In February, students from No 2 High School in Chiping county in Shandong province prepare for their English test.[Photo by Zhao Yuguo/China Daily]
English training classes from K-12 levels seem to have recovered from shrinking numbers last year, following plans to reform the national college entrance exam, or gaokao, educators said.
“Last year’s draft policy on reforming the gaokao might have seemed to be taking English out of the exam, and some parents and students took that to mean that the language was no longer important, which caused a slight drop in our enrollment,” said Lyu Tengfei, director of the high school English training department at Xueersi, a Beijing training organization under the Tomorrow Advancing Life Education Group.
“This year, our recruitment has tended to recover, nearly reaching the enrollment level before the rumors saying that English will not be as important in the gaokao,” Lyu said.
In September, the State Council released details of gaokao reform, saying that only three subjects－Chinese, math and English－will be tested during the exam, a departure from the previous gaokao in which six or more subjects were tested.
Two opportunities are allowed for taking the English test, one in January and one in June. Students are given the opportunity to select the higher score as their gaokao English test result.
Pilot programs for the change will begin this year for 10th-graders in Shanghai and Zhejiang province. Once these students enter college in 2017, the reform will be expanded nationwide.
The reform－unlike the rumors last year saying that the gaokao would reduce the scale of English and add weight to Chinese－reiterated the importance of English in the exam.
Yang Si, a 10th-grader in Shanghai, resumed private English classes this year after the gaokao policy was released.
“I stopped private English tutoring last year to allocate more time to other subjects, to achieve better gaokao results, since everybody said that English would be sidelined in the exam,” Yang said, adding that she will instead set aside more time for English in the next few years.
“I know it’s very pragmatic, but it’s gaokao. I just want to get the best outcome possible,” the 16-year-old said.
Lyu from Xueersi said that parents have gradually understood the importance of English in the exam again.
“We used to focus on textbooks. But after the news of the new policy, we adopted a one-year English training program, particularly to nurture listening, reading and writing skills,” Lyu said, adding that the reform is a positive effort to encourage students to pay more attention to practical ability.
Tao Ran, deputy director of the middle school education brand Youneng of New Oriental Group, agreed.
He said that the new policy emphasizes practical skills such as listening, reading and writing.
The gaokao, which has assessed students’ academic performance and somewhat determined their future for nearly four decades, has received widespread criticism in recent years. The importance of English has always been a popular topic of the criticism.
Last year, many media reported that the gaokao would reduce the emphasis. Some even said that English would be taken out of the required subjects for the exam.
The news severely affected the English training market, especially the after-school training channels that targeted higher gaokao results.
“There has been no increase in enrollment in the classes for middle school and high school this year (seventh and 10th grade). It has been decreasing to some point,” Tao said.
He believes the rumors of English no longer being important severely affected clients’ attitudes toward the subject.
“People have always tended to focus on negative news, though these were rumors,” he said.
However, Tao believes there will be no dramatic change in the capital’s English training market in the next three years since the policy will not be implemented in the city until then.
FINDING COMPREHENSIVE TRAINING BECOMES NEW PRIORITY
Adele Bai, general manager and executive vice-president of EF Education First Kids & Teens China, a Swedish-owned global language teaching company
The reform over English in the college entrance exam, or gaokao, has seriously affected the English training market. The reform caters to a combination of needs concerning time, students and parents.
Gaokao is the beacon that guides students on what to learn. In the past, the English subject in gaokao was test-centered. Training institutions only taught students how to cope with the exam.
But the reform emphasizes language application skills, which means that training institutions should adapt to the changes.
English language acquisition is not only about memorizing vocabulary and grammar but also about developing an overall ability in listening, speaking, reading, writing and learning about Western culture.
I’ve seen how the reform has affected test-centered training institutes, which have suffered a decline in 2014. The reform forces such institutes to face the market changes accordingly.
Since the policy concerning the reform has been released gradually, the number of test-centered training schools will decrease. However, before the reform, these training institutes accounted for most of the English training market.
For our schools, it is good news since we have always focused on nurturing pragmatic skills rather than test-centered training.
Our school has experienced a significant increase in new students this year, more than a double-digit rise.
I believe there will be continuous growth in our enrollment because more parents and students who used to value short-term returns will look for training schools that target comprehensive skills learning after the reform.
The policy is just a start for this year. Some students might still enroll in test-centered schools. They might turn to schools that value the application of ability later.
FALSE REPORTS UNDERMINE INSTITUTIONS IN THE SHORT TERM
Gong Yafu, president of the National Association of Foreign Languages
The new policy issued in September for the college entrance exam, or gaokao, which stipulates that English will retain its importance and be tested twice, may attract renewed attention.
Worries that English may be cut from the gaokao were misinterpretations or just rumors. However, such rumors seriously affected Chinese people’s view of the importance of the language.
That view may have hit rock bottom, but it will improve soon. People will realize that official policy regarding English in gaokao reform remains the same for the summer of 2015, and perhaps afterward.
English training institutions have suffered from the rumors. The impact may last for awhile, up to one or two years, since it is hard to change impressions in a short time. People and the media may be reluctant to accept positive news.
However, I believe that, in the long term, the reform will not affect the training schools. The schools themselves have not yet caught the gist of the reform which is a change in the content of the assessment.
Gaokao reform is a part of the overall reform of the Chinese education system. It aims to develop amultievaluation system, since schools do not assess students solely on test scores. Thus, the objective and form of the assessment will change. The most important change is in content.
Once the training schools grasp the core content, they can develop many classes based on the new assessment.
Training targeting traditional testing centers may shrink, but the training market aimed at nurturing students’ pragmatic skills will have huge potential.