OSAKA — Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto plans to offer a total of ¥500 million to high schools whose students score highest on the Test of English as a Foreign Language to boost competition and raise the level of language proficiency.

The plan, meant to reward the high schools in the prefecture with the best English education programs, was recently conveyed to the prefectural board of education and will go into effect next year if approved.

Between 50 and 100 students at each of the prefecture’s 234 public and private high schools would be selected to take the test, which is often used by foreign universities in evaluating nonnative English speakers for admission. The average TOEFL score for each school would then be tallied, and schools with the top 50 scores would receive ¥10 million each to further their English programs.

The governor’s proposal comes amid growing concern in Osaka and nationwide that Japanese students are becoming more insular.

It also follows years of warnings by business leaders and politicians that students’ lack of English ability puts Japan at a competitive disadvantage against countries such as South Korea and China, where there is a strong emphasis on TOEFL scores.

In 2009, the mean score of all Japanese taking the Internet version of the TOEFL was one of the lowest in Asia and well below all of the major Asian economies.

This version of the TOEFL tests speaking ability as well as listening, reading and writing, and emphasizes the kind of English used in academia.

Japanese did better on the traditional paper test, which only measures listening ability, reading and writing with a mean score just lightly above or below most major Asian economies.

Extracurricular arrest

OSAKA (Kyodo) An Osaka schoolteacher was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of groping a female high school student on a commuter train, police said.

Yoshito Habu, 57, a temporary teacher at the Senbon Elementary School, allegedly put his hand inside the girl’s panties at around 7:20 a.m. aboard a train on the JR Hanwa Line, the police said, adding that a man who witnessed the incident apprehended Habu.

The teacher has admitted to touching the girl’s underwear but denied putting his hand inside them, according to investigators.

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