Should Chinese Students Learn English in School? Netizens Debate

By Urban Family, March 22, 2019

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This article originally appeared on our sister website, Urban Family Shanghai.

By Yuzhou Hu

Earlier this week, a full-fledged discussion broke out on Weibo about whether or not learning English is a waste of time for Chinese people.

It all started on Monday when Hua Qianfang, a farmer turned self-taught writer, published a post on Weibo, claiming that English is “a useless skill to most Chinese people which robs children of their precious childhood.” The post has since been deleted. Meanwhile, he accused those who advocate English education of being “self-diminishing slaves of Western ideology.” The post, suffice it to say, set fire to the powder keg and drew over 20,000 comments.

Later, the debate reached a new level when Wang Sicong, a Chinese businessman who is also the only son of Wanda boss Wang Jianlin, joined the fight by replying to Hua: “I can't believe there are still dumbasses who have never traveled to a foreign country in the year 9012.” The term ‘9012’ – a popular way of exaggerating the year 2019 on the Internet and often used when attacking someone with a traditional or old-fashioned mindset – pointed towards the narrowmindedness of Hua’s statement. (His post has also been deleted.) 

This might have developed into a meaningful and fruitful discussion as the two represent different social classes and could have shed light on the issue from different angles. However, the debate quickly escalated into a dirty verbal brawl, as both somehow took the whole thing very personally.

The merits of teaching English in China have been debated since 2001, when the Ministry of Education published a new regulation requiring all students to start learning English in primary school. Although English has become as significant as Chinese and mathematics in terms of education, many feel that Chinese students’ English capabilities develop too slowly despite that fact that many parents and their kids devote huge amounts of time toward learning the language. Last year, the pass rate of CET-4 and CET-6 (English skill tests all college students have to pass if they want to graduate) only amounted to 39.8 percent

In 2017, Li Guangyu, delegate of the Two Sessions, suggested taking English out of the gaokao and making it an elective course (the proposal wasn’t approved, of course). According to Li, students spend too much time and money learning the language, which may in turn offer little to no help in their future occupations. “The cost of Chinese children learning English in one year can reach approximately RMB164 billion,” stated Li. “The same amount can be used to construct 0.8 Three Gorges or launch 204 Shenzhou spacecrafts.”

“In that case, isn’t kindergarten enough for kids?” retorted one netizen. “After all, we can still communicate without learning Chinese. Mathematics has become useless as well since we have Alipay and WeChat Pay to do the job. Most people don’t need to have contact with foreigners so English is also unnecessary. Knowledge of history and geography can be acquired through Wikipedia. As for physics and chemistry, a great number of people never get the hang of them, anyway. Just give our little ones a phone after they graduate from kindergarten and they can start their precious childhood immediately.”

[Cover image via Pexels

This article was originally published by our sister magazine Urban Family Shanghai. For more articles like this, visit the Urban Family website, or follow the Urban Family WeChat account (ID: urbanfamilyshanghai).

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