Were the expectations for Japanese English teachers to high…two high…too high?
After Tokyo won its Olympic bid for the 2020 games back in 2014, Japan has been on a language crusade to increase the English level of its citizens. This mission is not entirely new, as Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology had already mandated English classes to be included in 5th and 6th grade. These classes focus on communication and “fun time” over actual English language learning, and are listed as “Foreign Language class” on the schedule rather than English. Their current plan of action has “Foreign Language class” commencing for elementary students in the 3rd grade, with 5th and 6th grade English transforming into a regular class with a set curriculum including testing.
In order to accomplish this, teachers of English will have to be at a certain proficiency in order to convey all the necessary knowledge to their students. Kyoto decided to check in on their middle school English teachers (7th-9th grade) by asking them to take the Test Of English for International Communication (TOEIC) which assesses the everyday English skills of people working in an international environment. The test was taken by 74 teachers, but it seems like the results were not good enough to muster a passing grade.
▼ “How’d we do on the test, superintendent?”
“Not good…not good at all.”
The Kyoto Board of Education was hoping that all their teachers would achieve a mark of at least 730 out of 990, which corresponds to meeting most social demands and limited work requirements in a business setting. Unfortunately, only 16 of their teachers were able to pass that mark. Perhaps even worse was the fact that 14 teachers couldn’t surpass a score of 500 and the lowest recorded score was 280, which is about the average score for the students they would be teaching.
There are still a little under three years before the world flocks to Japan to watch the Olympic Games, so there is still time to boost the English level across the country. Perhaps the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology should start by improving the level of English teachers as well as students. We’ve long professed our frustrations with English education in Japan, so perhaps a new idea is necessary to train both teachers and students for 2020 and beyond if the country truly wants to improve its English skills.