Only a little more than half of English teachers at public high schools are certified with advanced levels of English proficiency tests, and the rate is less than 30 percent for those at junior high schools, according to an education ministry survey released Monday.
The survey conducted in fiscal 2014 on English education found that 55.4 percent of teachers who teach English in public high schools have either Grade 1 or Grade Pre-1 of the Eiken test, or those with TOEIC score of 730 and higher, while the number stands at 28.8 percent for those at junior highs.
Under the Eiken, Japan’s most popular English proficiency test, grades ranges from 1 to 5, with pre-1 standing between Grade 1 and Grade 2.
The results indicate there is a tough road ahead for the ministry’s goal of increasing qualified English teachers by fiscal 2017 — 75 percent for public high schools and 50 percent for junior highs. Last year, the figures were 52.7 percent and 27.9 percent, respectively.
Grade 1 is a highly respected qualification with a wide range of practical benefits, such as its usefulness in applying to post-secondary academic institutions, obtaining academic credits and studying overseas, according to the Eiken Foundation of Japan.
“We know these teachers are busy, but we recommend they actively take the Eiken and measure their own levels,” a ministry official said.
Tomohiko Shirahata, a professor of English education studies at Shizuoka University, said teachers at junior high and high schools should strive harder to pass these qualification exams to prove their skills.
He described the ministry’s numerical targets of 75 percent for public high schools and 50 percent for junior highs as the “minimal level.”
“To achieve the kind of English education envisaged by Japan, teachers at junior high and high schools should at least master the pre-1 level,” Shirahata said, adding that English tests for entrance exams delivered by the nation’s universities tend to be much harder than the pre-1 level.
Gearing up for those exams, he said, will eventually help increase the teachers’ proficiency in the language as well as improve the quality of their classes.
He meanwhile said the figures unveiled Monday by the ministry do not necessarily provide an accurate assessment of their language proficiency, as the percentages do not take into account teachers who simply haven’t taken the exams.
By prefecture, Fukui scored the highest rate of qualified high school English teachers, with 86.3 percent at Grade 1 or Grade Pre-1, or TOEIC score of 730 and higher. Kagawa followed with 82.4 percent and Toyama was third best at 79.9 percent.
Fukui also came out on top in junior high teachers with 49.4 percent, followed by Toyama’s 48 percent and Tokyo’s 42.6 percent.
The government hopes to improve the level of English for high school students so that half acquire the English proficiency of Grade Pre-2 level or higher by the time they graduate and half of junior high school students acquire Grade 3 level or higher.