Editorial on ELTNEWS.com
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We're finally getting back into the swing of things after the new year holiday, and as we do I wanted to put down some initial thoughts about a few of the issues facing ELT in Japan this year. As the year progresses we will be looking at these issues in more depth through specially-commissioned articles, but for today I'd like to quickly throw out some questions and thoughts, playing Devil's Advocate in many cases.

1) Should all English teachers working in Japan should have an internationally- recognized minimum qualification?
The bankruptcy of NOVA and GEOS and other two-arms-two-legs-OK language schools provides the opportunity for a system where all foreign teachers in Japan are required to have CELTA or equivalent. We should finally get serious, do away with shallow concepts of "internationalization" and actually get down to the job of improving the effectiveness of English language teaching and learning in Japan.

(Many famous course book authors don't have specific ELT-related qualifications and many great teachers who have made their lives here don't have them. A new army of CELTA + qualified teachers in Japan wouldn't make any difference -- these qualifications are meaningless bits of paper which don't show a person's true worth.)

Why is it that in Japan, which loves tests and qualifications, can anyone, no matter how inexperienced, be put into a classroom without a relevant piece of paper to their name? And the students don't seem to mind.

(Japanese students just need conversation to activate what they learnt at school, so any "nice" native English speaker will do. Introducing such a scheme would be impractical and destroy the business models of many eikaiwa large and small as wages would have to increase due to a decrease in the supply of teachers.)

2) Should there be a system for recognition of language schools that meet certain quality requirements?
In the same way that taxi drivers in Tokyo have A and AA rankings (something I've personally benefited from), there should be something similar for English schools and an independent body should promote the benefits of attending schools that are recognized.

(That's a socialist solution that stifles creativity and progress. Many schools have learning systems and approaches that might not be "approved" but are effective. And in the end, the market will decide and the market has decided. Language schools that required qualified teachers, provided a professional atmosphere with many opportunities for professional development and offered well-thought lessons for students have all failed: the British Council Cambridge English Schools, Stanton and ILC all failed in the 90s. The Cambridge exams have no relevance here. David English House closed down.)

Yes, but the level of English in Japan has not improved and won't until we start taking ELT seriously and demand improved standards and students / consumers should have some kind of quality-control system provided for them.

3) The JET scheme should be abolished.
See (1). This is just a huge waste of money that is a fop to "internationalization". If the goal is to improve English and expand the cultural horizons of Japanese people, then spending the money to train Japanese English teachers instead is clearly the right thing to do. Whilst many JET teachers have a great time and go on to do good things, the scheme itself is ineffective.

(JET is about more than just English -- the benefits are reaped on many other levels -- and why not just provide proper training to JETs for the English part?)

4) Japanese English teachers should have an internationally-recognized minimum qualification.
The stories of JETs being used as human tape recorders have been circulating for decades. Will this change? Only if both the JETs and the Japanese teachers are on the same page about what needs to be done in the classroom. A qualification for both foreign and Japanese English teachers in Japan is required.

5) Are we any closer to finding out what works?
Are we able to draw any conclusions about what works? With all the conferences and publications and books and tests, are we any closer to a set of approaches that have been PROVEN to work than we were 20 years ago?

(There are too many variables, asking for a evidence for the effectiveness of an approach or course is naive.)

So those are some thoughts designed to stimulate some thinking on these issues -- let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

What other issues facing ELT in Japan should we cover?


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If I may briefly respond to the position that qualifications like the CELTA are apparently meaningless, I would say that the vast majority of the 400 + people we've trained to that, and higher standards, would disagree, especially as many go on to work elsewhere in the world where such qualifications are not only appreciated but a pre-requisite for employment. Indeed, many find the CELTA is the launch of a 'bigger and better' career in ELT and related fields. Of course, that's not always the case, and it is the person behind the qualification, not just the qualification itself that is vitally important, as in any profession. It may well be the people who don't have such qualifications that feel they "are meaningless bits of paper", but those that have worked damned hard to get them only rarely feel that to be the case - at least, that's what I've found in my 25-year experience in professional ELT teacher training.

Geoff Rupp,
President, Language Resources

I have gained a certified TEFL certificate and an engineering degree and both were full of tough stuff but generally pretty useless for the real world. I worked as an ALT and the TEFL certificate didn't prepare me for more than 1% of the challenges that I faced. I'd say we need a qualification that certifies your general abilities as an English speaker and your general good qualities like reliability not some academic qualification. International organisations should recognise general ability qualifications.

Michael, which TEFL certificate did you get and what did you have to do to get it? There are a LOT of scam courses out there, and if you took one of those, I can well believe that it didn't prepare you for the chalkface. If it was a reputable TEFL certificate (and there are very few of those) and it didn't prepare you properly then that is something that is well worth looking at in more detail. There's no point in having qualified teachers if their qualifications aren't relevant to the task at hand.

English as Esperanto? Isn't it generally more motivating (and therefore effective) to learn English in a cultural context?

Whenever the issue of certification/qualification is perceptibly over-stressed when teaching English is concerned, I always feel the urge to counter the erroneous belief that qualification or certification makes a better teacher.

From my personal experiences working at different academic levels in Japan and other Asian countries, I realize that good teachers are products of self-determination and opportunism. I have a TESOL Certificate, a Bachelor's and currently working on my Master's, I still feel that I achieve much by self-motivation rather than relying on the hard and fast rules prescribed by our education.

Very well said Jerry! I agree with you on all points.

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