Deregulated school systems offering English at elementary school level



Japanese usually start studying English from junior high school, but here at Kanazawa Municipal Nomachi Elementary School, third-graders are learning it once a week as part of structural reforms in education.

The action was ordered by the Kanazawa Municipal Government after the city was designated a special educational zone under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s structural reform efforts.

The sixth-graders use textbooks designed for first-year students in junior high school. The annual budget is nearly 200 million yen.

The teachers try their best to make the weekly lessons fun. In a class of 20 sixth-graders, teacher Hisako Sugimoto, 32, and part-time instructor Yumi Kurosaki, 29, distribute cups containing bits of folded paper with figures painted on them.

After the students pair up, one picks a piece of paper.

“Are you Miss Green?” one asks. The other answers, “Yes, I am,” or “No, I am not.” And so the class goes.

Some students showed great interest, but others were hesitant.

The trouble Sugimoto and Kurosaki have with teaching English to such young students is the short number of hours available. The lessons are mainly conducted by Kurosaki, who is paid by the hour. But she and Sugimoto seldom get together.

English used to be taught through “English activities,” a less formal arrangement set up in elementary schools eight years ago by the municipal government. But in April, it was turned into a class that is part of the school system’s formal curriculum.

Unlike the “activities,” students now receive grades for learning English. “It is difficult,” said another teacher when asked how such young students are graded.

To ascertain the results of the new curriculum, the sixth-graders will be given an English proficiency test in January designed by the Society for Testing English Proficiency.