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.
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.