Beijing May Make ABCs Less Important After English-Training Boom

China’s capital city of Beijing proposed reducing the importance of English in education by cutting the language’s weighting on college-entrance tests in favor of the nation’s own tongue.

English would count for 100 points, down from the current 150, out of the maximum score of 750 starting in 2016, the official Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday, citing the Beijing Education Examinations Authority. The possible score in Chinese would rise to 180 from 150, Xinhua said. The local government said English programs currently stress examinations over mastery of the language, according to Xinhua.

De-emphasizing English may limit gains in a language-training industry that has mushroomed in recent years, with the central government in 2001 extending English classes to primary schools. China suspended English as a school subject during the Cultural Revolution and a saying sprang up: “With or without ABC, the revolution carries on.”

Students in Beijing who now start English on the first day of primary school won’t begin before third grade in the near future, Xinhua reported, citing unidentified people with the Beijing Municipal Commission on Education.

Outside of Beijing, the eastern province of Jiangsu has considered removing English from college entrance exams and using letter grades, rather than percentiles, for grading, Xinhua reported. The city of Shanghai and Shandong province are considering similar actions, Xinhua said.

Xinhua reported in 2006 that 300 million people were studying English. Extracurricular English training has boomed in China, creating local billionaire Michael Minhong Yu, a former English teacher at Peking University who founded New Oriental Education & Technology Group Inc. (EDU) in 1993. The market has lured foreign investors including publisher Pearson Plc (PSON), which bought Wall Street English in 2009.

Many Chinese students can’t speak English despite many years of study, Xinhua reported, citing a Beijing education official it didn’t identify.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Xin Zhou in Beijing at xzhou68@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Liu at jliu42@bloomberg.net

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