China puts English in the drawer: language teaching in public schools faces a setback

Long considered the mainspring for finding good jobs at home and abroad, English teaching in Chinese public schools is facing a setback.

There is a strategic skill in China that is in danger of ending up in the drawer. At the center of a possible setback is the study of the English language. Hitherto the key to the outside world.

The opening of doors to English is linked to China’s economic miracle. The language has also been an instrument of dialogue at the diplomatic level.

Until a few decades ago, the Party leaders themselves knew, at best, Russian. This, thanks to exchanges between Moscow and Beijing, the only ones possible for those of their generation.

English teaching, too much energy and effort

The story goes. “In China they start when they are very young because English is a very important tool to be able to study abroad. But there is too much pressure on younger children“, says Li Qunlai, a native of Zhengzhou in central China and founder of the Chinese Cultural Center in Milan.

Which pays special attention to language and language culture teaching. “Parents invest a lot in private lessons and special courses, perhaps too much for such young students.”

The turning point of 2012

Now the knot of language has come to a head. In basic education, it seems that English teaching is moving in the direction of reducing learning hours. The peak of English teaching anxiety (and related business) was probably reached around the early years of the first decade of the 2000s.

In addition to general curriculum classes, China offered ad hoc classes in special mixed sections in which to place international and Chinese students. There was a teeming of very expensive Anglo-Saxon-style international schools. In which the majority of students were Chinese kids who then took off to universities halfway around the world.

There were public international schools that revolved, of course, around the study of English. In the early days of the language boom, China was a Mecca for foreign students who wanted to visit or live in China or study Chinese.

It was not that difficult to find a job because the demand was so strong. There were opportunities for everyone. But Chinese families were also forced to invest heavily in private “reinforcement” classes and courses.

Read also: The most spoken languages worldwide in 2022

The change of pace

Then, as has happened in so many fields, rapid but polluting industrial progress, the boom of the Big tech companies that were flooding abroad with their loads of sensitive data, from deregulation we move to hyper regulation. For English language teaching, we are likely to see a similar script.

From regulations for foreign schools and their curricula to the closure of private Chinese schools that are neither compliant nor licensed has shifted to the very strict requirements for foreign language teaching by foreigners in China, the picture has been complicated by the demand for public principals within international schools.

The name change to Chinese imposed on Harrow, the college where Winston Churchill studied, among the first to land in China, also clearly shows this. Then, the very heavy three-year lockdown that created problems in recruiting teachers from abroad because of the border blockade to new arrivals.

Everything, in short, has become complicated. But the depowering of the English language on Chinese primary and secondary school desks, if it is massively implemented, opens up a new perspective. That, could affect the future of China’s new generations of children.

Read also: China-Russia axis, what is the “new world order” of geopolitical influences that Putin and Xi pledge to shape

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