhua, head of the Intelligence Research Academy, adding that language studies should be treated as a means for social reform and development, but, instead, they are seen as an end.
Zhang said many students with good academic performance have been blocked from universities because of poor English test scores, government news portal China.com.cn reported on Monday.
Zhang said it was “absolutely unnecessary” to require students who pursue professions in Chinese medicine, ancient Chinese language, Chinese history, and others to learn English. While of course learning any language is advantageous in and of itself, Zhang’s comments are particularly ridiculous given that they seem to be predicated on the idea that students of Chinese history or ancient Chinese language will only communicate with other Chinese academics and will remain within China. This ignores the wealth of research carried out in those fields by foreign academics and at very reputable university departments in other countries, particularly the US.
In China, children start to learn English as early as kindergarten. In middle school, it is seen as the most important subject next to Chinese and mathematics. University students must pass a language test before they can graduate; some also take a more difficult test to pursue post-graduate studies.
The CPPCC deputy cited a 2010 survey by China Youth Daily that showed 80 per cent of people polled agreed that there is a language crisis and that Chinese skills are deteriorating. Of those, more than half blamed the emphasis on foreign language study.
Zhang suggested elementary and middle schools focus on teaching Chinese and maths and reduce other subjects such as biology and chemistry, which should be non-required courses. He urged that English-language programmes be reformed to move away from exams and adopt more applicable lessons.
If there is a crisis in Chinese education it is endemic in a system which places an incredibly high importance on testing and rote learning as opposed to practical use, not the presence of any given subject within the curriculum. The high value placed on learning a foreign language from a young age is a distinct advantage to Chinese students, one that other countries are only now beginning to wake up to.