Reforms seek to end 'excessive egalitarianism'

LDP panel binds TOEFL to degrees

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

The Test of English as a Foreign Language will be required both to enter public universities and to graduate from them if the policy recommendations adopted Monday by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s education reform panel are formalized.

Introduction of the TOEFL in this manner is expected to drastically change the public English-language education system at junior high and high schools, which currently focus more on writing and grammar proficiency.

The TOEFL and other recommendations, amounting to four pages, were submitted to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the LDP president, later in the day.

Also proposed were measures to double the number of students earning science and mathematics doctorates to 35,000 a year and a ¥500 billion outlay to provide tablet computers to all public elementary, junior high and high schools.

The panel also called on the government to set up “special high schools” that focus on high level science and math for advanced students.

The proposals call for a ¥1 trillion investment, including the ¥500 billion tablet computer outlay and ¥400 billion for English education reforms.

Toshiaki Endo, head of the panel, said the group will push to have some of those proposals included in the LDP’s campaign pledges for the July Upper House election.

According to Endo, the panel’s proposals are part of LDP efforts to enhance the abilities of younger generations to adapt to the global environment.

The proposals, including introduction of the TOEFL, are also designed to correct the “excessive egalitarianism” at schools and to nurture the abilities of top-level students, Endo said.

“Japanese education has sought for equality in (student academic achievements). Because of this, it has failed to offer education that capitalizes on (their individual) characteristics,” Endo told reporters.

Endo said Abe met with the panel the same day and generally agreed on the importance of practical English education, but otherwise offered little commitment to the other proposals. Thus it remains to be seen how many of the proposals will be adopted by the LDP-New Komeito ruling coalition.

The TOEFL proposals call for all high school students to score 45 points or higher on the test and for teachers of English to score 80 or higher.

Students will be exposed to English for longer hours through Saturday lessons, English-language camps and studies via tablet computers under the proposals.

The government would meanwhile designate about 30 universities to provide special English-language education, including student exchange programs with overseas colleges. More than half of the lectures at those universities should be conducted in English, according to the proposals, and the government will give financial support to another 100 universities to develop special education programs for practical English.

The panel argued that the government should invest as much in public education as do other member nations of the Organization for Economic and Cooperation Development.

Japan spends 3.6 percent of its gross domestic product on public education, while the United States spends 5.3 percent, Britain 5.3 percent, France 5.8 percent, Germany 4.5 percent and South Korea 4.9 percent.

  • Mark Makino

    45… about 20 lower than the national average. That’s not high enough to spur the kinds of changes in teaching practice they seem to be aiming for.

    • Scott

      According to 2011 stats, 24 points lower than average. Not exactly targeting academically brilliant students, just those that can be bothered to take the test.
      Pretty rubbish idea really. Just going to feed the rich/poor divide even more as families struggle to pay for extra education and TOEFL itself to get their kids to a good Uni.

  • Kuma

    Exciting stuff! I think focusing the Saturday classes around learning English is an excellent idea. As for the whole tablet idea however, I think having a few computers in each classroom would be a more cost effective option. Computer use should in fact be incorporated throughout the curriculum. I’m shocked at how many people lack basic computer skills here in Okinawa. Education should also be extended beyond academic institutions. Upgrade local libraries and offer learning centers in them equipped with at least one computer lab, so adults can take classes on learning how to use a computer or start a small business. Capitalizing on individuality is another great idea. Since I’ve been back in Japan, I could see that the culture was nurturing followers rather than leaders. How miserable it must be to be deprived of the satisfaction of being proud of oneself and to be shameful of trying to be different from everyone else. The fundamentals need an update. The English language is the essence in becoming an active component in the world market, and Japan is falling behind. I’m glad to see the effort to change that.

  • Ben Shearon

    I’d rather see them putting real computers into schools. Tablets are limited and don’t allow students to get to grips with the kind of software that will be useful later for work.

  • Starviking

    So basically the LDP don’t want any geniuses who are not good at languages?

  • I’m sure Sony can give away unsold old PCs to every school to conribute to society. We can use Skype to talk directly people all over the world. Speaking and Listening skills can be improved by using internet. Also desparetely need free English TV channel. If English subtitle is available, even better. Japanese teachers teaching English have to improve their English! So let’s do teachers’ competitions! If teachers study hard, students follow. This can be fun family project if parents join to learn. TOEFL fee should be free for over 50 years old and give family discounts. TOEFL can be done by self-study. Use second-hand book and repeat several times, easily reach at least 50 first time. Don’t think too much, let’s just do it!!