Ministry proposes minimum skills for present, future English teachers

JIJI

The education ministry has proposed guidelines on the minimum capabilities and skills college students need to acquire when studying to become licensed English teachers.

The ministry, which unveiled the proposals at a symposium in Tokyo on Saturday, expects the guidelines to be used in training programs for university students willing to become English teachers and for established teachers starting in fiscal 2018.

The guidelines come as the ministry is planning to set a goal of having half of high school students acquire English proficiency equivalent to Grade Pre-1 in the the Eiken English proficiency test by graduation, by improving their skills in reading, writing, speaking and listening.

According to the ministry’s plan, English will be taught from third grade in elementary school and become an official subject for fifth and sixth graders, starting in fiscal 2020.

English classes taught in English are scheduled to begin in junior high school in fiscal 2020.

But there are problems that need to be addressed to implement the plans. Elementary school teachers have no experience offering English classes, and teaching methodology is not a mandatory subject in elementary school training courses.

Critics have also pointed out the need for English teachers in junior high school and high school to improve their capabilities to teach speaking and writing.

According to the proposed guidelines, courses on English education, including on teaching skills and overseas children’s literature, will be mandatory to acquire elementary school teacher licenses.

In training courses for English teachers in junior high and high school, candidates will be advised to acquire English proficiency equivalent to Eiken Grade Pre-1 or above. The guidelines call for improvements in the ability to measure students’ proficiency and expressive ability in English, as well as the promotion of intercultural exchanges such as studying abroad.

The guidelines also stress the importance of teaching experience and cooperation among elementary, junior high and high schools.

The ministry also found it necessary for incumbent teachers to have similar capabilities.

  • Charles

    “The guidelines come as the ministry has
    set a goal of having half of high school students acquire English
    proficiency equivalent to Grade Pre-1 in the the Eiken English
    proficiency test by graduation”

    Wishful thinking (unless they tamper with the test to make it easier, which is always a possibility). At the school where I teach, some of the Japanese teachers of English (JTEs) themselves don’t even have Pre-1 (not that Pre-1 even proves anything). If the teachers, who do this for a living, don’t even have it, then how can you expect 50% of high school students to get it? Government officials are totally out of touch with reality, as usual.

    • Voltron5150

      You couldn’t have said it any better. They’re out of touch with reality that’s a given, because it’s their way or the highway. Learning English in Japan is a status symbol on nothing much more than that. This country is so paranoid, jealous, and has a major foreigner complex, they should just give English a rest. All they’re trying to do is prove to the world that their English skills are superb prior to the Olympics approaching. Everything in Japan is surfaced based and for show.

    • Toolonggone

      I couldn’t agree with you more. Recent survey on high school students’ English language proficiency shows that only 2% of total 70,000 students passed B1 level of CEFR(which is equivalent to 2nd grade in Eiken test). That’s far worse than their previous survey data suggesting only a 1/3 of all students nationwide passed pre-2nd to 2nd grade. Clearly, the MEXT are walking on the same path with US DOE. I bet these ministry officials are working with a big white elephant, or faceless John King or Arne Duncan-like tall basket case in a closed room. Whom does Hiroshi Hase have in there?

  • Chibaraki

    This is not news for those of us who work in English language education, but it’s good to the story in the English language media.

    While MEXT has formulated a master plan for expanding English education (down into elementary schools and up to Eiken pre-1), it hasn’t put in place any concrete guideline for teacher training.

    I’m working in a six year high school where one out of six teachers is fully bilingual. But it’s not just language proficiency that’s at issue.

    The biggest deficit in our department is English language pedagogy. Only two of us (one of them is me), are TESOL trained and fully fluent in the language we teach. We struggle because we start at square one in meetings. Some of our colleagues are still teaching grammar translation.

    The next issue is belief. Because many of our colleagues merely survived English education themselves, and failed to acquire fluency, they don’t believe they can improve. However, they’re determined to get their students to Eiken pre-1. That’s some hope.

    • blondein_tokyo

      I’m curious..are you working in a public, or a private school? Private schools usually have better programs for specialist areas such as language training or other vocational training, due to having a higher budget! Reading this, I’m left wondering where the money will come from to train the current teachers, and where they are going to find university majors in education who are willing to do TESOL training. I can’t imagine that many people with aspirations to teach are going to be interested in teaching languages vs. general subjects like math or history. Particularly in small schools, in rural areas, where no one wants to relocate to after college. It is indeed, a lofty goal.
      I also caught word that MEXT was expecting teachers to employ TBL. This is not a new concept in ESL, but it is a rather new and novel concept in Japan, and I haven’t heard of any Japanese teachers using it on a regular basis. I doubt many teachers currently have the knowledge or experience to be able to implement it into their programs. And since we are talking about learners who are inexperienced in autonomous speaking, e.g., negotiating meaning, and who don’t have fluency, I am not sure how they expect that to work.
      One thing is for sure. When bureaucrats are charged with making education policy, you can expect there are going to be major problems.

