08 July 2010

Elementary school English: No quick fix for Japan's hapless EFL

This is still yet another educational and language reform doomed for failure.

First, the schools simply do not have enough well-trained experienced teachers to implement EFL even though the required English will be limited to grades 5 and 6. Another aspect of this issue is that the university-based teacher training programs do not turn out teachers capable of teaching a high level of oral English. So even if they meet quotas for hiring new English teachers, the teachers will prove incapable of realizing this reform. Even if they have a high level of English, they will be unskilled and inexperienced at teaching EFL to children. And even if they manage to master this sort of teaching, they will not fit in well with the already established institutional cultures of elementary schools.

Next, the ministry of education is going ahead with the reform without the required consensus of the people who will actually have to implement the reform--the teachers already teaching at and running the elementary schools.

Also, even amongt those who would appear to agree that the reform is necessary, there is actually very little expertise or agreement on guiding priniciples or objectives to such a reform. For example, some argue that students get enough reading and writing, but need more oral English, such as speaking and listening. But the abysmal TOEFL and TOEIC scores indicate most Japanese can't read EFL either. In fact, that is often the lowest area of proficiency.

And what does it mean to say that Japanese students need to LISTEN to more English? Listen to digital recordings of passages that they can not hope to comprehend?

Finally, I'm sure there are many Japanese who are satisfied with Japan's low standardized EFL exam scores, most notably the TOEFL and TOEIC results that are often cited as a national  embarassment. Some of these people are 'educational experts' who are worried about perceptions of slipping standards in native language literacy. One reason for this, though, is that more and more young people are going on to university and the universities have not kept up with curriculum and instructional reforms for a 'massified' system.

However, what many Japanese fail to realize is that Japan isn't Finland or even France. It's the world's number two economy, and the economic powerhouse of Asia, an economic zone where English is used quite widely.

The Japan Times article here gives a good overview of the issues facing the reform. Most of the expert opinions its cites, however, are not that expert, but they are strikingly hostile to the reform.

url with excerpt:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Elementary schools to get English

Staff writer

Starting next fiscal year, all elementary schools will be required to introduce compulsory English lessons for fifth- and sixth-graders.


Following are basic questions and answers about compulsory English education in elementary schools:

What will be the class frequency and who will teach the language?

From fiscal 2011, all fifth- and sixth-graders nationwide will have one lesson per week. Although the education ministry calls the lesson Gaikokugo Katsudo (Foreign Language Activities), English is the priority.

The goal of the new curriculum is to help children experience and understand other languages and cultures, and nurture an inclination to actively communicate with others by becoming familiar with the sounds and basic expressions of another language, according to the ministry.

However, many schools will not have experienced teachers with specialized skills in English education, and some homeroom teachers will have to teach English even if they lack a good understanding of the language.

Since fiscal 2007, the government has been directly or indirectly training all of the nation's approximately 400,000 elementary school teachers in teaching English, but surveys show many lack the confidence to lead such lessons.

end of excerpt

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