English-teaching issues revisited

The March 31 editorial, “Testing English versus teaching it,” again raises many old issues, except for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) requirement proposed by the Liberal Democratic Party panel on education.

One issue that is not mentioned is the hiring of native English-speaking teachers. Why is it that if English is now a compulsory subject from fifth grade through junior high school, and for virtually all students who continue on through high school, only the minority of students who enter tertiary education are exposed to native English-speaking teachers?

Granted, most students are exposed to Assistant Language Teachers, but this has not really helped improve English education. The ALT and team-teaching phenomena are fundamentally sound in theory but tremendously flawed in practice.

The last time the Liberal Democratic Party reigned, the education ministry came up with a five-year plan to cultivate Japanese with English-speaking abilities that called for the hiring of qualified native-speaking teachers, including former ALTs. The recent merry-go-round of prime ministers and routine shuffling of Cabinets ensued thereafter and nothing ever came to fruition.

Now we have outside private entities complicating matters by staffing schools and boards of education with ALTs but keeping a substantial portion of what a teacher costs — at taxpayer expense.

The LDP has picked up on the former plan. The hiring of native English-speaking teachers is again encouraged in the most recent education ministry’s course of study. But a board of education can still choose not to hire foreign teachers.

If hierarchical Japan is serious about improving its English education and international standing, it’s time for those at the top to make an effort to ensure that its plans are carried out at all levels.

chris clancy
shiojiri, nagano

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

  • Chris Ward

    Excellent points, Mr Clancy. The current shift towards attempting to make teachers teach all classes in English yet ignoring the fact that no speaking element is required to graduate from high school is another example of the government’s non-thinking towards practical English education.

    • WithMalice

      English in Japan has long been taught as a scholastic undertaking, with a focus on grammar/spelling… and absolutely no focus on ability to use it as a communicative tool.
      It absolutely needs to change – and simply changing the endpoint isn’t going to achieve that.

  • Natalie

    Japan needs to decide whether it’s pedagogical goals for English Education are to create students who can master entrance exams OR who can hold a conversation of more than two sentences with a native speaker. If it’s the former, they aren’t doing too bad of a job with the current system. If it’s the latter, then, well, we all know there are many problems to be dealt with. No matter how many ALTs are present at a school, if they are not used/acknowledged, there can be little improvement made.