Tokyo panel mulls ways to enhance high school English education

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

A panel of experts kicked off discussions Thursday on measures to enhance English education at Tokyo’s public high schools, aiming to enable students to acquire practical communications skills and become more global-oriented.

“I’d like the experts to discuss various topics, including how to improve English classes and how to motivate students to learn the language as well as how to upgrade teachers’ skills,” Keizo Takano, head of the 18-member panel, said at the outset of the meeting convened by the metropolitan government’s education bureau.

Takano, deputy director general at the bureau, expressed hope that the panel also looks at English-language education at elementary and junior high schools.

The panel is comprised of officials and outside experts, including Sophia University professor Kensaku Yoshida, who has been involved in a number of education ministry English projects, and Koichi Noda, an executive of Rakuten, Inc., an Internet shopping mall operator that introduced English as its official in-house language so that its personnel are able to compete internationally.

Yoshihiro Takizawa, an official of the bureau, said the Tokyo Metropolitan Government aims to use the panel’s recommendations to revise English education at its schools.

“We set out to significantly change English education at public high schools as well as elementary and junior high schools so that students can acquire four skills (speaking, listening, writing and reading) in consistent, systematic education.”

The panel was established in response to several proposals, including the metropolitan government’s education plan, which called for fostering global-minded human resources via enhanced English education at its public high schools.

The panel is scheduled to compile proposals by fall next year, according to the education bureau.

  • kyushuphil

    I hope this panel will not look at English ed in isolation from total school culture.

    Japanese schools — all of them, Tokyo or anywhere — famously rely on passivity and regimentation. Lots of call-&-response from text exercises. Lots of listening to teacher give info. Then more cramming of more info at special after-school “juku.”

    This might be fine for training more millions as compliant, unquestioning consumers. It never works for teaching a language.

    Any living language calls up the living dynamics in people — not passivity, not regimentation.

    You’ll see more English language productivity simply by changing other parts of the curriculum. First, have students write essays. Have them read each other’s essays and continue writing their own with responses to each other’s. Quote teachers if any teachers are alive with reading and issues of their own. Introduce theater arts, so students see the value and arts of role playing. Do more work by group activities and group reports on their research and findings.

    It’s not hard being alive. Languages, English among them, depend on this fact, and then enable it further.

  • Ben Snyder

    Is this to be yet another sobering experience for Professor Yoshida? The man has practically built a career out of being an English education reform advocate, and yet he knows perhaps better than anyone the frustration of such committees and their talent for mulling their way into the headlines, and nothing more.

    Pragmatic solutions to these issues are not unknown, nor have they been. Leaders have either lacked the willpower or possessed a vested disinterest in implementing change and so, based on the information of this article there appears to be little cause for optimism.

  • 151E

    Four simple suggestions:

    1. Make English an elective course – not everyone should have to take high school level English.

    2. Offer advanced, intermediate, and remedial courses for each grade – it’s absurd to group kids of vastly differing ability together in one class.

    3. Make class sizes smaller – many kids are too shy to willingly participate in larger classes, and a smaller class size gives everyone more time to talk.

    4. Fail kids who get less than sixty-five percent – passing kids who put in zero effort and are hopelessly behind only reinforces bad study habits and undermines their respect for school and education in general.

    • David E. Spence

      I would suggest that your time might be better used in your home country, improving the lackluster education there, instead of being an “armchair critic” of a very different culture. PS: I do not hide behind an “alias,” either. If you want to be a critic, the least you could do would be to NOT hide behind anonymity.

      • 151E

        Excuse me? What is with the vitriolic tone? First of all, I’m not criticizing an entire culture, but merely suggesting four ways to improve one small aspect of high school education. I’m a regular teacher for a private high school way out in sticks; what’s more, my family are all here in Japan, so I have a vested interest in the quality of education here and a right to express an opinion on the matter. I gave four simple to implement suggestions to improve high school English education based on my personal observations. If you find fault with any of my suggestions, kindly point out where you think I’m in err and make a counter proposal of your own. That would at least engender constructive debate instead of petty personal sniping.

      • 151E

        How ironic that the four newly registered accounts that voted up both your comments for this article are all themselves aliases with no comments posted yet : )

      • David E. Spence

        So says Mr. 151E :)

      • 151E

        Oh, you disappoint me, David E. Spence (if indeed that is your real name). While I am not entirely unsympathetic to your view on internet aliases, I am far more interested in a friendly debate of ideas than attacking individuals. But you, sir, left a rather strangely snide and sanctimonious response to my suggestions for improving high school English education without addressing any of my four points. I had hoped that you might have something more constructive to say than making some vague appeal to the unique “Japanese psyche” in support of the status quo. Alas…

        And while it might indeed be illuminating to compare American and Japanese academic achievement, I would suggest, in search of a successful model of foreign language instruction, looking instead to the Finish public school system, for they have an impressive general level of English communicative competency.

  • David E. Spence

    One has to love all the outsider “experts” who criticize the Japanese education system. It certainly isnot perfect, BUT, however poorly perceived by these foreign “experts,” I would love to see a comparison between the Japanese students’ English capability to the capability of Americans of any age in being able to communicate in a foreign language, I would also like to see a grade by grade comparison of education, ALL subjects, between American kids and Japanese kids. The Japanese psyche and world view are different than those of Westerners and I am not suggesting that the Japanese system would necessarily work better in the USA (though it couldn’t do worse). What I am suggesting that different things work better in different cultures. We Westerners need to stop projecting our value systems on other cultures and concentrate on looking for things in other cultures that might help improve our own systems. While it may not be “PC” in the USA, the truth is that not all humans, races or ethnicities are “equal” in the quirky Western definition of that word.