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China: Compulsory English testing to be removed from gaokao

Action to remove English language from China’s highly competitive university entrance exam, the gaokao, will come into force a year earlier than originally planned, Gu Mingyuan, president of the Chinese Society of Education, announced last week.

Students gather for the gaokao at Nantong Middle School in 2012. Photo: 江苏省南通中学教师范建.Students gather for the gaokao at Nantong Middle School in 2012. Photo: 江苏省南通中学教师范建.

“The current college recruitment policy does not do justice to students' talent and is not a scientific way of appraisal,"

Students will sit an external English exam that can be taken multiple times throughout the year as part of the university admissions process

From 2017, the English assessment will be removed to make way for more mathematics and Chinese language testing.

Gu clarified that the reforms, which were announced last year, do not involved scrapping the English requirement from the entry process altogether. Instead, students will sit an external, “socialised” exam that can be taken multiple times throughout the year as part of the admissions process.

Addressing a conference in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, Gu did not elaborate on what was meant by “socialised”, but Liu Limin, vice-minister of education, has said that the new policy will help diversify traditional English language testing.

“The current college recruitment policy assesses students by computing every tiny bit of their scores into the gaokao, which does not do justice to their talent and is not a scientific way of appraisal,” Gu explained.

“The policy neither means that English will be removed from test categories in the gaokao, nor does it weaken English’s place in current curricula,” he added. “Different universities will have different requirements for students’ English levels for university recruitment.”

Critics of the plan are concerned that the reform signals a de-prioritisation of English teaching partly fuelled by nationalist rhetoric from government sources.

A representative from the Beijing municipal commission of education told China’s national newspaper Xinhua that “The change highlights the fundamental importance of mother tongue in the curriculum”.

The reforms have also sparked fears that decentralised testing may be less rigorous than in the past.

“I don’t see any social institution big and credible enough to coordinate and ensure standardized questions and a marking scheme,” Zhao Jing, president of the Compubridge Research Institute of College Planning, told the Global Times.

He added that regulations at educational institutions may not always match those of the gaokao, resulting in higher instances of cheating.

Joanne Wong, Founder of ImmerQi an educational services and internship provider in Beijing, told The PIE News that the changes may result in Chinese students spending less time on studying English due to their rigorous daily timetables.

“Naturally there will be a worry that the entire English teaching industry may suffer in the future due to this decision”

“Naturally there will be a worry that the entire English teaching industry may suffer in the future due to this decision,” she said. “Without the pressure of a strict examination on the subject, students will think differently about what to devote their time to.”

However, she added: “Having said that, interest in English is very high and I think it will still remain the business language of Asia as so many studying the subject in China are no longer at school they are regular business people receiving English training between the ages of 20 and 40.”

A number of local authorities are undertaking pilot programmes to work towards the 2017 goal. For example, in Beijing, in 2016 students will take a test with a reduced proportional points score for English twice a year and use their highest score for the gaokao.

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