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January 31, 2003

Assessing Japan's English Strategy

The Education section of yesterday's Guardian newspaper assessed the chances of success for reforms in Japan's official approach to English-language teaching. It mentioned the English Strategy Initiative released by the education ministry last summer. Including 30 "action programmes" designed to raise English standards in schools, the plan calls for more testing of speaking and listening abilities, for both students and teachers. However, as ELT News contributor Rob Waring was quoted as observing, "they still haven't addressed the structural problems. The programme has to be introduced in tandem with teachers and textbook writers, and that's a huge wagon to have to drag along." The article gave a broad overview of the changes currently afoot and the obstacles ahead.

The Guardian also carried several stories about ELT in Asia. According to research commissioned by the South Korean education ministry, teaching English to infants may result in stress rather than learning, and a lack of proper training means that the 64% of Korean children studying English at kindergarten are receiving "ineffectual" lessons; Thailand TESOL, which recently held its annual conference, "has been commended for being a low-cost, dynamic organisation and for having developed 'organically', in the annual awards for assisting sustainable growth run by the charity Worldaware;" and the Hong Kong government has announced plans for the testing of primary and secondary-school students, to assess biliterate and trilingual ability at five key stages, that education advisers claim will enable people to "face up to the reality of their language skills."

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