Tokyo-area teachers of English face three-month honing home-stay abroad

by Tomoko Otake

Staff Writer

In an unprecedented move to raise the level of English education at public schools, the Tokyo Board of Education is planning to require that all young English teachers at its junior and high schools study and live in English-speaking countries for three months.

The ¥600-million-a-year project is aimed at not only upgrading the skills of the teachers but also fostering an understanding of different cultures and lifestyles, said Keiko Kumagai, a manager in the board of education’s guidance department.

The project will start next April, pending budget approval by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

“We believe English teachers can teach a lot to students by spending three months abroad, learning not only about English education but also about different lifestyles and interacting with people in different cultures,” she said. “The experience of living abroad will lay the foundation for their classroom education.”

The annual study-abroad program would cover 200 English teachers in the third year of their careers. Tokyo currently has 3,300 English teachers at public junior high and high schools.

The specific countries and universities they will be sent to have yet to be decided. But they will be enrolled in a three-month TESOL (teaching of English to speakers of other languages) training course, and learn how to get students to debate in English. They will also live in a home-stay setting, to “be immersed in English all day,” Kumagai said.

The education ministry in April revised its curriculum guideline for high schools, mandating that all high school English teachers avoid using Japanese in the classroom, she said.

Kumagai added that Tokyo hopes the program will help students host English-speaking guests during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

“In seven years, the students will play a key role as volunteers at the Olympics,” she said.

  • kyushuphil

    Amazing! Maybe Japan’s going to get some life in its English ed?

    One fact remains key about English in its role as international language: people who use English to travel to, work in, and experience foreign cultures all have made a prior decision, too — to appreciate and seek differences.

    Japanese students could learn English better, too, if they could make a similar decision — or if their teachers would make it first — so in many fields other than English many more would question more, connect more. In the schools of Japan eagerness to see and connect differences would give all more energy — a far different stance than the regimentation and passivity training for standardized tests.

    So, yes — let Tokyo teachers lead the way in going out of their way to use English. Let them, imaginatively and literally travel more. But let this be a first step, too, for the similar principle of other teachers also seeking larger strategies (individual essaying, debate teams, team research projects) to question more, connect more.

  • Starviking

    The older teachers, who mentor new teachers, wiill inevitably tell them: “That’s nice idea! It won’t work here – please watch how I teach and learn some valuable lessons from your sempai.”

    Unless there are sanctions available for these ‘revered’ elder teachers this idea will not work.

  • Mike Wyckoff

    It’s a start…a start!

  • Annette Bradford

    I too wonder how this will suddenly lead to students being able to debate! But, yes it is a start, and it can’t hurt at all. Internationalization takes time, and I think Japan is moving in the right direction.