Academic journal article Babel

The Japanese Assistant Teacher Program in Western Australia: A Consideration of the Pros and Cons

Academic journal article Babel

The Japanese Assistant Teacher Program in Western Australia: A Consideration of the Pros and Cons

Article excerpt

Abstract

It is quite common for Australian schools introducing Japanese as a foreign language to engage native Japanese volunteers to assist in the classroom using a collaborative team-teaching approach. These volunteer Japanese assistant teachers, commonly referred to as Japanese AssistantTeachers (JATs), are an indispensable asset to school language programs. This service is overwhelmingly attractive to school language teachers in general and worth the time sacrifice required for the associated administrative tasks. In some cases, however, this teaching trend can give rise to educational problems within and outside the Japanese learning environment. This paper addresses the current trend of the JAT program in schools in Western Australia (WA), which has net yet been explored fully, and discusses the distinctive benefits and pitfalls of the existing JAT program. In particular, the focus is on their performance and the extent of their influence on Japanese language educational programs. This is a developmental project that precedes a potential next stage involving large-scale, quantitative research at State and/or national level that may contribute further useful insights into the JAT program.

Keywords

language assistants, student teachers, Japanese language learning, team-teaching

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Introduction

Australia has 366,165 Japanese language learners and is ranked as the third country in the world in terms of the number of students learning the Japanese language. Although the total number of students studying Japanese has decreased over time, there has been an increase in the number of Japanese language students in higher education (Japan Foundation, 2006). It is quite a common phenomenon for Australian schools teaching Japanese to engage native Japanese volunteers to assist in the classroom via a collaborative team-teaching approach.

All public schools in Western Australia (WA) are eligible to apply at the beginning of each school year to host a Japanese assistant. A teacher can share one Japanese assistant who is a native speaker of Japanese with others or retain one for up to a whole year. As seen in Table 1, 172 out of 778 public schools were offering Japanese language programs in WA in August 2009 (personal communication, August 2009). A similar system to the Assistant Teachers Program (ATP) for public schools also operates in non-Government schools in WA, which is organised by the Catholic Education Office of Western Australia (CEOWA) and the Association of Independent Schools in Western Australia (AISWA). 24 of the 158 Catholic schools and colleges (personal communication, August 2009) and 27 of the 163 Independent schools (personal communication, August 2009) offer Japanese as an elective subject. Regarding the numbers of Japanese assistants, only two public schools, four catholic schools and eight independent schools had officially engaged at least one Japanese assistant in August 2009.

This information seems to contradict claims which suggest that a larger number of Japanese assistants are involved in team-teaching in schools in WA. The issue is that insufficient information is systematically collected about the Japanese assistant teacher (JAT) program and very little guidance is provided about ways of deploying JATs. The aim of this preliminary study is to begin a discussion around the JAT program in WA by exploring the distinctive benefits and pitfalls of the program.

The study can be described as a restricted developmental project--a first step before proceeding to a subsequent stage involving large-scale, quantitative research at State and/or national level. This type of human resource focused study has the potential to contribute significantly to further developments in language teaching and learning at school level by observing an environment in which frequently changing actions occur.

Research objectives and methods This preliminary study aims at addressing the following research objectives (Re):

* RO1: To investigate the background and intentions of the JATs. …

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