      • Chibaraki

        I work in a private high school. Our English program isn’t particularly advanced, but our students have 2-3 hours a week of “English Exoression”, a 4 skills course with native and near native English speakers who do communicative language teaching.

        We’re struggling to get our Japanese English grammar teachers to take a communicative approach never mind TBLT or Copperative Language Teaching. I’ve taught in those contexts myslelf, and find it takes a lot of preparation to do well.

        A few of us on staff are jollying along the others to do practice activities (reading, speaking pair works, writing and presentation) in the English core course, not just the Expression course.

        The ministry’s principles are sound, but implementing this is going to be really hard without TESOL trained teachers. Like I say, I’m the one TESOL trained and experienced foreigner, and there is one Japanese teacher with an MA TESOL. Where will we get more?!

  • Liars N. Fools

    How about actually requiring teachers of English to have actually lived in an Emglish-speaking country, even one like Singapore. Minimally, there would be an appreciation for the rhythm of the language, which all too many Japanese who have been through over a decade of English instruction do not have.

    I appreciate that English is a difficult language, but the rather introverted nature of Japanese culture militates against learning foreign languages. I have had experience supervising JET alumni in learning Japanese more formally which often forces JET alumni to finish sentences and not just leave it in mid-sentence where the meaning might actually be suggested rather than implicitly known.

  • Liars N. Fools

    How about actually requiring teachers of English to have actually lived in an Emglish-speaking country, even one like Singapore. Minimally, there would be an appreciation for the rhythm of the language, which all too many Japanese who have been through over a decade of English instruction do not have.

    I appreciate that English is a difficult language, but the rather introverted nature of Japanese culture militates against learning foreign languages. I have had experience supervising JET alumni in learning Japanese more formally which often forces JET alumni to finish sentences and not just leave it in mid-sentence where the meaning might actually be suggested rather than implicitly known.

  • doninjapan

    The fact that they’re still using Eiken as a measure doesn’t exactly fill me with hope…

  • Rebecca

    “I cannot imagine Japanese language teachers anywhere in the world having less than native level fluency…”

    The strange excuses I’ve heard when pointing this out, “Oh, it’s cheaper for British and American teachers to study abroad than it is for Japanese” etc.

    Once I overheard a weak high school English teacher ask a simple grammatical question to a colleague: after she had departed, I said to the Japanese English teacher, “Can you imagine if the maths teachers asked what 2+2 was?” I got the reply, “Oh, it’s after the summer vacation, I expect she is a bit rusty.” I was obviously in a bad mood that day so continued, ‘Ah, so we can expect the science teacher to come in soon and state, “I seem to have forgotten what H2O stands for over the summer…” ‘

    I offended some teachers by responding to their grammatical “why” questions with, “If you don’t understand it, and you are the teacher, how do you expect 中2 to understand?” I wasn’t meaning to insult their ability – although this is how they took it – I was pointing out that the set material was too hard for the students.

    I have a very fluent private student who teaches high school. She recently moved schools as she felt out of her depth with returnees and fluent younger teachers with new methods.

    She moved to a lower level school with, unfortunately, lower level teachers. She often has disagreements with colleagues who refuse to admit they made a mistake. One recently misunderstood which clause in the previous sentence the pronoun “it” referred to. Another, after being shown statistics showing that one phrasal verb he was teaching had been declining in use in favour of another since the 1940’s, spent hours searching through dictionaries to “prove” it was still being used and that he should continue to teach it. What a waste of time in order to score a point.

    I asked why they just don’t ask the ALT, but, apparently, the nice, friendly lad in his 20’s, who hasn’t studied English beyond high school himself, doesn’t explain clearly or authoritatively, or just says, “Both are OK”, “They mean the same” or “It’s old-fashioned English” so he doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

  • Kevin

    Likely to see a dramatic drop in applicants for English teaching positions if this goes ahead. And as others have mentioned Japanese Ed. Min. has always out of touch with the realities of English teaching. How about hiring more Philippine teachers?

  • doninjapan

    “They need to implement a mandatory stay abroad in an English speaking country for at least 2 semesters!!!!!”

    Are you speaking of students, or teaching staff?
    Either way, the cost of that would prove prohibitive. It’s simply not a feasible suggestion… even if it would be nice.

    The reality is that within Japan, until the universities change their expectations/testing procedures, then nothing will change – regardless of lofty ideals presented by the government.
    Universities in Japan have been incredibly slow to accept IB, and those that have done so have set absolutely ridiculous entry scores using it.
    Until these tests/attitudes change, then it’s all moot.

  • doninjapan

    “They need to implement a mandatory stay abroad in an English speaking country for at least 2 semesters!!!!!”

    Are you speaking of students, or teaching staff?
    Either way, the cost of that would prove prohibitive. It’s simply not a feasible suggestion… even if it would be nice.

    The reality is that within Japan, until the universities change their expectations/testing procedures, then nothing will change – regardless of lofty ideals presented by the government.
    Universities in Japan have been incredibly slow to accept IB, and those that have done so have set absolutely ridiculous entry scores using it.
    Until these tests/attitudes change, then it’s all moot.