Japan news: Is the Education Ministry cleaning up English teaching?

Reader Lisa was kind enough to point out a story that appeared on Nikkei dot com, the paid English language version of Nikkei Shimbun.

As you can see, the article begins:

TOKYO (Nikkei)–School districts across Japan must decide whether to continue outsourcing assistant language teacher (ALT) jobs to private
staffing agencies or employ such foreign instructors themselves.

Outsourcing is cheaper, despite some legal barriers, but hiring English teachers directly would improve teaching efficiency. The question matters as Japan is making English a compulsory subject for its fifth and sixth graders beginning in the upcoming school year,
which starts in April.

The article didn’t give any indication that the Education Ministry is behind anything other than “making English a compulsory subject for its fifth and sixth graders”.

[The article] suggested that dispatch worker ALTs are not under the instruction of the schools, which I think is false. I think that issue (the Kashiwa problem) is that the ALTs were being considered as “independent contractors”, which meant they were supposed not to be under the school’s direction (like an employee). Spitefully, (and remember, the Shinto god of spite is a very powerful one), the school board then set up some sort of byzantine rule to give the appearance that the ALTs were in fact these totally-outside people who were just showing up at the school to do their independent contractor thing.

The article discusses how difficult it is to do direct-hire ALT placements. This, to me, sounds like Japanese excuse making. I have no doubt that far-off rural areas of Japan would have difficulty filling teaching spots without an Interac or other large ALT company funneling in workers. But it’s pretty darn obvious that the supply of warm bodies outstrips the demand—especially when the supply keeps flying in every month.

The article ends with a quote by someone who suggests that the real problem is that there aren’t enough Japanese who are good at teaching elementary school English, and that more needs to be done to create Japanese who can teach English. (Who will be the ones, in turn, to do this? Will it be that, inevitably, you have to deal with the, ehem, smelly barbarian foreigner? I guess this is why Japan proposed to send 100 young people to America to “skill up” their English.)

Since the piece may have been a translation of what appeared in the Nikkei evening paper, it really says a lot without saying very much in particular beyond pointing out the labor and contract issues of the past year. (You can learn more about these at sites like the one for General Union.) The bottom line is that Japan may have no plan for getting good teachers in front of 5th and 6th graders, which means they really don’t want the kids to learn.

Not giving graded tests was an earlier indicator that they don’t want the kids learning, either–since quizzes and tests are really the best way to make sure studied material sticks. I guess this latest rumbling adds that they don’t want the kids learning unless the teacher is Japanese or otherwise the Mythical Foreigner who they just can’t seem to attract.

[Update: Can’t attract foreigners? Maybe this is why:

1. Implicit age restriction. No one over 40 need apply.

2. Your social security and health care will be a politicized issue.

3. Your unemployment insurance coverage will be an issue.

4. No career track. From the day you get your job, one of those geeky-itaku junior bureaucrats with lifetime employment will have it as his job making sure that your job doesn’t continue beyond some pre-determined date. How did he (usually it’s he) get his job?

5. You can be assured that the government will be keeping dispatch agencies around to underbid whatever it is you did get a school board to agree to pay you.

These five are no jive. With them always hanging over your head like a Samurai sword of Damocles, is it any wonder that the pool of quality English teachers in Japan might in fact not be as stocked as the Japanese expect?

Is it possible that the new excuse-making was merely set up by bad conditions that the Education Ministry let fester?
“Oh geez, we’ve tacitly allowed this harebrained system to continue for so long, and now we need to make some changes that we don’t want to. So let’s use the fact that everything’s so screwed up to begin with as our excuse to say let’s do nothing to change it until we can find some Japanese speakers who can teach English to the elementary kids . . . ” ]

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22 comments

  1. Ken44 · January 15, 2011

    Why is it gaijins teachers can’t understand many school districts here simply DON’T want to deal directly with them. They don’t care how much you love Japan, your students ects. What the schools want is for you to shut up and go along with their program. Now if you can’t handle it or find a way to work around the continous bullshit leave. Teaching English in Japan is pretty much a joke and has been for years. The only real question is who will do the laughing: you or the schools.

    • hoofin · January 15, 2011

      A nugget of wisdom in there, Ken. The problem is that now the People of Japan want good English instruction for their kids, and the Government is busy farting around with the same old excuses.

      Don’t tell me that anyone there hasn’t thought of team teaching, with the incredible number of older, English speakers who are Japanese, and the number of foreigners willing to teach in the Japanese educational system.

      What am I missing? That’s the immediate answer, isn’t it?

  2. Ken44 · January 16, 2011

    —What am I missing? That’s the immediate answer, isn’t it?—-

    Maybe this is…?
    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2010/12/south-korea-schools-robot-english-teachers/

  3. Kei · January 17, 2011

    ” (Who will be the ones, in turn, to do this? Will it be that, inevitably, you have to deal with the, ehem, smelly barbarian foreigner? I guess this is why Japan proposed to send 100 young people to America to “skill up” their English.)”

