Opinions are divided over whether English language lessons should be mandatory at elementary schools, according to a recent survey by the education ministry.

Of 471 people surveyed in April and May, mainly by mail-in questionnaire and e-mail, 55 percent support teaching English to elementary school pupils and 40 percent are opposed.

Those who favor early instruction in English tend to believe that exposing children to the language at an early age helps their conversation skills. Others said learning to communicate in English may help kids learn Japanese and other subjects.

Those against teaching English at the elementary school level worry about teachers’ lack of experience with the subject and that young learners’ Japanese skills may suffer.

The responses from teachers, parents, students and others were compiled after a Central Council for Education panel formed by the ministry recommended in March that fifth- and sixth-graders study English for one hour a week, and that those in lower grades learn the language as part of special activity programs.

A survey published by the ministry in 2005 found 71 percent of parents and guardians favored making English compulsory in elementary schools, while 54 percent of teachers were opposed.

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