Japan: Teachers, parents at odds on early English

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Fri Jun 1 13:15:18 UTC 2007

Teachers, parents at odds on early English

Eiichiro Matsumoto Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

While nearly 80 percent of parents are in favor of education ministry
plans to make English compulsory for primary school students, nearly 60
percent of teachers are opposed, according to two related surveys by a
major education services company. In April last year, a panel on
foreign-language education under the Central Council for Education, an
advisory body to the education, science and technology minister, proposed
making English compulsory starting from fifth-year students. Following the
move, Benesse Corp. conducted two surveys between July and October: one on
about 4,700 parents of students at 31 public primary schools nationwide;
and the other on about 3,500 public primary school teachers.

The survey of parents showed that a large majority of respondents were in
favor of the change--35.2 percent said they strongly agreed with the
proposal and 41.2 percent tended to agree. Just 14 percent disagreed or
tended to disagree. Asked about the timing for starting classes, parents'
responses suggested they thought the sooner, the better. The first year of
primary school was the grade chosen by 47.8 percent of the respondents,
followed by the third year, chosen by 13.5 percent. The survey of
teachers, meanwhile, showed that only 8.7 percent of them in clear
agreement with the proposal to make English compulsory at the primary
school level, with 28.1 percent agreeing on balance. Of responding
teachers, 56.9 percent of them disagreed or leaned toward disagreement
with the proposal.

The survey also asked teachers who worked at schools that already offered
some form of English lessons--for example, as part of general studies
classes--to point out issues their schools were facing in conducting such
lessons. In multiple-choice answers, 40.6 percent indicated that problems
were apparent in "the English abilities of the teachers who taught it."
"Lack of time for preparation and development of the necessary teaching
materials" was chosen by 38.2 percent, while 32.9 percent pointed out that
"no curriculum had been developed for teaching" English at primary school.
The survey asked senior teachers who supervised the overall education of
their respective schools to answer the questions. When asked if their
colleagues in charge of English education seemed burdened by the
assignment of teaching English, 54.8 percent of respondents said they
found their colleagues did feel some kind of burden.

Their answers suggest that primary school teachers feel they lack the
resources needed to teach the language. At Japanese primary schools,
homeroom teachers usually teach their assigned classes most of the
subjects they study. Therefore, should English be made compulsory, it is
likely that homeroom teachers will be expected to teach English in
addition to such subjects as Japanese and mathematics because there is an
insufficient number of native-speaking assistants employed. Kensaku
Yoshida, a professor of applied linguistics at Sophia University who was
among the experts involved in the surveys, pointed out that primary school
teachers were generally not confident about teaching English to students.

"Primary school teachers feel anxious that they will face a larger burden
should English be made compulsory without the implementation of measures
to support them," said the professor, who also serves as a member of the
panel on foreign-language education under the Central Council for
Education. "It's crucial for the ministry and local boards of education to
secure enough training time for the teachers and offer them instruction on
various themes, including how to use teaching materials." Regarding such
materials, a ministry official pointed to the need to consider a range of
materials. "Taking into account the pronunciation skills of primary school
teachers, the development of audio materials using CDs and videos should
also be under consideration," the official said.



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