Roger Dahl, for his editorial cartoon in the Nov. 17 cartoon, drew a Rube Goldberg contraption to demonstrate how English-language education is being reformed. No doubt the reform of English-language testing in Japan is moving forward at the sloth-like pace of a turtle. The education ministry moves slowly, until its head, Koichi Hagiuda, is stopped by a slippery banana peel of a gaffe.

Hagiuda’s televised gaffe revealed that students who want to better themselves by taking English proficiency tests should do so “in accordance with their [financial] standing.”

Bureaucratic sloth is not behind Hagiuda’s gaffe. The slip is an example of a Kinsley gaffe, named after the American journalist Michael Kinsley who, 30 years ago, wrote: “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth — some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.”

The truth here is that the government uses English-language tests to maintain an unspoken policy of social stratification.

Requiring students to take private sector-administered tests favors those who come from families living in big cities that can afford the cost of the tests and private tutoring.

Hagiuda’s gaffe reveals that the government places a higher priority on preserving the status quo than on the necessary task of identifying the best-qualified students in a shrinking pool of young people.

Still unresolved is the question of whether Mandarin Chinese might be more useful than English.


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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