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.

  • 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.

  • 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.