English education will be very important in the next five-year plan

English education in China has an important role to play in the country’s mid and long-term development blueprint through advancing education digitalization and cultivating more talent with global competence, English educators and experts said at an international conference that ended on Sunday.

The Proposals for the Formulation of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035, adopted at the Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th Communist Party of China Central Committee last month, have given English-language teachers and experts important guidance on building a high-quality education system and basically achieving socialist modernization by 2035 through education, they said at the 2020 Global English Education China Assembly.

Zhejiang University Vice-President He Lianzhen said, in China Hangzhou, the key to realizing the goals is to nurture more talent, and education has an indispensable role in enabling Chinese people to build China into a strong country.

Teachers at different levels have the important task of cultivating more talent to realize national rejuvenation, said He, also professor and director of Zhejiang University’s Institute of Applied Linguistics.

Mei Deming, a professor of English and linguistics at Shanghai International Studies University, said the proposals stressed the need to further develop digitalization and promote equitable education.

Digital education platforms can break down the barriers of time and place and deliver large amounts of information to students quickly to make education more equitable, he said.

English-language teachers should actively participate in building personalized, intelligent and digital English learning platforms featuring lifelong learning, so that people can learn the language anytime and anywhere they want, Mei said.

All students from first to ninth grade should have access to compulsory education, and English teachers should adapt their lessons to students’ different needs, he said.

Gong Yafu, president of the National Association of Foreign Language Education, said digital education is in great demand and has great prospects for bridging the gap in English education between rural and urban areas.

Textbooks cannot provide enough learning materials for rural students, but online education can offer them much-needed exposure to the language, opportunities to communicate and incentives to learn to achieve more balanced education, he said.

Mei said the proposals also emphasized China’s commitment to higher-level opening-up and promoting international cooperation.

As openness and communication remain the mainstream in today’s world, it is imperative to cultivate more international talent with a global perspective and prepare students for entering the global arena, he said in Hangzhou.

As they interact with people from different countries and cultures, they need to have the ability to hold firm to Chinese values while understanding other values and build trust and cooperation by overcoming differences, he said.

While English education in China focused more on linguistic competence in the past, English teachers today should pay more attention to fostering good character and improving students’ ability to think critically and solve problems, Gong said.

Mei said English teachers should make sure students are able to learn by themselves, raise questions, think creatively and have interpersonal skills.

He added that it is also very important to help students develop soft skills, such as the ability to show emotions, care, empathy and sympathy.

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