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January 13, 2014

Japan | Opinion | Education

Japan: A course of action for English education

tokyo-classroom.jpg
There is plenty of debate happening in Japan with regard to the government's stated plans to yet again overhaul the English language education system.

Last week’s Learning Curve column, “English fluency hopes rest on an education overhaul,” looked at the persistent mismatch between the education ministry’s stated goals and the actual outcomes of English language education in Japan.

With that in mind, this week’s article features scholars, parents and native English-speaking teachers offering their ideas on how to produce greater numbers of fluent English speakers in the country.

Top of the TEAP

Underlying the low levels of English-speaking ability in Japan is the administration of the university entrance exam — the National Center Test for University Admissions — which does not include speaking or writing. At present, the exam’s English portion consists of an 80-minute reading-based section and a 30-minute listening-based one. After the National Center Test, applicants take university-specific exams of which there are more than 1,000 (with varying levels of English requirements).

Because the Japanese education system is a “degree-ocracy,” in which the path to university acceptance and graduation is believed to determine any success thereafter, teachers teach to these entrance examinations. Absent the presence of speaking and writing sections, the general population of students are unlikely to learn these skills.

Professor Paul Underwood of Toyo Eiwa University hopes that universities will consider offering the Test of English for Academic Purposes (TEAP) exam in addition to their own. Created last year by the Eiken Foundation of Japan in conjunction with Sophia University, it is geared toward native Japanese speakers and includes speaking and writing sections.

Alternatively, Robert Aspinall, a professor at Shiga University and author of the 2012 book “International Education Policy in Japan in an Age of Globalisation and Risk,” believes that, like the A-level examination system in Britain, only advanced students should sit for English exams that test for all four English skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening. This will ensure that at least a handful of students are “not just passively studying English like it’s a dead language.”

Read the full article from The Japan Times.

Photo: Yoshiaki Miura, The Japan Times

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