Junior high school English teachers should conduct classes exclusively in English and be periodically tested on their skills in the language using a third-party proficiency test, and formal English instruction should start in the fifth grade of elementary school from 2020, according to a blueprint for education reform unveiled Friday.

As part of the plan for elementary to high school English education, more assistant language teachers also will be hired, education minister Hakubun Shimomura said.

“We want to raise the standards for English education at the junior high and high school levels by having teachers conduct classes in English in junior high school, and focusing on the presentation and debate aspects of English usage in high school,” he said.

The proposals are part of the “Execution Plan for the Reform of English Education in Response to Globalization,” the ministry’s blueprint for strengthening English-language education from elementary to high school.

Among other factors, the education ministry is hoping to take advantage of heightened interest in the language ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which will draw large numbers of visitors to Japan.

“I think this is a welcome development,” said Takaaki Matsuoka, principal of Musashino Dai-Ichi Junior High School in western Tokyo. “I have the impression that we will finally be able to catch up with South Korea” in English education.

Matsuoka, who himself used to teach English, said English-language teachers at the junior high level have already grown somewhat accustomed to teaching in English thanks to working alongside assistant language teachers.

“In addition, classes are more focused on sound (verbal and listening), which should also help,” Matsuoka said.

The blueprint aims to set consistent achievement goals for each level of English education.

Under the blueprint, English teaching would start in the third grade of elementary school in “activities-style” classes conducted one or two times a week, mainly by homeroom teachers, with a focus on laying the foundation for communications skills.

In the fifth and sixth grades, more formal “classroom-style” instruction in three classes per week would focus on elementary communicative skills both by homeroom teachers and specialized English teachers.

The junior high school goal would be achieving the “ability to understand and exchange information on familiar topics, and express thoughts,” with classes “basically” taught in English.

This would be taken over by high school education that aims to bring students to levels at which they can “understand abstract concepts on a broad range of topics” and “converse with English speakers at a viable level of proficiency.”

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