The Nov. 17 edition carried a couple interesting letters concerning the futility of English-language reform in Japanese education. David John’s “English reform an exercise in nothingness” and Clifford H. Clarke’s “Education reform needs deeper look” both state the necessity of reform beginning with the education ministry itself. John believes the solution lies with voters, while Clarke believes the ministry administration must be reformed.

In traditional top-down Japan, both ideas would appear plausible.

John’s contention falls flat, however, as ministers in pseudo-democratic Japan are not elected, but appointed. Voting for the best alternative at the Diet level will ensure neither a more progressive prime minister coming into power nor that this leader will appoint a competent education minister.

Clarke’s ideas are more of the same wishful thinking that have appeared in the pages of The Japan Times over and over for years, but he’s correct in that education reform needs a deeper look.

Accountability is an issue to which both authors allude that warrants further examination. John finds fault in the quality of the myriad English “teachers” across the nation and Clarke cites the need for meritocracy in teacher hiring and promotion. The recent idea of outsourcing tests coincides with the assistant language teacher phenomenon in that Japanese teachers of English would be further released from their teaching responsibilities.

Taxpayers should be irate. These teachers are being paid the same — bonuses and base salary increases, included — to do less while more money is being spent elsewhere.

The trickle-down theory ultimately stops at schools. Teachers have been informed of such ministry calls for teaching English in English, for example, yet most still do not administer their classes in the target language to be learned. English speakers with advanced training are necessary even at levels preceding tertiary education.


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.

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