Learning English in China

Since 1979 and the end of the Cultural Revolution, the number of people in China learning English has risen dramatically. Current estimates indicate 50 million secondary school children study English, beginning with an introduction in the third grade.ef_1Still, China is ranked 47th on the EF English Proficiency index, behind countries such as Ukraine and Guatemala, with a mark of “low proficiency,” indicating that studying may not equal learning. A Western language learning company looking to expand their presence in China tasked our team with researching the current context of language learning for primary school students in urban China (specifically Shanghai) in hopes of uncovering new insights and approaches.

ef2Approach / Methods / Tools
Contextual interviews
Stakeholder mapsef3ef4
Learnings & Impacts
Through extensive exploration of students and the channels through which they learn, some key insights were uncovered. There is great diversity amongst stakeholders, and the motivations of the stakeholders differ drastically. The cultural meaning of education in the urban Chinese context is powerful, and the value of education extends beyond the pupil, to include his and her family and community. Teachers experience a high level of power and influence in the learning hierarchy, which fails to support the development of questioning and critical thinking skills valued in Western education. Furthermore, emphasis is placed on reading and writing, but not speaking, which yields less communicative efficacy. Additionally, the learning process is very segmented, and approaches in public schools, and language learning schools vary drastically. These insights were presented to the client as a preliminary exploration, with further suggested areas of research. Noted was the important of the consideration of cultural context: the client was encouraged to step outside of their Western frameworks in order to consider solutions for a different user in a much different context.ef_2

Tongji University, College of Design & Innovation student collaboration