National

English level at Japan's secondary schools falls short of government target

Kyodo

The English-language ability of students at public secondary schools fell short of the government’s target in the 2018 academic year through March, despite a slight improvement from a year earlier, a government survey showed Tuesday.

The percentage of third-year students at junior high schools whose English skills were equivalent to Grade 3 of the widely-used Eiken proficiency test rose 1.9 points from a year ago to 42.6 percent. For third-year senior high school students with skills matching Grade Pre-2, the increase was 0.9 point to 40.2 percent.

Conducted by the education ministry in December, the survey showed that final-year students of both junior and senior high schools did not reach the 50 percent goal set for them by the government.

Holders of Eiken Grade 3, aimed at junior high school graduates, are expected to be able to understand and use English concerning everyday topics. Those with Grade Pre-2, aimed at second-year senior high school students, are supposed to be at a level sufficient to allow them to participate in general aspects of daily life.

The Education, Culture, Science, Sports and Technology Ministry, which has been conducting the annual survey since the academic year beginning April 2013, recognized a wide regional gap in the students’ English proficiency.

“We want to raise the overall level by analyzing excellent efforts and common challenges and widely sharing that information,” an official said.

Among the country’s 47 prefectures and 20 major cities, the city of Saitama posted the highest percentage of final-year junior high school students with skills equivalent to Grade 3, at 75.5 percent, followed by Fukui Prefecture at 61.2 percent and Yokohama at 55.9 percent.

As for third-year senior high school students by prefecture, Fukui topped the list for students with skills matching Grade Pre-2 at 56.0 percent, followed by Toyama at 54.8 percent and Akita at 53.3 percent.

Meanwhile, many regions failed to reach 50 percent at both junior and senior high school levels.

With the government aspiring to foster individuals who can excel on the international stage, it originally aimed to meet the 50 percent target by the 2017 academic year but has postponed the goal until the year through March 2023.

As English will become a mandatory subject for fifth and sixth graders at public elementary schools from next spring, the ministry also looked into the English-language proficiency of elementary school teachers.

The ministry survey found only 5.9 percent, or 20,182, of 343,295 full-time elementary school teachers nationwide were licensed to teach English at a secondary-school level — the lowest level for which there is certification.

While many elementary schools made their own efforts to secure proficient personnel, such as hiring those with a license to teach English or coordinating with junior high schools, many teachers were worried about leading English classes as they had not been trained to do so.

The ministry has been trying to address the situation by improving training programs for elementary school teachers and increasing the number of licensed teachers with a certain level of English proficiency.

The number of native English-speaking assistant language teachers at elementary schools rose to 13,044, up 132 from the previous school year, while 80.6 percent of junior high schools said they have been cooperating with elementary schools on English education.