Japan: Parents more keen on kids' language learning

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Wed Jan 26 17:12:45 UTC 2005

>>From the Daily Yomiuri,

Educational Renaissance--Parents more keen on kids' language learning

Yomiuri Shimbun

Parents who no longer find the conventional education system satisfactory
are seeking new teaching settings for children. Their attempts apparently
have been sparked by recent reports on declining academic abilities of
Japanese children, increasing international competition, together with
children's fragile mental health. How will Japan be able to rebuild its
educational structure? This is the first installment of a series reporting
on changes in the nation's educational scenes. Some parents in Japan, with
no particular international experience, are seeking more international
learning environments for their children. Their goal is to provide their
children with greater foreign-language skills.

Hidenori Maeda, 41, a company employee from Sagamihara, Kanagawa
Prefecture, in spring purchased a second-hand condominium in Ota, Gunma
Prefecture. He managed to take out a 7 million yen loan from the fourth
bank he consulted, so that his eldest daughter, 6, could commute to a
private school in Ota. His 39-year-old wife and their younger daughter, 4,
also will move to Ota.  Only Maeda plans to stay in Sagamihara and commute
to work from there, as he also has to continue paying for the loan on
their first house.

The Gunma Kokusai Academy, designed by the municipality of Ota, using the
system of government designated special zone for structural reform is a
school to offer a 12-year education at combined primary, middle and high
schools. The new school, which will formally open in April, uses English
immersion teaching, in which all the classes except for Japanese, social
studies and first- and second-grade ethics classes will be taught in
English. The school currently offers preparatory classes for those
planning to enter the school to get used to the English-speaking

Of the 108 children, 20 will attend the school from outside Gunma
Prefecture, including Maeda's daughter. They participate in preparatory
classes held on weekends. Maeda spends three hours every weekend driving
his wife and two daughters to and from the classes. "It feels like taking
part in a pilot project," he said. "My daughter won't need to take
entrance examinations until she applies for universities. In that way, we
won't need to send her to a cram school or an English conversation school
on the side. This isn't a bad deal."

According to a survey conducted last year by Video Research Ltd., 14.7
percent of about 300 children, aged from 3 to 6, go to an English-language
learning center, three times more children than five years ago. Supported
by strong requests from parents, more municipalities have begun placing a
bigger significance on English classes in primary schools. Many private
schools now uphold the policy of English immersion teaching for their
primary school curriculum.

Linden Hall Elementary School in Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture, which opened
last year, is another private school that has attracted applicants from
outside the prefecture for its English immersion teaching.

A 40-year-old company employee of Suginami Ward, Tokyo, plans to have his
daughter attend the school starting this spring.

Since his company headquarters is in Fukuoka Prefecture, he also plans to
ask for a transfer. His wife and children will move before him.

Their eldest daughter began taking English conversation lessons at age 2
and attended a U.S. summer school with her mother at age 4. She now goes
to a kindergarten affiliate of an international school.

His 37-year-old wife said, "We want to help her English language ability
continue to grow."

Summer schools or homestays overseas, like this Tokyo family have
attended, are popular.

JTB Group, which includes one of the nation's leading travel agencies,
entered the market of short-term study abroad tours in autumn, which are
designed for parents and children to travel together.

An official of another travel agency said more high school students began
participating in homestay tours 10 years ago, while the number of middle
school students taking such tours started growing five years ago. Now more
than half of such tour participants are primary school students.

But parents' expectations are not only for English language.

Yokohama Overseas Chinese School in Yokohama plans to accept 36 students
this spring, and nine of them have parents who are both Japanese.

Applications from children who have no direct family relations with
Chinese have rapidly increased over recent years. The school for the first
time conducted a selection test in autumn last year.

Harumi Sakai, 34, whose 7-year-old son has attended the school since last
spring, moved from the Tama district in Tokyo to be closer to the school.

Although the school is primarily designed for Chinese children living in
Japan, Sakai thinks the environment would better offer her son
opportunities to gain valuable experiences.

The school, which offers primary through high school education, gives
classes all in Chinese except for Japanese and English-language classes.

Even first-grade students have six classes every day. Students learn both
Chinese and English, which apparently is another attractive part of the
school for parents.

The parents in this story cited their own experiences overseas as why they
choose these schools for their children.

They said their own experiences made them feel strongly that their
children need to achieve foreign-language skills.

Maeda related a story of his wife becoming sick when traveling overseas
and being helped by locals.

The father who plans to send the daughter to Linden Hall Elementary School
remembered the time he could not continue a conversation in English when
having a meal with people he met during a business trip overseas.

Sakai's husband works for a trading firm and they have many friends from
Singapore. But nobody in the families has actual experience living abroad.


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