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September 03, 2004

In Defense of Eikaiwa

Tony DePrato

What is Eikaiwa?
In Japan, Eikaiwa is the Japanese name given to the English Conversation Schools which exist through out the entire country. These schools are privately owned for-profit-organizations.

What are some examples of Eikaiwa companies?
As of 2004, the largest and most popular Eikaiwa schools are Nova, ECC, GEOS, and. AEON. However, there are numerous other smaller schools which exist in almost every average sized community in Japan.

What are the main criticisms of the Eikaiwa industry?
There are many ways to approach this topic. Alls schools are slightly different, but there are some similarities. Looking at the topic of criticism from an educational perspective is the path I have chosen for this essay.

Eikaiwa schools have no formal way to certify or accredit themselves. They also do not keep or make public records regarding student performance. In fact many students simply study as a hobby and do not care about their overall education. Therefore the schools are usually considered to be 59% Entertainment and 41% Education.

To reflect this fact, most schools will hire anyone meeting the very basic requirements set forth by the Japanese Government. These requirements are:

  1. A Passport from a native English speaking country
  2. English must be the individuals first language
  3. A BA of any type from an accredited college

This hardly qualifies someone to be a competent teacher or even mentor to students of English.

Finally, most of the people managing Eikaiwa schools and developing curriculums do not have a background in education. Many of them are Japanese nationals or former Eikaiwa teachers. Their resumes usually include ESL training in the form of certifications earned within Japan. These certifications are not transferable to the United States (I do not know about other countries), and they cannot be used to apply for US teaching certificates.

As an educational professional, how can you defend this type of industry?
Eikaiwa itself cannot be defended, but teachers within the system need a positive voice. They should not be stereotyped and pigeonholed in a negative context for working at an Eikaiwa school. As a matter of fact, Eikaiwa teachers probably can manage classes and develop materials better than most "professional teachers", if those said teachers have been working in a good Eikaiwa environment. Not to mention the fact that their (Eikaiwa teachers) communication skills and ability to work cross-culturally far exceed that of most people- regardless of industry or profession. To push forward this point, focused needs to be shifted to those who are criticizing the Eikaiwa system: The Institutions of the United States Educational System at home and abroad.

How different are they?
There are numerous books, essays, documentaries, etc, which document the incredible faults of the United States Education system. Some of the books which I have personally studied include:

  1. "Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools", by Jonathan Kozol
  2. "The Book of Learning and Forgetting", by Frank Smith
  3. "Experience And Education ", by John Dewey
  4. "The Children's Machine: Rethinking School In The Age Of The Computer ", by Seymour Papert
  5. "Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation ", by Don Tapscott

These books all address similar problems: teachers who have degrees and certification, but seemingly cannot teach or hate teaching; poor administration with little or no training in educational administration; improperly managed projects and budgets due to a lack of proper professional training; and finally curriculums which are not designed for the students, but often dictated by text books and text book companies.

When put side-by-side the US Public Education System and the Japanese Eikaiwa School System are very similar.

It is true that to get a job in the US a schoolteacher must possess a degree that demonstrates a completion of specific course work and a teaching certificate in one or more areas of expertise. However, this clearly does not mean the teacher is prepared to teach. Why? Because the teacher was probably educated in the same poor education system which they are now working in.

So does this mean that all public school teachers in the United States or US accredited international schools are bad teachers? Of course not! The same is true about Eikaiwa teachers.

The point of this essay is not to truly defend Eikaiwa. It is to help organizations outside of the Eikaiwa system to understand how to tell the difference between a teacher who is a professional working in Eikaiwa and one who is simply working in Japan.

So how can an organization know the difference between these two types of Eikaiwa teachers?
There are many skilled people working in Eikaiwa who have the proper teaching credentials and education to move in "mainstream education", but many US accredited schools will not count Eikaiwa teaching as experience. Therefore, good teachers often get passed over for others who have been working in traditional environments. If you are an organization who has in the past not accepted Eikaiwa teaching experience, please carefully read the list of candidate questions you should have asked or should be asking in the future.

Class Planning

  1. Did you prepare your own lessons? If so, how much time were you given per week to develop materials etc?
  2. Was your curriculum strictly dictated or was it flexible?
  3. Were you allowed to help plan the curriculum based on the needs of students?
  4. As a teacher what resources did you have available for planning classes and making materials?

Class Structure

  1. Did you teach the same classes every week with the same students?
  2. How long was each class and how many times a month did most students come?
  3. Were you allowed to assign homework or special work for students with unique problems?
  4. How many students were in each class and how were those students selected for those classes?
  5. How long did the average student study at your school: one year, two years etc?
  6. Did your school have special classes for grammar, pronunciation, business communication, etc?
  7. How were your lessons structured? For example: A different topic each week; a reinforcement-based system which spanned a week, month etc; open structure with very little preparation; topics were student driven; or the textbook(s) determined the order.

Training and Development

  1. Did your school cover the cost of and provide time for you to attend seminars or certification courses?
  2. Did you have regular staff meetings with the entire school, including management and Japanese staff?
  3. Did your school encourage and support your studying of the Japanese Language?
  4. Did you have fairly regular conversations with students or the guardians of students concerning their education?

School Reform and Change

  1. Was it possible to for you to create and or change an existing school policy by going through the proper channels? If so how long would you say a fairly simple change would take to be implemented?
  2. Did you have regular access to all school administrators and personnel?
  3. Were you given time to work on school projects, such as curriculum development, during working hours?
  4. Were students who misbehaved in anyway scolded by the school or even removed from the school?

If an individual has been working at an Eikaiwa school that was focused on education, then most of the questions will be answered "Yes + details". In my experience, the entertainment-based schools do not allow teachers very much freedom. And those schools do not in anyway support training and development outside of their own proprietary environments. Therefore, teachers from entertainment based schools will answer "No +details" to most of these questions or "Yes + very sparse or shallow details".

As someone who is at least well educated in and well read in the realm of education and theory, I beckon to all organizations to consider these questions as a test of a former Eikaiwa teacher's experience. Please do not assume that all people and schools are the same. Consider the uniqueness of what an individual may have done with their lives.

And then consider that the most important thing is that a new member of any group be walking the same path as the entire organization. It should not matter if they are wearing different shoes.

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