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March 31, 2004

English Education Reform Zones Steaming Ahead

Among the latest batch of 95 government-approved structural reform zones officially announced last week are eight cities and towns which proposed plans related to English education: Kakuda, Miyagi Prefecture; Mito, Ibaraki Pref.; Koriyama, Fukushima Pref.; Nara, Nara Pref.; Kanazawa, Ishikawa Pref.; Shimosuwa, Nagano Pref.; Ikeda, Osaka Pref.; Urasoe, Okinawa Pref. Most are based on integrating English into the elementary school curriculum. In Urasoe City, English will be introduced from the first grade at all public elementary schools, for 1 or 2 hours a week. In the case of Nara, there is also an emphasis on it's reputation as a World Heritage site. Mito City will include English as part of play activities at kindergartens.

Meanwhile in the Gunma Prefecture city of Ota, the very first approved reform zone, a new English-language cram school is due to start from April 1. The school will help students prepare for a new integrated school set to open in April 2005. Despite worries that a school which teaches all classes – except Japanese – in English would not be viable, there has been a lot of demand for places and teaching jobs. 224 students sat the entrance exam for the 150 places at the cram school (90 first grade, 60 third grade) and 82 people have applied for the 10 teaching posts at the proposed school. One possible remaining obstacle is the issue of textbooks, which must be appproved by the education ministry. Officials at the proposed school have opted to translate previously approved texts.

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