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May 19, 2005

Kurobe Aims for English Zone Status

A Toyama Prefecture city is aiming to be the first in the region to acquire special zone status to introduce English to the elementary school curriculum, according to the Chunichi Shimbun. The city of Kurobe hopes to receive approval as one of the government's deregulatory zones by the next school year. The deregulatory plan started in 2003 and, as of April this year, 46 cities and municipalities nationwide have acquired the "structural reform special zone" status related to English teaching. Approaches vary from introducing simple English songs and games at the lowest grades to total English immersion programs.

Kurobe is home to the YKK manufacturing company, best known for its zippers. With plants worldwide, the company sends many employees overseas. As a result, Kurobe has many children who are considered "kikoku shijo" or returnees, who often have quite different language learning needs. This year, there are over thirty such students at both the elementary and middle school age. The city's education chief, Shouzo Honda says, "We want to have children with everyday English conversation ability by the time they finish junior high school." With the extra burden the plan would place on elementary school teachers, the city will employ native English speaking ALTs to assist them. To help offset the additional expense, it is hoped that locals with experience using English abroad or former English teachers will also volunteer.

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