A recent proposal by Chinese lawmaker Tuo Qingming to lower the bar for English in the national college entrance exam has sparked renewed debate about the role of foreign language education in China. Tuo, a National People's Congress deputy and middle school principal, argued that English added to the burden on students and had limited practical value for many people.
In his proposal, Tuo suggested reducing the English score from 150 to 100 points in the gaokao, a series of tests that can determine future education and job prospects in China. This, he argued, would increase the weighting of Chinese and encourage young people to have more cultural self-confidence. Tuo also criticized the emphasis on English in the gaokao, which he believed worsened the inequality of urban and rural education.
Indeed, the inequality of educational resources between urban and rural areas is a longstanding issue in China. According to a report by the World Bank, rural students in China are on average two years behind their urban counterparts in math, reading, and science. The report also found that access to quality education was one of the key factors driving income inequality in China.
Tuo suggested improving educational resources in rural areas and promoting one-on-one exchange programs with urban schools to narrow the gap. He also recommended prioritizing verbal skills over grammar tests in English classes, developing students' interest in English, and building their confidence to prepare them for the global stage.
Tuo's proposal is not without precedent. In 2013, Beijing's municipal education department announced plans to cut the English points allocation in the gaokao from 150 to 100 points while increasing the Chinese portions from 150 to 180. However, the plan was abandoned due to public backlash.
Tuo's proposal has also been met with mixed reactions. Some have praised his efforts to address the inequality of educational resources, while others have criticized his proposal as shortsighted and unrealistic. They argue that English proficiency is essential for China's economic development and global competitiveness and that lowering the bar for English in the gaokao could have unintended consequences.
Indeed, English proficiency is becoming increasingly important in China's job market. According to a report by the China Daily, demand for English-speaking employees in China increased by 20% in 2021, despite the pandemic. The report also found that the average salary for bilingual employees in China was 35% higher than that of their monolingual peers.
In light of this, some have suggested that efforts to improve English education in China should focus on enhancing the quality of teaching rather than lowering the bar for English in the gaokao. They argue that improving the quality of teaching would not only help narrow the gap between urban and rural education but also improve students' overall proficiency in English.
The debate about the role of foreign language education in China is likely to continue, as policymakers grapple with the challenge of balancing the need for English proficiency with the need to address the inequality of educational resources. Nevertheless, Tuo's proposal has opened up a much-needed dialogue about how best to prepare China's youth for the global stage.