IELTS scores notwithstanding, our English education is working

By DK   October 12, 2022 | 04:53 pm PT
IELTS scores notwithstanding, our English education is working
Students take part in an IELTS prep course. Photo courtesy of YOLA
Our English education system does not focus much on listening and speaking right now, but that does not mean it is not working. It is. Here's how.

My education in Hanoi had an English specialization. My IELTS score was high enough to study in foreign schools (above 6.5). But for me, IELTS is a mere certificate. It is not a program, and what is being tested are mainly some specific skills, not overall knowledge of the language. To have a high IELTS score, one does not need a lot of knowledge. You just need to know the right answers.

This is why IELTS courses focus a lot on exam tips. There is an entire table that shows which skill sets would bring in how many points. Since knowledge is not really tested, it is perfectly normal that people with a high IELTS score continue to making simple, avoidable mistakes in punctuation and grammar.

At my school, an IELTS score of 7.5 does not mean much. One such candidate could get punctuations wrong several times in a short paragraph, and another could hand over a 200-word essay without correct punctuation mark.

Because IELTS focuses so heavily on skills and because it is only valid for a short period of time, it is only considered a standardized test for certain activities and cannot replace conventional language education.

Meanwhile, in Vietnam's English education system, there is a heavy emphasis on knowledge, grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary. It does not focus much on listening and speaking, simply because there are few people around to check how well you do it.

The current English education system is far from perfect, of course, but it makes sense on a national scale. We cannot teach English in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City one way, and teach it another way in a rural commune. So it is not a surprise when someone who speaks English well still scores low marks at school.

But here's the thing. If one does well in school, it would be easier to study for the IELTS in the future because one would already have a good language foundation to build on.

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