Nationwide curriculum to end free-for-all in English teacher training

by

Staff Writer

Stung by the low proficiency in English of many of the educators who teach the language, the education ministry has decided for the first time to impose a standard curriculum for teacher-training courses in universities.

To date, teacher training classes in higher education were nonstandardized, producing teachers of inconsistent caliber.

The curriculum will bring English teaching into line with the medicine, dentistry and pharmaceutical fields, which are based on a nationwide curriculum designed to produce graduates with a standard set of abilities.

It will be the first time a teacher-training program has had nationwide course requirements imposed on it, a ministry official said.

The details of the “core curriculum” will be discussed at an advisory council and announced by February 2016. Separately, new cross-discipline curriculum guidelines will be announced by the end of fiscal 2016 as part of a routine review of education that takes place every few years.

Universities are responsible for drafting their own teacher-training programs. The education ministry will require them to adopt the new unified English-teaching curriculum to ensure that teachers will have similar groundings in the languages they intend to teach once they graduate.

Over the years, there have been a number of efforts by the government to improve the level of English education. To its disappointment, the results have been bleak.

An education ministry survey carried out between July and September last year found that a majority of students in their final year of public high school were the equivalent of Grade 3 or lower on the Eiken Test in Practical English Proficiency.

This is roughly the ability expected of youngsters graduating from junior high school.

The Eiken test, which is carried out by a ministry-backed foundation, is an officially recognized English proficiency certification.

The government aims to reach a level where at least 50 percent of all high school graduates have attained a proficiency equivalent to Eiken Grade 2 or Pre-2, the two levels immediately above Grade 3.

The fault, it seems, lies with the caliber of Japan’s teachers.

The official said a majority of them fall short of the level the ministry expects — which is part of the reason why it has chosen to take drastic action.

The 2014 survey found that a mere 55.4 percent of the instructors teaching English in public high schools were certified at Grade 1 or Pre-1 of the Eiken test, far below the ministry’s goal of 75 percent by fiscal 2017.

For those at junior high schools, the number stood at 28.8 percent. The ministry aims to have one in two of these teachers certified to the desired level by fiscal 2017.

Meanwhile, as for the new curriculum guidelines in schools, the education ministry is considering making English classes mandatory three times a week for those in the fifth and sixth grades, and having an English class in junior high schools “basically” taught entirely in English.

  • soudeska

    The problem is not the “caliber” of the teachers, it’s that they don’t speak English.

  • skattan

    If mambusho wants to improve oral communication skills among high school graduates, they should mandate that university entrance exams have an oral component. As long as the English component of university entrance exams are solely written, teachers will continue to concentrate on teaching the archaic idioms and grammar that are necessary to get a good score on the entrance exams, and oral communication skills will be ignored.

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    But again it seems the focus will be on passing tests, not genuine fluency. A guy I used to teach years ago was an English teacher; he knew all the names for grammar and could say when to use them, but he couldn’t speak worth a damn, nor understand much said to him. In 2013 Japan ranked 40th out of 48 countries for TOEIC scores. One of the root causes of the problem, to my mind, is that English is viewed as just another subject, not a living language. Like maths or science it’s considered to be precise and unchanging so a lot of time is wasted memorising vocabulary and responses : “How are you?” “I’m fine.” ad nauseum. Until such time as this basic perception changes, and the method of teaching follows, nothing will change.

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    But again it seems the focus will be on passing tests, not genuine fluency. A guy I used to teach years ago was an English teacher; he knew all the names for grammar and could say when to use them, but he couldn’t speak worth a damn, nor understand much said to him. In 2013 Japan ranked 40th out of 48 countries for TOEIC scores. One of the root causes of the problem, to my mind, is that English is viewed as just another subject, not a living language. Like maths or science it’s considered to be precise and unchanging so a lot of time is wasted memorising vocabulary and responses : “How are you?” “I’m fine.” ad nauseum. Until such time as this basic perception changes, and the method of teaching follows, nothing will change.

