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Let’s discuss English language education in Japan

This week’s featured article

JIJI

Junior high and high school students in Japan have failed to meet the government’s targets in all four English skills: reading, listening, writing and speaking.

Data released by the education ministry showed that starting English lessons in elementary schools and having classes taught in English have not produced significant results so far.

The figures come from a survey conducted last June and July of around 90,000 students at about 500 public high schools and some 60,000 students in 600 public junior high schools.

Under the basic educational promotion plan, by fiscal 2017 half of junior high students are expected to have English proficiency equivalent to Grade 3 of the popular Eiken English proficiency test when they graduate. Similarly, half of high school students are supposed to have English proficiency equivalent to Grade 2 or Grade Pre-2 by the time of their graduation. However, the proportion of students in their final year of junior high who reached the targets was 26.1 percent for reading, 20.2 percent for listening, 43.2 percent for writing and 32.6 percent for speaking.

The students in their final year of junior high are the first generation that received English classes when they were in elementary school. The hours of English classes and the number of English words taught in junior high school were also increased for them.

Some 10 to 30 percent of high school seniors passed the targets. The proportion of those who surpassed the goals increased some 7 percentage points from the previous year for reading and writing and advanced some 5 points for listening. The rate for speaking skills was unchanged. These high school students are the first generation to receive English education under the ministry’s new curriculum guidelines, which include the introduction of classes taught wholly in English.

A ministry official said their improvements came from the change of the English class system, but the scores were low and it can’t be said the change is achieving the desired results. Around 40 percent of junior high and high school teachers conducted integrated lessons of the four skills, including discussions on listening content.

The ministry official said a lack of skills among teachers is considered one factor and better training programs are needed.

First published in The Japan Times on Feb. 3.

Warm up

One-minute chat about school.

Game

Collect words related to studying, e.g., dictionary, homework.

New words

1) equivalent: equal in value, amount, function, meaning, etc.; e.g., “What is the equivalent of $3 in yen?”

2) surpass: exceed; e.g., “He hopes to surpass the world record.”

3) integrate: to bring together, or combine one thing with another; e.g., “The foreign students integrated easily into college life.”

Guess the headline

E_ _ _ _ _ _ skills of Japanese s_ _ _ _ _ _ _ fail to meet targets

Questions

1) What were the government’s targets for improving English skills?

2) About how many students have hit the targets so far?

3) What does the ministry official think could be a reason for this?

Let’s discuss the article

1) What did you think of the English class in your school?

2) Do you think English education is improving in Japan?

3) How do you think English education could be improved in Japan?

Reference

日本の英語教育は”使える”英語を教えられていないのではないかという議論はもう長い間繰り広げられてきたように感じられます。教育の在り方に”正解”はないのでしょうが、それでもこの議論に一石を投じようとした試行錯誤の結果は残念ながらまだ実を結びませんでした。

言語を習得するにはそれなりの時間をかける必要がありますが、その時間を何に焦点を当てて使うかということはやはり重要です。これから先、どのように日本の英語教育は変わっていくべきなのでしょうか。

英語が話せることで広がるチャンスは、これからの世代にはますます増えていくことでしょう。学校でも、また学校を卒業した後も、良い学びができるような社会を期待したいものです。

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