Editorial on ELTNEWS.com
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At first sight, it would seem that the language school industry in Japan is in free fall. Nova and Geos, two of the big four language schools that have dominated the industry for the last fifteen years, have both collapsed. Geos and Nova between them had 1,400 schools at their peak, and less than 500 have been taken over by G.communication. The Ministry of Trade and Industry says enrollment at language schools has dropped from 826,858 students in February 2006 to 335,604 this year.

But do these figures paint a true picture of the industry? It is certainly true that corporate ELT has declined rapidly. There is also little doubt that the number of adults studying at language schools is a shadow of what it was in the 1990's before the bubble burst, but there is every sign that ELT still has a lot of life in it at a local level.

There are far more children learning English at language schools than there were fifteen years ago, but while adults were willing to travel a reasonable distance to study at a school with a glossy sign in a prime location, many parents prefer their children to study as near home as possible. This is one of the factors that has led to the proliferation of small family-run schools. Another is that the large chain schools are outsiders in the community and have found it increasingly hard to compete with the local teacher who is known in the community and may have children at the local schools.

Where are all these local teachers coming from? There are over 5 times as many permanent residents now as there were in 1997! Another fundamental change began when the visa laws were changed in 1998 to allow native speakers to teach independently. This completely changed the rules of the game. Native English teachers were no longer obliged to work for one school in order to get a visa. The collapse of Nova accelerated this trend - some teachers who lost their jobs went independent - and the collapse of Geos will undoubtedly contribute to the same trend.

ETJ (English Teachers in Japan) alone boasts close to 1,500 small school owners as members, and the number is growing all the time. It is unlikely that many of the students at these schools are included in the Ministry's figures. A new wave of English schools is coming. They are in the community, and they are tapping into the Japanese tradition of learning from the local sensei.

David Paul

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I hope local English teachers can forge a niche in the market and succeed. I agree that teachers within the community can be more meaningful for students' English education.

Having a small English classroom in my own home, I've noticed the biggest competition over the past 5 years or so has been the jukus (cram schools). They are now bundling courses and convincing mothers that little Mariko-chan must take their English classes in addition to the regular math and Japanese classes.

I think your new E-quality venture has a lot to offer the small independent teacher/ school owner in terms of information, training and support. Thanks for getting it started.


Your commentary is spot on!

David Juteau

I've been curious for some time on what the motivation was for the immigration policy change that allowed foreigners to work independently in Japan.

I seriously doubt the change was meant to benefit the teachers (a silver lining after all), but rather, I'm only guessing, it was for the benefit of the large companies which from 1998 were free to eliminate all the full time contracts along with the even then water-downed benefits and thus operate with more "efficiency".

I'd appreciate it if anyone could confirm or correct my suspicions.


I agree with your assessment.

It likely in part is the success of the small schools that contributed to the fall of those corporate schools.

If you were a prospective student, would you prefer to go to a school where the teachers care about quality, have years of experience, and choose to behave because they intend on being a long term member of the community, or would you prefer a teacher just out of college with no experience and who only is teaching you so they can site see for a year before starting their "real life"? Also, would you want to pay for a year's worth of classes upfront at 20%+ more to get that teacher with no experience?

"fewer" not "less than 500"

I learned that teaching Side-by-Side.

Looking back 12 years ago when I started teaching at "eikaiwa" schools, there were already signs the collapse of some or all of the big corporate schools was in the making! I remember then welcoming a small but steady number of students back from what they called disastrous adventures with the NOVAS and GEOS(es?) of the day. Exorbitant upfront payments for yawning holiday makers!etc...That was good news then for me personally, and it's no bad news in the long run for the learners and the countrywide community schools. Complacency could have killed the big schools. The challenge is on for the community schools and private owners to be aware of the same now that the tide has changed in their favour.

In my area, adult learners are turning toward private English classes offered by native English speakers. Or to their local Int'l Relations Assoc. Language classes for various reasons,staying local and paying at lower cost maybe a few of those reasons.
David made some really good points on the status of English schools.

What interested me about recent student number statistics that appeared to show the decline of English learning in Japan was that they took little or no account of student numbers at small independent schools, meaning that the government either know or want to know little about us.

Why has it been allowed to continue this far ?

Is that situation going to continue for the foreseeable future ?

If the government were to officially recognise 'us' at some stage, what will that mean in terms of regulation ?

These are questions that I'd love to hear others views on.

Moreover, how much do the government know about ETJ and ELT News ?


Schools that have collapsed have done so due to bad management. There is nothing wrong with the language school industry in Japan. There never has been.

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