  • Dennis

    Since there will a drastic increase in English class hours in elementary schools, hopefully the curriculum to train elementary school teachers will also be standardized. Teachers working in elementary schools will also need to have adequate English proficiency as well as receive training in how to effectively teach English. If elementary school teachers are not adequately trained, English classes at the elementary level will fall into the trap of becoming focused on text book based lessons and rote memorization.

    The government should also provide incentives for current teachers at all levels in the public school system to increase their levels as well as English teaching methodology. Money would be better spent to train current Japanese teachers than spent on hiring more ALTs.

  • Hendrix

    Nothing will really change until Japan takes a look at its institutional xenophobia and the view of foreigners as either clowns or suspicious characters is put to rest, it’s a view that is constantly portrayed in the media…also most Japanese can’t stand English because they are taught to pass tests not actually speak it, added to that the insular mentality that Japan is number one and a sense of obligation to learn English so they can comminicate with the world is something that does not inspire most Japanese….ideally they would prefer to have nothing to do with English or the outside world.

    • Squidhead

      ” the view of foreigners as either clowns or suspicious characters is put to rest, it’s a view that is constantly portrayed in the media…”

      Yeah the western media does a pretty good job.

    • kyushuphil

      Teachers in non English fields can help greatly, too.

      If we look at the great ones of Japanese culture — in the novel, poems, memoirs, painting, wood-cut arts, and film — we see one great vitality. All the great ones have essentially asked the best questions of people, nature, and society. But Japanese students by and large do not see the human element in all these great questions.

      If Japanese students could engage more questioning themselves — say, in writing more essays — they could lift the personal, the human on an appropriate par with the great ones.

      Japanese teachers could do this — could get away from the testing mentality, and engage more human skills. This would have crossover effect on something such as the teaching of English.

      All these disciplines need not be isolated as mere testing venues — if we learn from the great ones and the great questions they’ve engaged.

    • kyushuphil

      Teachers in non English fields can help greatly, too.

      If we look at the great ones of Japanese culture — in the novel, poems, memoirs, painting, wood-cut arts, and film — we see one great vitality. All the great ones have essentially asked the best questions of people, nature, and society. But Japanese students by and large do not see the human element in all these great questions.

      If Japanese students could engage more questioning themselves — say, in writing more essays — they could lift the personal, the human on an appropriate par with the great ones.

      Japanese teachers could do this — could get away from the testing mentality, and engage more human skills. This would have crossover effect on something such as the teaching of English.

      All these disciplines need not be isolated as mere testing venues — if we learn from the great ones and the great questions they’ve engaged.

    • Haida

      Even the Japanese staff or teachers at universities who are proficient in English detest it and refuse to use it with western teachers. And they really do not like speaking English in front of fellow Japanese staff. I have worked in Taiwan, China, Thailand and Korea and, without a doubt, the Japanese people are the most resistant to English and unaccommodating to foreign teachers. I am utterly dismayed at Japanese attitudes towards English and western teachers.

  • IparryU

    The issue is Japanese people teaching Japanese students English in Japanese…

  • IparryU

    The issue is Japanese people teaching Japanese students English in Japanese…

  • fairleft

    Got it. Because the ability to speak English of more than half the teachers is severely deficient, the education ministry plans to have junior high school English classes taught almost entirely in English.

  • Enricopallazzo

    meanwhile in the much more successful eikaiwa arena the move is towards Japanese speaking non-Japanese teachers. activities are explained in Japanese and performed in English … in junior high I am sometimes asked to explain things in English … as soon as my explanation is finished the Japanese teacher immediately asks “do you understand? ” before they’ve even had time to process the information … these basically English courses will be huge flops with students, ( Who are beginners! )complaining nonstop

  • Daniel Dittmar

    How about just hiring licensed teachers from English speaking countries to run the English Departments at each school. Make first year English be mandatory, and students can only go to the next level based on their performance. That way, they might be able to achieve their goal of 50 percent. It would be more beneficial to have 50 percent good speakers and the kids that have no interest in English can go take another elective class.