Enhanced English education sought in Japanese elementary schools


A governmental panel on education reform will propose enhancing English-language education in elementary schools by making it an official subject for fifth- and sixth-graders.

As a way of nurturing people who can play an active role amid intensifying international competition, the panel headed by Waseda University President Kaoru Kamata will suggest boosting English-language education in elementary schools, according to a draft proposal.

Teaching English in elementary schools has been mandatory for fifth- and sixth-graders since the 2011 school year. But English is not treated as an official subject and is taught only once a week, mostly by homeroom teachers who have not had proper training in the language.

Upgrading English to an official subject would require more training for elementary schools teachers, adopting a system to evaluate student achievement and preparing textbooks approved by the education ministry.

The education reform body will also call for English to be taught without any Japanese being spoken in some classes at junior high schools and increased student exchanges with non-Japanese through activities such as camping.

The group will propose establishing “special zones for international education,” in which local governments would invite prominent overseas universities to open branch campuses.

To increase the number of college students studying abroad, the panel will urge universities to give credits to students who intern at companies overseas, for the start of the academic year to be shifted from spring to fall, and for experience of studying abroad to be given weight in exams for national public service personnel.

The panel has already reported two sets of proposals on other educational reform issues to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The latest package on English education is set to be finalized by the end of this month.

  • kyushuphil

    They’re going to “up” 5th & 6th grade English to that of junior & senior highs?

    Maybe they better first provide funding for retraining of the junior & senior high English teachers, to know how and enthuse to teach English as a living language.

    Right now most Japanese teachers of English speak far more Japanese in clas than they do English, explaining the language, not using it. And if they’re using English, it’s usually to keep it reduced it to textbook mechanical drills.

    Provide funding to help English teachers travel to English-speaking ountries. Combine with universities in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Britain, Ireland, or the U.S. so Japanese teachers of English can take some seminars in novels, stories,poetry, film, or theater in those countries. Or hold such courses here in Japan.

    Please — put some life into English teaching for the older kids, before inflicting the current moribund status quo on 5th & 6th graders, too.

  • Almuddaththir

    Japan should get English-speakers who actually live the language rather than mere degree-holders who speak English.

  • SwedishreaderKristinehamn93

    I think it’s great that the Japanese government takes action to teach out English towards the elementary studens, but however isn’t the fifth- or sixth-grade to late to teach it. I know the Swedish educational system and there is English official language in the third-grade (3rd-grade) in elementary school. Even this makes it hard to get in to high school (gymnasium) or a university. If you travel to Sweden then you can talk to anyone and they understand you and believe me when I say those who just make it from failing in English classes in Sweden can make them understood by others.
    If you wounder how I know this then I say I was one of them last year on a one month travel to Germany and Austria (without knowing the German language) and those I spoked to understood me.

  • yousan

    20-30 age japanese people have studied English for at least 7 years in junior high school and high school. but we cannot speak English. 7years i have studied!! i think the reason is the bad system of japanese education in English. we need good English teacher who can speak English. And we wish for children to have more time to be able to touch real English…
    otherwise, in the future our children will bother of their poor skills of English like me…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1077225364 Jason Zwarecz

    Teaching English from the fifth or sixth grade is too late. Government should start from the first year of elementary. It’s also time the government handed over the responsibility of putting together an English education system to someone else so something different can be done. Because time and time again the Japanese government has failed students in providing an adequate English Education system. I commend the government for trying to increase the amount of Jet teachers that will be in the country, but that is not the problem. The problem is how Japanese learn English. English is taught much like other subjects such as maths science etc etc, where as it should be treated totally different with a more relaxed and open feel to it. Every time I read sentences from university and high school text books I laugh because the sentences they use are not something they will use in the real world. Then when it comes to speaking this makes their language sound very tense and awkward, it also feels like they are putting up a brick wall much like Japanese do when they speak their own language. Speaking English like this is just not good for social interaction.
    Anyways I have soooo many complaints about Japans English education system, and many ideas to fix it. But I would be here all night writing a 10000 word essay and I don’t want to do that.

