Gregory Clark’s verdict in his Dec. 30 article, “English should be an elective,” sidesteps a very complex situation. An overwhelming majority of Japanese parents have repeatedly expressed their desire that their children be taught English from elementary school onward. It’s the government that has been dragging its feet year after year. Until classes begin in elementary school, there will never be enough qualified teachers.
Opportunities for learning English in high school have increased, although not uniformly. The result is that those students lucky enough to get the teaching are good at English, and it is unfair of Clark to suggest that the standard is low. It is only low in those schools that have not risen to the challenge.
The task of the government should be to increase the standard of teaching English in high school, while instituting regular English classes in elementary school. Clark himself admits that multilingualism and multiculturalism both enrich and develop young people. All the more reason that he is wrong to suggest learning foreign languages on an elective basis.
By learning kanji, Japanese students are already learning the written lingua franca of Chinese. Any suggestion that students lack motivation only indicates a fault in school management, not in the students. Suggesting English should be restricted to university study and follow Western foreign-language models is shortsighted as Japan’s tertiary system is very much a mass market.
The level and composition of universities is so uneven that it is ridiculous to suggest leaving everything until that stage. Because of the Japanese university exam “hell,” most students are burned out by the time they enter university and quickly devote their energies to part-time work and job hunting.
Japan certainly lags behind the world in effective international communication. All Japanese need the basic skills possible only from adequate exposure from elementary school.
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