LDP takes aim at English education, seeks to boost TOEFL levels

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is on a quest to reform the educational system in order to foster global talent to reverse the nation’s declining competitiveness on the world stage, and English-language studies have been especially targeted for improvement.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to spend ¥1 trillion to create a “globalized” workforce via educational reforms.

A key component will be English education. Abe set a goal to double the number of doctorates in the language to 35,000 and distribute tablet computers to all students from elementary school to high school by 2020 in a bid to rejuvenate science studies.

The LDP plan would mandate that people reach or exceed a threshold in scores on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) to gain college admission and graduation, and to qualify for government jobs.

The LDP’s education revitalization headquarters sought approval Thursday from its member lawmakers before submitting the plan to Abe on Monday, but some lawmakers argued that high TOEFL scores do not necessarily equate with English fluency.

“Mandating (certain TOEFL scores for) all Japanese college (students) sounds to me like colonial policy,” said one LDP lawmaker who is against the introduction of the tests administered by an American company. “We should instead teach Japanese history and culture.”

In 2010, Japan’s average score TOEFL iBT score was 69 — among the worst three out of 33 Asian countries. The LDP plan would require that students at 30 select colleges score 90 to graduate and mandate that all high school students score 45 or better to earn a diploma.

Toshiaki Endo, head of the LDP’s education system revitalization headquarters, said changes are necessary.

“We all know that the (current) six years of English education did not help us speak English,” Endo said.

As for science education and reforms in teaching information technology, the LDP plan would boost the math and science pass levels for college entrance exams.

One LDP lawmaker questioned the viability of this approach: “The more urgent problem is that we are in short supply of science teachers. Instead of spending money on tablet computers, we should resolve this situation.”

Abe has been bent on educational reforms since his 2006-2007 prime ministership, which was characterized by his focus on instilling a sense of patriotism.

He also seeks to revamp the school-year system and college entrance exams, and make ethics a mandatory course of study.