To produce more Japanese who can communicate effectively in the international community in the 21st century, the Education Ministry set up an advisory panel Wednesday to map out recommendations on better ways of teaching English. At the panel’s first meeting, Education Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said learning English is essential in the age of the Internet because much of the information is in that language. “While we have spent so much time studying English, we often hear that the teaching is not producing good results,” Nakasone said. “I ask the members to discuss appropriate and effective ways of teaching English … and I would like the outcome of the discussions to be reflected in our education policy,” he said. The panel was set up at the minister’s request, before the ministry’s new teaching guidelines take effect in 2002 at elementary and junior high schools and in 2003 in high schools. The new guidelines emphasize verbal communication in English studies — a shift from Japan’s long-standing focus on reading and studying grammar. Elementary schools will also be able to teach English as part of “comprehensive studies,” a new curriculum under the guidelines. The 22-member panel will discuss how to improve teaching methods at schools, better ways of selecting and training English teachers, reforms of the English portion of entrance exams and ways to effectively use native speakers. Gregory Clark, a panel member and president of Tama University, said the entrance examination is the source of problems in English education in Japan. It is “impossible” to understand the reading-comprehension test of upper-level university exams by studying English just three hours a week in schools, Clark said. “The Japanese are trying too hard,” he said. “They should relax more … and should learn difficult English after entering university.” On English education at the elementary school level, Aiko Okawara, president of JC Foods Co., said the Japanese should begin studying English before they are 10. Children should start with hearing lessons, and they need to do it every day, Okawara said. For example, 30 minutes of daily English listening lessons in elementary school would be effective, she said. Mineo Nakajima, president of Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and the chairman of the panel, said setting up one clear direction in English education from the elementary level through to university will be essential in the coming panel The members need to discuss whether Japan should focus on teaching correct English, or usable-even-if-broken English, as well as the pros and cons of English education at an early age and what to do about entrance exams, Nakajima said. The panel will hold meetings about once a month until December before making its recommendations.
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