Japan in Depth: Study Team Eyed for English Education

By Ishii, Masahiro; Ohiro, Yuko | The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan), June 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Japan in Depth: Study Team Eyed for English Education


Ishii, Masahiro, Ohiro, Yuko, The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)


English language education is expected to change significantly at primary schools as the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry will soon launch a study team tasked with discussing reforms.

Education minister Hakubun Shimomura announced the launch of the team Friday after a regular Cabinet meeting. The group will study a set of proposals presented by the Education Rebuilding Implementation Council.

The council recently presented the proposals to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. They emphasize nurturing human resources who can better compete globally, including a recommendation to make English an official subject at primary schools.

Among other things, the ministry's study team will discuss the possibility of actively utilizing scores from TOEFL and other English proficiency tests as a qualifying measure for entering and graduating from universities, to encourage students to become more communicative in English.

More work for teachers

"Please show me U and P," homeroom teacher Kazuyoshi Koike, 33, asked his students at Koyamadai Primary School in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, during a recent English class.

In unison, the third grade students raised cards with the respective letters on them.

Since the 2011 academic year, the ministry has required English be taught as a "foreign language activity" for fifth and sixth graders once a week. However, it is not designated as a formal subject and is taught by homeroom teachers, who in most cases are not skilled in English instruction.

The Shinagawa Ward government, however, has been independently implementing English teaching from the first grade.

About 50 percent of annual English class hours are taught in cooperation with assistant language teachers (ALTs), who are from the United States or other English-speaking nations. At many schools, however, students' parents and volunteers help fill the gap in classroom instruction.

"At first I had a lot of trouble with the [English] teaching. I'm still exhausted from preparations the day before a class," Koike said.

The ministry's team will study possibilities such as making English a formal subject, lowering the grade in which students begin their English education, increasing the required class hours and assigning specialized teachers.

In the current "foreign language activities" conducted at primary schools, students mostly sing songs in English or play games using the language. …

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