MAEBASHI, GUNMA PREF. – A rural city in Gunma Prefecture will launch a program next year offering a year-long English-immersion dormitory experience for junior high and high school students.
A three-month trial course set to run from this August has attracted more than 1,900 applications from across the country, according to the city of Takasaki.
In the full program starting next April, about 20 students will be enrolled, attending schools within 6 kilometers of the dorm. At the dorm, they are expected to communicate only in English. On weekends, various outdoor activities will be offered, such as planting rice and hiking with English-speaking staff.
Students can “relax and learn practical English in a natural setting,” said Naoki Ota, city official in charge of the program.
The dorm is under construction at the site of a closed elementary school about 30 km from JR Takasaki Station.
The city is also offering short-stay courses during summer and winter vacations as well as on weekends.
Rural areas have long offered similar programs, referred to as sanson ryugaku (mountain village education). In conventional sanson ryugaku, depopulated rural areas offer programs targeting students mainly from urban areas to stay and study without their parents. Such programs began in the 1970s as a way to help promote depopulated areas. The concept then grew popular across the country.
The number of students in such programs has decreased since peaking in 2004 due chiefly to the country’s decreasing birthrate, according to an association of areas offering the programs.
The association welcomes Takasaki’s approach, saying it brings a “new change” to the concept.
Takasaki has more generally put emphasis on English education.
It offers English lessons at public schools from the first grade and hires native English teachers to work as assistants at all 80 of its city-run elementary and junior high schools.
“We are aiming to offer leading-edge education and nurture global human resources,” said Mayor Kenji Tomioka, a former education ministry official.