OSAKA — The English-language conversation industry is in urgent need of reform and, unlike other sectors of the economy, needs more regulation, not less.

That was the opinion of people participating in the “Real Jobs Symposium,” which recently brought together nearly 40 English-language instructors and members of the General Union in Osaka that represents them. “Since the bankruptcies in the early 1990s of ATTY and Bilingual, the situation in the industry has gotten worse,” said union member Simon Cole. “Teachers are being made to teach more hours, while students are finding that their class options are less flexible.”

Cole said the union is working to protect labor rights, to oppose one-year contracts that give companies the right to terminate employees and to increase preparation time for teachers. “Many schools don’t want to train teachers or give them adequate preparation time for classes because they have their own instruction methods known as ‘idiot-proof’ teaching, whereby any warm body can do the job as long as the method is followed,” Cole said.

Toshiharu Yamada of the GEOS Students’ Group, who has studied at numerous English-language schools, said conversation schools do not offer value. “Individual counseling at the schools is insufficient,” he said. “Class content is often vague, and the tuition is very expensive.”

One business widely criticized at the meeting was Nova Corp. According to Robert Hughes, union general secretary for Nova in Tokyo, problems between the company and its teachers began in 1990 when it announced a “no socialization” policy forbidding students and teachers from seeing each other outside the classroom.

In 1993, Hughes said, paid sick leave was canceled, forcing teachers to use their vacation days. Nova created a stir in 1994 when it announced it would test teachers for drugs. “There is an atmosphere of fear in Nova today,” Hughes said. “Many teachers are concerned, and my aim is to increase union membership so that we can deal with these issues.”

Koji Igawa, director of the Osaka YMCA Language Center, described the current English-conversation fad as a “bubble.” “It’s the third English-language boom since the end of the war, and I believe it will soon come to an end,” he said. “It’s ironic that many foreigners are now calling on the Japanese government to deregulate, and we in the English-teaching industry are asking for stronger regulations,” said Dennis Tesolat, chairman of the GEOS Corp. union branch.

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