    Excellent point.

    This is a great article Hoofin, keep it up and keep talking about this issue.
    One thing you DO lack however, is actual knowledge of what goes on inside Japanese schools and Board of Eds in regards to teaching methodology. But that doesnt really change anything you’ve said in this article. You are absolutely right that it is NOT difficult to do a direct hire ALT placement. They happen all the time when and if the school/BOE chooses.

    can’t wait to read more.

  4. Ken44 · January 17, 2011

    —- You are absolutely right that it is NOT difficult to do a direct hire ALT placement. They happen all the time when and if the school/BOE chooses.—

    Right but a good many don’t and this is what a lot of gaijins can’t seem to grasp. It really doesn’t matter what gaijins think may or may not work best in the classroom it’s what the Japanese think and it’s their show.

  5. Kei · January 18, 2011

    That’s the point of what I said. They happen only if and when a school chooses.
    Not as part of any federal regulation of teachers which is what Hoofin is upset about. But hoofin doesn’t really understand education in Japan. He’s on the right track with the “we don’t actually want our kids to learn” stuff. He just needs to focus his energies on that problem instead of ALTs, no matter how they get hired.

  6. Pingback: Japan news: Is the Education Ministry cleaning up English teaching … | TEFL Japan
  7. A teacher · February 27, 2011

    Seems to me it’s not Hoofin that needs to do anything. Japan needs to decide whether or not it wants children to learn English. Solving the issues so that capable English speakers who can teach – irrespective of their ethnicity – will indicate that they have decided “yes”. Anything less suggests they’ve selected “no”. In the meantime, gaijin must be honest with themselves about the deal as it is – once they’re off the plane and can see that it isn’t what the recruitment brochure said (there’s legislation to allow one to sue for costs for that somewhere, isn’t there?) – and decide whether it’s something they’re prepared to accept.

    I have faith in the market, but as long as gaijin insulate Japan from the consequences of their blatant abuse of their own labour legislation by continuing to put up with it, or by stepping in to “solve Japan’s problem”, there’s only so much the market can do.

    • hoofin · February 28, 2011

      A teacher says:

      Seems to me it’s not Hoofin that needs to do anything.

      You’re right, I do not have to do anything. In the end, it’s not my problem.

    • Kei · March 1, 2011

      Disagree. If he’s going to address a real problem and point fingers, he should at least do it in the right direction.

      • hoofin · March 2, 2011

        Kei, JET does not solve anything, and it isn’t the ideal solution to the English problems in Japan.

        Remember: not just gaijin, JET-TO gaijin

        • Kei · March 2, 2011

          Why do you. Keep. Saying. That it’s JET’s responsibility to FIX the Japanese education system? ?? JET is not MEANT to be a “solution” because Japan won’t even address that it has a problem!!!!!!!!!

          • hoofin · March 4, 2011

            Kei, it’s all getting circular to me and you are losing me. My “talking point” is that JET should be reformed and made into more of a Teach for Japan program. They need to dump the idea of “exchange”, which is silly at this point.

  8. ken44 · February 28, 2011

    —Seems to me it’s not Hoofin that needs to do anything. Japan needs to decide whether or not it wants children to learn English. Solving the issues so that capable English speakers who can teach – irrespective of their ethnicity – will indicate that they have decided “yes”. Anything less suggests they’ve selected “no”. —–

    And the answer is a resounding no! I don`t understand why gaijins often ask this when it`s obvious the Japanese like the way things are.

    • hoofin · February 28, 2011

      I think that the Japanese who are well-situated and have power like the fact that they can get English instruction for their children, but others can’t.

      • Kei · March 1, 2011

        Interesting take, but I think the reality is somewhere amongst the ever diminishing amount of Japanese youth who want to leave the country.

        It’s not just English education in Japan that lacks in internationally minded focus.

        • hoofin · March 2, 2011

          Are the numbers going down because the numbers of young people are going down? Or is it in percentage terms?

          • Kei · March 2, 2011

            It’s in percentage terms in some places and actual amounts in others. One interesting stat was the number of Japanese students accepted into Harvard.

            • hoofin · March 4, 2011

              It could just be that Harvard is a lot more competitive than it was before. I know Penn is,
              (and not that it wasn’t in the 1980’s.) Just being a loudmouth jerk-off from Long Island, Westchester or Greenwich doesn’t get you in anymore.

  9. Kei · March 4, 2011

    Nah, Harvard still accepts the same amount of overseas candidates every year (about 150 or something). Of that number, last year about 30 came from China, 30 from Korea, and….. 7 came from japan. (As opposed to what used to be about 20 students from each of those 3 countries not long ago). So the rest of Asia is going up, and Japan is going down.

  10. Kei · March 4, 2011

    Okay, those numbers are totally not real…. but were reported in the Japanese newspaper earlier this month….?

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