Government test reveals huge gap in proficiency of third-year middle schoolers.
It hasn’t been a good month for English education in Japan. Just last week came news of the poor English skills of junior high teachers in Kyoto, and now a nationwide survey has brought back some less-than-encouraging data about the English proficiency of junior high students themselves.
Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology recently tested the English listening, speaking, and reading skills of roughly 60,000 third-year junior high students across Japan. When their scores for the three section of the test were aggregated, only between 20 to 30 percent of the students were found to meet the English proficiency standards set by the ministry for junior high graduates.
While that’s a startling low figure, a possible flaw in the research procedure immediately jumps out. The students who were tested are currently still in their third, and final, year of junior high school, meaning that those who already meet the standards for junior high school graduates are technically progressing ahead of schedule in their foreign language studies.
What’s perhaps the bigger problem, though, is found not in the overall results, but in the data from the test’s writing section. While approximately half of the students already showed graduate-level skill in this area, about 20 percent of the students scored a zero on the test’s writing section.
In regards to only 20 to 30 percent of the students meeting the overall standards, it’s hard to definitively say if the problem lies with ineffective instruction, unrealistically high standards, or some combination of the two. On the other hand, roughly one in five students not being able to score a single point on the writing portion seems like a pretty clear indicator that new teaching methods need to be adopted. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology has said that it will be encouraging schools to have students practice writing emails in English. That’s probably the most relatable writing format for students to work with, and while it may not be the loftiest type of document to produce, it’s better than nothing, and any step up from zero is a big one.