03 May 2010

English Conversation School Industry in Japan Continues Decline

At least among the large companies running 'eikaiwa' schools, the decline and disruptions continue with the bankruptcy of Geos this year. With Nova and Geos now gone, the Big Four are now the Big Two, Aeon and ECC. Or perhaps we could say Big Three, with Nagoya-based G.communication taking over a large part of what were Nova and Geos. Berlitz is also a serious contender for 'big' status because of its dominance in providing English to large companies. And then there is the related issue of 'dispatch'--dispatch firms recruit and provide the personnel, while the accepting institution (such as a private junior high school) hosts the recruited teacher and provides the induction and management in terms of language teaching.

There are still a lot of jobs in the 'eikaiwa' industry, but it appears to be more fragmented. This fragmentation probably hurts employees the most because it makes collective representation more difficult. It also makes it more difficult for people looking for a position. If anything, the trend is for still yet more 'commodification' of teacher labor in service to the drive for profits. Such exploitation does not simply go away because of Japan's weak economy or its ageing, declining population. Rather, the commodification only gets worse.

If there are growth areas, they are probably an increase in smaller chains, an increase in smaller private schools (often one owner-teacher), and EFL for children (even toddlers). These sorts of growth, however, are hardly dynamic or nationwide. 
What follows is a list of articles at the Japan Times online,  with links and excerpts.   



Nagoya-based G.communication runs language conversation schools, cram schools and restaurants.

Geos will close 99 English-language schools that employ 483 teachers and staff, while G.communication will take over 230 schools that employ 1,059. The company reopened 201 Geos schools last Friday, just three days after Geos filed for bankruptcy with the Tokyo District Court.

It will reopen the remaining 29 as soon as landlords of the branches sign rent contracts, Sugimoto said.

Former Geos employees will first enter work contracts with G.education, an education arm of G.communication, for three months, as had been the style with Geos, and then will sign a contract based on G.education's style of employment, in which popular teachers get to teach more hours and are paid more, Sugimoto said.



Geos Corp., a major operator of foreign-language schools, has filed for bankruptcy with the Tokyo District Court with debts of ¥7.5 billion, and rival G.communication Co. will take over some of the defunct company's schools, the two companies announced Wednesday.

Tokyo-based Geos, which has 2,100 employees, said it suffered poor earnings with dwindling number of students amid the recession and consumer distrust toward the industry stemming from the failure in 2007 of another major language-school operator, Nova Corp.



Too big, too fast, and with too little quality — that's the consensus view of many industry analysts on former language-school market leader Nova Corp., whose collapse left over 420,000 students and 4,000 non-Japanese instructors without an "eikaiwa" home.

The Nova affair has already hurt many people: Hundreds of instructors have had to leave Japan and many of those who stayed are struggling to get by — the National Union of General Workers has even set up a "meals for English lessons" deal to help teachers and students. Meanwhile, customers who paid up-front fees to Nova are struggling to regain some of their substantial losses.

After Nova filed for bankruptcy with some ¥43.9 billion in debt, preparatory school operator G.communication took over some of its schools and rehired less than half of Nova's former employees.



If the opinions of these parents are representative, the future of Japan's English-conversation industry lies in the hands of smaller players and bodes ill for the big chain schools.



The market for English lessons in Japan is huge, and the options facing would-be students here can be daunting. There are the ubiquitous "big four" chain schools — Nova, Aeon, Geos and ECC — that can be found near most decent-size train stations. There are a few medium-size chains, which market themselves as a more personal alternative to the major players. Finally, at the other end of the scale are the independently owned English schools, often run by expats who have decided to stay long-term in Japan.

There are alternatives to "eikaiwa" (English conversation, or English conversation schools) too. Many companies, especially foreign ones or Japanese firms with a strong overseas presence, provide English lessons on-site for their employees. Some people may choose to avoid the conversation-school route completely and take lessons with a private tutor. They can usually be found through specialized Web sites or classified ads, and the lessons generally take place in a coffee shop or in the student's home. For those who find themselves strapped for cash, there is always the option of doing a language exchange — teaching Japanese in return for being taught English.



There are many good places to find English-language teaching work in Japan, but unfortunately they seem to be becoming fewer in number.

Louis Carlet says the best thing for teachers to do is to educate themselves as to the minimum standards a contract ought to offer, the limits on what companies can reasonably expect them to do and the legal recourse they have under Japanese law. This is true regardless of the size of the company.



Berlitz Japan is a branch of Berlitz International Inc., which started foreign-language lessons in the United States in 1878. The Japan branch opened its first school in 1966 in Tokyo and it has the biggest share of corporate foreign-language training programs in Japan, according to the company.

Kashani, who has been working at Berlitz Japan for 18 years, said the firm has recently turned its focus to young children while it continues to offer services for corporate clients.

In 2000, the company launched an English-language program called Sesame English in which children aged between 4 and 12 learn the language through programs based on the popular U.S. TV show "Sesame Street."

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