The English proficiency of students at public junior and senior high schools is improving but remains well behind government targets, an education ministry survey has shown.
Aiming to boost English ability ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the government has set targets for results in the Eiken Test in Practical English Proficiency, which assesses skills on a seven-step scale with Grade 1 being the highest qualification.
The government wants a majority of students acquire proficiency equivalent to Grade 3 or higher by the time they graduate from junior high school, with Grade Pre-2 or higher targeted for those finishing senior high school.
But as of December, only 40.7 percent of third-year junior high school students and 39.3 percent of third-year senior high school students had met the targets, according to the survey, which was released Friday.
In one piece of good news, however, the percentages marked a rise of 4.6 percentage points and 2.9 points, respectively, from a year earlier.
Eiken tests, administered by the Eiken Foundation of Japan and backed by the education ministry, are one of the most widely used proficiency tests in the nation.
While the ministry said the survey shows that English proficiency has improved overall, the results varied greatly among prefectures, prompting it to call for sharing successful practices to improve English education and narrow disparities.
By area, Fukui Prefecture cleared the target for junior high school students with the highest ratio, 62.8 percent, followed by the city of Saitama at 58.9 percent and the city of Yokohama at 54 percent. Fukuoka, Osaka, Tokyo, Kumamoto and Ishikawa prefectures all achieved the goal as well.
Fukui also met the target for senior high school students with 52.4 percent, while the 46 remaining prefectures all fell short.
The ministry also released the results of a separate survey measuring English proficiency covering 60,000 third-year junior high school students and 60,000 third-year senior high school students, which also failed to meet government-set targets.
The results were particularly low for speaking and writing by senior high school students, with less than 20 percent achieving the goals.
Teachers also failed to meet targets set by the government to have at least 50 percent of junior high school teachers and 75 percent of senior high school teachers holding an English proficiency level equivalent to Grade Pre-1, the second-highest ranking, equivalent to that of a university student.
Some 33.6 percent of junior high school teachers and 65.4 percent of senior high school teachers reached the desired level, up 1.6 points and 3.2 points, respectively, from the previous year.