I appreciate Kuni Miyake’s take on “Why Japan’s English education is a fiasco” in the Nov. 12 edition, especially, “To enable students to acquire practical communication skills, we must replace English teachers who cannot speak English with those who can. They do not have to be foreigners; Japanese teachers who can speak English are fine.”
A deeper look often avoided in this debate would be provided by understanding the reasons those teachers who do not speak English keep their jobs and the challenges facing those who do speak English in finding a job. Discovering these explanations should suggest a more realistic solution to the problem. For starters, look at the number of those who cannot speak English who are secure in their full-time jobs and were selected because of their connections, the school they attended and were given full-time employment long ago. Then look at the numbers of Japanese teachers who do speak English who are insecure in part-time jobs without benefits, pensions, annual raises, or any chance of promotion. Look at how they got their abilities to speak English and discover that they are often educated abroad, thus without connections in universities in Japan, oftentimes with advanced degrees far exceeding those of some of the full-timers, desperate to earn a living wage.
Consequently they seek employment as part-timers at a number of universities, sometimes teaching as many courses as full-time employees without equal compensation. They are often ignored as “shadow teachers” by administrations and full-time professors. They are left to struggle every semester against competition for an ever-shrinking pool of available positions that are seldom filled by merit-based decision-makers and often filled by non-Japanese, some without related advanced degrees. Now, what would motivate such outstanding (Japanese) candidates to aspire to secure positions that will utilize their English-speaking and teaching qualifications?
I suggest starting with a renovation of the education ministry (not the building) and motivating them by analyzing this aspect of the system instead of merely recommending more English-language teachers who can speak English. Build a system based on meritocracy that can support them with merit-based full-time positions, and change the old system of “access by who you know” that leads to “group think.” Of course, many other issues exist regarding the curriculum, English-language learning and teaching pedagogy that need study and constructive changes.
For example, a system is needed to evaluate performance that does not depend on student evaluations of professional educators. This existing method in most universities is like asking the criminal to evaluate the legal system. If the educational system does not motivate the students to learn English, and does not provide teachers with avenues and resources with which to motivate the students, then it is not the teachers fault.
Where is student motivation if they already know they are going to pass because the administration tells teachers to pass everyone in order to placate their parents! It’s the whole educational system that breeds these problems and requires examination as an integrated system to be reformed effectively.
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.