I have just come back from a very successful TESOL Symposium held in Guangzhou, China. We were hosted at the beautiful Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, which is located near Baiyun Mountain. The theme of the conference was really intriguing: “Envisioning and Creating the Future for English Language Teaching and Learning.” Although the focus of the discussions was on China (because almost all the participants were from China), I think this topic is extremely important at this point in time in our field, and we should have these discussions all over the world.
One of the issues that generated a lot of debate was the proposed reform of reducing the weight of the English examination used to admit students to universities in China from 150 points to 100 points, while at the same time raising the number of points for Chinese and the arts and sciences. This means that more emphasis will be placed on Chinese and less on English.
Over the years, the role and status of English has fluctuated in China, reflecting the political climate. This proposed change in the examination implies that the demand for teaching and learning English in China, which increased dramatically in the past few years, may have peaked. It also reflects a change once again in the role and status of English. In an article published in the Deccan Herald on October 22, 2012 entitled “China’s English obsession slowing down,” the author states that
China’s obsession to learn English to catch up with the rest of the world showed signs of wariness amid complaints of stressful experiences of students over mastering the language as well as fears it could overtake Mandarin in the long run.
Although the China Daily on October 26, 2013 reassured English language teachers that interest in English will not wane and in fact, would become stronger, the discussions during the TESOL Symposium showed that many teachers believed that this policy change will have a significant impact on their careers.
Personally, I question English language policies that impose a one-size-fits-all approach that does not allow for flexibility and does not take into account the available resources and the level of demand for English in the various regions of a country. For example, in Egypt (as an Egyptian, this is the context I am most familiar with), English is a compulsory subject and is taught from Grade 1 in all public and private schools in the country. After 12 years of studying English, the level of proficiency of most Egyptian high-school graduates is low. This is a low return on investment by the government and the challenges for improving the effectiveness of the system are high. The quality of English language teaching and learning needs significant improvement and many students do not actually need or use English in their lives.
I wonder whether there is a more effective approach to implementing English as a Lingua Franca all over the world. Please share your thoughts on this!