Stung by the low proficiency in English of many of the educators who teach the language, the education ministry has decided for the first time to impose a standard curriculum for teacher-training courses in universities.
To date, teacher training classes in higher education were nonstandardized, producing teachers of inconsistent caliber.
The curriculum will bring English teaching into line with the medicine, dentistry and pharmaceutical fields, which are based on a nationwide curriculum designed to produce graduates with a standard set of abilities.
It will be the first time a teacher-training program has had nationwide course requirements imposed on it, a ministry official said.
The details of the “core curriculum” will be discussed at an advisory council and announced by February 2016. Separately, new cross-discipline curriculum guidelines will be announced by the end of fiscal 2016 as part of a routine review of education that takes place every few years.
Universities are responsible for drafting their own teacher-training programs. The education ministry will require them to adopt the new unified English-teaching curriculum to ensure that teachers will have similar groundings in the languages they intend to teach once they graduate.
Over the years, there have been a number of efforts by the government to improve the level of English education. To its disappointment, the results have been bleak.
An education ministry survey carried out between July and September last year found that a majority of students in their final year of public high school were the equivalent of Grade 3 or lower on the Eiken Test in Practical English Proficiency.
This is roughly the ability expected of youngsters graduating from junior high school.
The Eiken test, which is carried out by a ministry-backed foundation, is an officially recognized English proficiency certification.
The government aims to reach a level where at least 50 percent of all high school graduates have attained a proficiency equivalent to Eiken Grade 2 or Pre-2, the two levels immediately above Grade 3.
The fault, it seems, lies with the caliber of Japan’s teachers.
The official said a majority of them fall short of the level the ministry expects — which is part of the reason why it has chosen to take drastic action.
The 2014 survey found that a mere 55.4 percent of the instructors teaching English in public high schools were certified at Grade 1 or Pre-1 of the Eiken test, far below the ministry’s goal of 75 percent by fiscal 2017.
For those at junior high schools, the number stood at 28.8 percent. The ministry aims to have one in two of these teachers certified to the desired level by fiscal 2017.
Meanwhile, as for the new curriculum guidelines in schools, the education ministry is considering making English classes mandatory three times a week for those in the fifth and sixth grades, and having an English class in junior high schools “basically” taught entirely in English.