  • KenjiAd

    I seriously doubt that you can “teach” how to speak English fluently by tinkering with teaching curriculum alone. I think we would need to give the learners some proper incentives so that they start using spare time to self-teach.

    Here in China, such incentive is the prospect for attending a school in America. This incentive is strong enough so that, as far as I can tell, high-school or college students here generally speak much better English than Japanese counterparts do.

    Without this kind of incentive, I’m afraid most students won’t see much “point” improving their English beyond increasing the test score for college entrance exams.

  • itoshima2012

    You don’t necessarily need native speakers, a good and well trained japanese English teacher will do the job just fine. Also, to learn a language, grammar is very important and so are drills. There’s only so much a teacher can do. The students need to use the language in their freetime woch is easy with Internet etc – lazy students are to blame not teachers.

  • linlan

    My son is a JET and goes to several schools in the community. He goes to the kindergarten too. I think it is a great program…and helps the students learn english. But he does say there is never enough time and not a high priority in most schools.

  • http://wordofmouth-a5.tumblr.com/ Word of Mouth 英会話

    why not from first grade?

  • Anita Railing

    Don’t worry, they’re going to double the number of ALT’s, therefore they will
    double the amount of English learned, it is as simple as that.

    “special zones for international education,” This is MEXTspeak for the local izakaya nearest the ALT’s apartment.

    “and increased student exchanges with non-Japanese through activities such as camping.” Now this would be great, if it takes part IN NEW ZEALAND, arrgggghh

  • Teresa Wong

    I hope it will come true that overseas universities will set up branches in Japan.

  • http://twitter.com/rinkaan4 成家 克徳

    English Education in Elementary Schools is never a good idea. If English were to be so important in Japan, it must be instructed very intensively. Training intensity is one of the most important variables if you want to learn a foreign language.

    No intensity, no learning. That is why Japan’s English education has been such a failure.

  • Bobdole

    One of the biggest problems facing English education –one that is not often addressed publicly– is the entrenched xenophobia that is reinforced by political and educational systems in Japan. Students will not take English seriously as a subject as long as they conform to the idea of shameful ‘otherness’ associated with it.

  • mameha1977

    The proposal to improve English level is to start teaching English a bit more in elementary school? I cannot think of a more uninspired and unintelligent idea. Who is this guy…oh my god, he is president of Japan’s most prestigious university! And he has no lateral thinking ability!

    Alternative ideas:
    1) Increase immigration (this leads to increased motivation, as mentioned by KenjiAd below.)
    2) Use English to teach another subject. ie. teach maths, IT or PE or something in English. Why is it that Indians for example have good English? One reason is that they use English to teach other subjects.

    These halfwit academics should be looking at countries that have highly bilingual populations such as Scandanavian nations, India, etc to find ideas.

  • Emi Rowan

    I am a Japanese teacher but I had taught as an ALT at prefectual elementary schools for 6 years, I felt it was success!
    But when I started to teach English as a high school lecturer, I experienced strong system hierarchy in the high school society. Even in teaching oral-communication, I felt being exclusively refused by another Japanese English teachers in the high school, even if the most of the students liked to study with me. The high school still taught in the way of 50s teaching, I tried to change the way little by little. Finally I could get students attention, emotion, and their hearts! But I had to leave the school by the name of the contract.
    I really hope more and more Japanese children become bilingual and hold hands with children around the world in the future!!!! No more JUKU, no more 50s way’s entrance exam drills!!

  • Glen Douglas Brügge

    I agree with KenjiAd. Most young Japanese have no desire to go abroad to study, and therefor learning English has become moot; the current “Lost Generation” is on coast mode – no one to inspire them and no dreams to chase. China is rising and young Chinese are motivated by the pursuit of wealth and economic opportunity – and they know English will be a invaluable tool in achieving this. Japan’s youth has become ever progressively inward facing over the decades as economic boom has lead to societal malaise – also, any studying abroad severely impacts their job hunting schedule. I doubt that only by improving the system, or pumping more qualified teachers into said system will make children embrace the language – they also need to see the benefit of learning English, and this is no longer self-evident to most Post-Bubble youth – it’s a chore.