Removing English as One of the Three Core Subjects Within Chinese 9-year Compulsory Education System?
Chinese ‘Two-Sessions’ — the fourth session of the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC) and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) are ultimately held in due season from 4th March to 16th March this year, during which innumerable delegates of the National Committee come up with constructive proposals upon the basis of every aspect of domestic stuff.
(For more information on Chinese “Two-Sessions” in 2021, please turn to the government official website in English:
In a proposal to the ongoing two sessions, a delegate member of the National Committee of both NPC and CPPCC immensely recommended that English language should no more be included in one of the “Three-Giant” core subjects (the other two: Chinese language and Mathematics) within the current Chinese 9-year Compulsory Education System ranging from primary schools to secondary schools. The delegate, called Mr. Xu Jin, at the same time casts a doubt on the crucial significance of English education in China and of the foreign language per se, which has triggered off vigorous discussions, propositions or oppositions among professional experts, concerned parents, netizen who have been fixing their attentions on educational issues at all times (It is estimated that his proposal had been read 120 million times on Sina Weibo, a micro blogging platform widely applied in China).
The delegate proposals
In accordance with some headlines, news bulletins, both in English and in Chinese, and most importantly, his original yet succinct diction, the delegate’s perspectives may as well be paraphrased and classified as followed:
(1) It is a waste of time and of education resources forcing students to study their way through schools together with English. In the light of relevant surveys and statistics in 2019, merely 1 in 10 students may bring that foreign language into full play after graduation from universities despite the fact that the time spent on this core subject have already accounted for approximately 10% of a student’s study span. As a result, in Xu Jin’s mind’s eye, the outcome of learning English does not amount to a proverbial row of pins, and it is futile taking pains to study a foreign language of little relevance.
(2) Younger generations will not be in desperate need of translation and interpreting between English and Chinese any longer in consideration of the reality that a vast array of state-of-the-art Computer Assistant Translation (CAT) software has come into existence, debasing and alleviating the vitality and visibility of human translators and interpreters. To make matters worse, “translators or interpreters are predicted to be one of the top 10 careers to be cast off in the not-too-distant future,” he thus added.
(3) The elimination of English from core subjects makes phenomenal contribution to the development and advancement of additional subjects, such as science, fine arts, music, dancing, PE, and other extracurricular activities, thus keeping pace with the advocacy of Chinese Quality Education which attach due weight to students’ versatile sorts of quality as a ‘Jack-of-all-trades’ covering morality, ability, personality, psychology and physical health.
(Here are much more juicy details on the perspectives from professional experts, parents and netizens who attend to domestic issues with regard to Chinese educational and cultural policies all the time. You may as well pay a visit the webpages of China daily if this topic channels your interest.)
My Rebuttals and Defence for English
While there is, to some degree, much rationalisation or justification in Mr. Xu Jin’s proposals, I still take issue with his motion that ‘English’ is supposed to be removed from core units within current Chinese course curriculum in primary schools and secondary schools. And I would like to make some rebuttals and defense for the foreign language to be blamed based upon Xu’s three points of view listed above:
First and foremost, Mr. Xu puts forward a seemingly persuasive and provocative motion that the requirement of English as a core unit is subject to its utilitarian value (in other words, if the language is useful or for the benefit of a majority of students), but his motion does, in point of fact, prove to be misleading, precarious/untenable and inconceivable given the example of elementary mathematics which is part and parcel of the curriculum of middle schools for several decades. To be more precise, especially in face of everyday trivial matters, no one points to make full use of such complicated knowledge as Trigonometric Function, Solid Geometry, Arithmetic Progression, Probability Theory, Derivative, and Conic Section, stuff like that. Only by pursuing one’s mathematical study in an advanced level, or by embarking on other majors in relation to maths, could students possibly bring this subject back in from the cold. However, the proportion of those covey of maths majors is undoubtedly far less than that of English users whose middle school life has come to an end. In consequence, the doctrine of utilitarianism is not the sufficient and necessary condition of whether English should be left out in the cold; otherwise, maths should have been withdrawn from the “Three Giant” as well considering its fewer beneficiaries than those who show some indebtedness to English.
Moreover, it appears that Mr. Xu is not an expert at the spectrum of English translation and interpreting; it is likely that he has, more or less, overemphasised the sophisticated function services facilitated by smart translation devices, such as CAT and AI, while underestimating sentimental and emotional complexity only known inside out by a well-read translator, also a sensitive jitterbug simultaneously. Believe it or not, it will be a ‘car crash’ too mortified to look at if one intends to translate from English to Chinese with the help of CAT software a few lines of a verse written at the turn of 19th century by William Wordsworth: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven.” The chances are that there exist not only a full inversion but the poet’s “spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling…an emotion only reflected on tranquility,” as the poet put it in the Prelude of his Lyrical Ballard. Admittedly, only translators who put a sympathetic ear could touch a chord with the poet. Therefore, CAT has not played a role of a substitute for human translators or interpreters up to now, and junior learners cannot be deprived of any exposure to English study either.
Last but not the least, the drop of English as a core unit does not necessarily entail the increasing amount of time spent on elective courses. That is to say — teachers and students have a tendency for the other “Two Giants” in order to pass the National Gaokao (the Chinese College Entrance Examination) once per year, thus casting a blight on the status quo in which additional courses in connection with Quality Education are still taken or left at random. What’s worse, students who are craving for improving their English skills have to take part in after-class tutorials. As a result of their participation in tutorials outside schools, their workload does not dwindle as expected, but goes up in an ulterior manner. It is worthwhile to mention that their workload, at the same time, has been transferred to family’s economic pressure, extra tuition fees of no less than 100 yuan per hour in particular, that only well-off families could afford to. Hence, it is, by and large, a ludicrous bosh that getting rid of the essential position of English class does, as it were, concede more weight to science, music, fine art, and PE, etc.
From what has been rebuffed and analysed one by one, I could not stand in an affirmative position to back up Mr. Xu Jin’s recommendation to ward off English as a core subject from Chinese compulsory education system. Not putting a thinking cap on, the delegate, on one hand, cannot see the wood for the trees in the long run, and on the other, he might not identify what should be taken a precedence over — that is, it is our utilitarian attitude towards English teaching methodology, such as test-taking techniques, rote-learning and cramming for exams, that should be a wake-up call.
On account of the limitation of blog’s length, it is a pity that I could only refute the delegate’s insufficient proposals which have not been put into real practice as a political tenet in Chinese education system, even in China’s progression in cultural rejuvenation. Though I am not able to unfold the necessities for which primary and secondary students need proceeding with their English study as a core unit, I am willing to supply with you readers a couple of conceivable and tenable arguments in the second blog next week.
14th March, 2021