National

Koto Ward office building eyed for children's 'English village' learning center

by Tomoko Otake

Staff Writer

The idyllic-sounding “English village” planned by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government as a learning tool to help local children overcome their apprehension about speaking English may be erected in an office building in Koto Ward near the waterfront in 2018.

In a report to the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education on Tuesday, a panel of experts concluded that the envisaged “village” should give all of the 840,000 students in Tokyo — from 5th graders to those in third-year high school — a chance to “experience the fun and the need of using English, as opposed to (just) learn English.”

“Programs (at the village) should be experiential and practical, offering students opportunities to understand the traditions and cultures of Japan and other countries, and to simulate social activities that require the use of English,” the report said.

In April the board appointed nine people — including operators of the popular KidZania Tokyo, an amusement park where children can experience various occupations, and the comedy duo Patrick Harlan and Makoto Yoshida, who go by the stage name of Pakkun Makkun — to the panel, asking them to come up with ideas for the village.

Yoshihiro Takizawa, an official with the board of education, said one of the options being considered is to secure rental space of some 5,000 to 6,000 sq. meters in an office building in Koto Ward.

He said the location is in a heavy-traffic area for pedestrians and is close to many of the planned venues for the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

He noted that further details, such as the budget and number of staffers, have yet to be decided.

Japan’s English-language ability ranks among the worst in the world. The panel’s report cites a country-by-country comparison of TOEFL scores from 2014, in which Japan ranked 138th out of 169 countries and 27th out of 30 Asian countries surveyed.

In a separate survey of students at public high schools in Tokyo in July 2011, 47.2 percent of the respondents said they do not want to study abroad, as opposed to 27.5 percent who said they do.