A report revealing the reduced role of the English test in Beijing's college entrance examination has drawn much public attention.
Starting from 2016, The English test score will be reduced from 150 to 100, and the students will also be allowed to take two exams a year and pick the best result for their college admission, according to a report on the website of China's Communist Party newspaper Guangming Daily on Oct 21.
There have also been numerous reports from other provinces in China. For example, there is a rumor that the English test will be phased out of the entrance exam system in eastern China's Jiangsu province, while other provinces or municipalities, such as Shanghai and Hubei, will not make any major changes.
Any possible change in the exam provokes much heed and debate. In an online survey carried out by China's popular portal, Sina, 72.5% of people favor reducing the weighting of English in the entrance exam, 22.6% are against it, while 4.9% are undecided (as of Oct. 22).
Putting divided opinions aside, the attention the news has attracted demonstrates the Chinese love - hate relationship with learning English and the Gaokao, or the National College Entrance Examination.
English and the game-changing college entrance exam
Changes made in the English test have been seen by the public as the beginning of reforms to the entrance examination, which has been under heated debate for years.
It comes as a response to many prevalent problems among Chinese students, parents and the community. The Ministry of Education has been calling for years to ease the students' burden, but it has not worked in the past, as the entrance exam still remains the only way for most students to get into higher education in China. Many people have been considering changes or alternatives, for instance, distributing the right to enroll students in universities, however people are concerned that such policies might be overtaken by people with money or connections who want to buy their way into university. Every proposal has generated serious debate.
The root reason why the exam is such a hot button issue is that though students now have more options for their higher education (for instance, going abroad for college), the entrance exam is still the primary method for most students. For students who are from families without money or connections, their performance during the exam will determine their lot.
Furthermore, every adjustment made to the college entrance exam system may be seen as representative of various social appeals, such as the Party's Guangming Daily opinion article of Oct 23. Reducing the weighting of English in the exam system may cause disparities among different provinces, as different regions enjoy different educational resources. It may also change the way subjects are taught in school, as the exams determine how courses are run. It will also impact the related industry, especially the various training service providers.
The English test and entrance exam are not only game-changers for students, but also for many others.
The English craze and the revival of Chinese
The changes made to the English exam also come as a reaction to the English craze in China.
The film “American Dreams in China” released this year depicts the Chinese craze for learning English at the end of the 20th century. Though the fervor now is not as heated as it was then, the enthusiasm still lingers on.
According to a research project carried out by China's State Language Commission, more than 65% of university students spend over a quarter of their time learning English. Many of them prepare for international English tests such as TOEFL, IELTS and GRE as soon as they arrive at college.
By contrast, Chinese people's enthusiasm for their mother tongue has been put to the test. China's state television recently aired a show in which the participants were asked to write Chinese characters as a dictation (similar to the U.S' spelling bee), and many viewers commented that they had problems writing many of them, revealing a long-term neglect of writing Chinese language characters.
The changes made in the entrance exam, therefore, have been seen by some as a response to the calls in recent years to increase emphasis on Chinese and to downplay the focus on English, but to what extent it will bring back the Chinese people's love for their own language is yet to be seen.