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July 11, 2003

All-English School a Hit

A school in Ota, Gunma Prefecture, that will offer most classes in English has been swamped with inquiries from across the nation from parents eager to enroll their children there. The 12-year public-private school, tentatively called "Ota International Academy" is set to open in April 2005. It will accept applications this fall. Successful applicants are required to attend a preparatory school from April 2004 to become familiar with English education.

The town has already received 150 inquiries over the last month, 90 of which came from other areas. The school will give priority to children in Ota and if there is still room it will admit those from other areas, said Takashi Uehara, chief of the policy section at the municipal government. "There will be no entrance exams, and we will select entrants through interviews with children and their parents." It was Mayor Masayoshi Shimizu who hit upon the idea of establishing the school when the chairman of a famous manufacturer had told him that "Even if a company is top in production capacity, you cannot be a leader at international conferences unless you speak English. It's a handicap to be unable to speak English."

In recent years, foreign assistant language teachers (ALTs) have been teaching at schools across Japan. But Shimizu said there are many flaws with the ALT system. "ALTs are part-timers under short-term contracts, performance cannot be verified. The problem is the system does not want them to take responsibility." The mayor thought it was better to remove barriers in the system and hit upon the idea of creating a school where full-time foreign teachers teach in English. The town has also received inquiries from teachers in Japan and overseas who are interested in working at the school. Uehara quoted a teacher as saying, "I've long had questions about English education in Japan. I want to be employed because I feel I can teach as I like."

There is criticism that the annual tuition fee of ¥600,000 is a bit steep, but he mayor disagrees. "Why do they feel that ¥600,000 is high for a school, although they are paying ¥50,000 per month for daycare? I was told by a grandfather in the neighborhood that he wants his grandchild to be educated at the school with his pension." He added, "If there are children who cannot enter the school because there are too many applicants, one more school can be established."

Eugene Cooper, a space engineer at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, who used to teach at the Ashikaga Institute of Technology, is expected to become the school principal. (Kyodo News)

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