More and more private junior high schools in the Tokyo metropolitan area and the Kansai region are introducing English into their general entrance examinations.
Parents are also showing great interest in the subject, reflecting progress in globalization and anticipated changes in the question format on the English examination for university entrance.
As the entrance exam season begins, private junior high schools hope such moves will highlight their efforts to strengthen English studies and help retain children who are competent in the English language.
According to data compiled by a provider of mock entrance exams for junior high schools, 101 private junior high schools in Tokyo and the three neighboring prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa have included or will include English in their entrance exams for the 2018 academic year, which starts in April.
In western Japan, the total number of schools in the prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Shiga, Nara and Wakayama that have adopted or will adopt English for their exams stood at 28, up sharply from the six schools seen doing so just four years ago, according to Hamagakuen, a major cram school.
In both regions middle-ranking schools have started introducing English into their entrance exams in hopes of boosting applicant numbers, and such moves have then spread to top-ranking schools.
Ichikawa Junior High School in Chiba Prefecture was the first competitive school to introduce English in its 2017 entrance exam. Keio Shonan Fujisawa Junior High School, a highly sought-after school in Kanagawa, plans to include English in its 2019 exam.
In the Tokyo metropolitan area, mandatory subjects in the junior high school entrance exams are Japanese and mathematics. Although many schools allow students to choose between taking either English or social studies and science, some schools offer only English for these on exams.
English is scheduled to become an official subject for fifth- and sixth-graders in the 2020 academic year, as part of the full-scale launch of new elementary school curriculum guidelines.
The English test in Japan’s new unified examination system for university entrance, which is set to start the same year, will not only test the examinees’ reading and listening skills but also their speaking and writing ability.
In recent years, many households have chosen to have children learn English in elementary school or before.
“We provided examinees with an English exam choice for advanced elementary school children because we anticipated an increase in the households that are interested in English education, and in the number of children who have studied English from a young age,” an official at Ichikawa Junior High School explained.
The official said that the school also expects that introducing the English exam will boost the number of examinees, with good results in university entrance exams by students who are ahead in English acting as a motivator for other students.
Toru Yamanaka, an official at Eikoh Inc., a major cram school based in Tokyo, said schools vary on their approach, from those that have introduced English as an exam subject tentatively to those that are seriously seeking to attract children with good English skills as their students.
“In the future, however, there will be a rise in the number of schools that conduct English exams to attract a wider range of examinees,” Yamanaka added.