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Kyoto Board of Education administers English test for teachers with disheartening results

20 Comments
By KK Miller, RocketNews24

After Tokyo won its Olympic bid for the 2020 Games back in 2013, Japan has been on a language crusade to increase the English level of its citizens. This mission is not entirely new, as Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology had already mandated English classes to be included in 5th and 6th grade. These classes focus on communication and “fun time” over actual English language learning, and are listed as “Foreign Language class” on the schedule rather than English. Their current plan of action has “Foreign Language class” commencing for elementary students in the 3rd grade, with 5th and 6th grade English transforming into a regular class with a set curriculum including testing.

In order to accomplish this, teachers of English will have to be at a certain proficiency in order to convey all the necessary knowledge to their students. Kyoto decided to check in on their middle school English teachers (7th-9th grade) by asking them to take the Test Of English for International Communication (TOEIC) which assesses the everyday English skills of people working in an international environment. The test was taken by 74 teachers, but it seems like the results were not good enough to muster a passing grade.

he Kyoto Board of Education was hoping that all their teachers would achieve a mark of at least 730 out of 990, which corresponds to meeting most social demands and limited work requirements in a business setting. Unfortunately, only 16 of their teachers were able to pass that mark. Perhaps even worse was the fact that 14 teachers couldn’t surpass a score of 500 and the lowest recorded score was 280, which is about the average score for the students they would be teaching.

There are still a little under three years before the world flocks to Japan to watch the Olympic Games, so there is still time to boost the English level across the country. Perhaps the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology should start by improving the level of English teachers as well as students. We’ve long professed our frustrations with English education in Japan, so perhaps a new idea is necessary to train both teachers and students for 2020 and beyond if the country truly wants to improve its English skills.

Source: Livedoor News via My Game News Flash

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- What’s wrong with English education in Japan? Pull up a chair… -- Are Japan’s efforts at internationalization succeeding or not? -- Nihon-no: Is an entirely English-speaking village coming to Tokyo?

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20 Comments
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If the Ministry of Education (Mombusho) were a private institution it would be out of business! Where language learning is concerned they don't have a clue and have been repeating their failed curriculum for decades!

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I've run into some Japanese "English teachers" who could barely speak English at all. Don't know how some get their positions

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Most Japanese "English teachers" I've met couldn't really speak any English, neveremind teach it...

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I'd go to Kyoto to teach "real" English, being a Yorkshireman that would be interesting and fun :)

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

More visionary leadership and goal setting from MEXT bureaucrats. The Olympics salvation narrative continues ad nauseam.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

They are not the best results, but I would like to know the age of the teachers that sat the test. I imagine the younger teachers scored better than the older teachers. I am not blaming the older teachers, because given the workload of junior high school teachers I think it would be very difficult to maintain a high level of English over twenty or thirty years.

I do think testing teachers of English every two or three years would be a good idea in order for teachers and officials to keep track of their English levels. It also might encourage teachers to actually work a bit harder at trying to improve their English. But again, that is not easy given their jobs and the amount of work they have to do.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

he [sic] Kyoto Board of Education was hoping that all their teachers would achieve a mark of at least 730 out of 990

I wonder what they were basing that hope on. Were the teachers taking English lessons? Had they been given a mandate to get this score? Had they reported previously getting this score?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I wonder if the teachers prepared for the test or not. But either way this result isn't surprising. The TOEIC exam is for people actually planning to go abroad to live in an English speaking country. And as much as Japan loves the idea of being fluent in English, they just want to learn enough to interact a bit with the foreigners who come here. They don't really care about being able to survive abroad in an English only environment

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Looks like it's time to restart that 'ol Eikaiwa gravy train one more time! :D

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Japan will never solve its English deficiency so long as the people in charge of Japan's education think their teachers' failings are due to a gap in the teacher's English proficiency and not a gap in the teacher's ability to teach English.

English is a skill, it is not knowledge. You can have an expert in English stand in front of the class - if they use a backwards teaching method the students still aren't going to learn anything. Indeed, that's what we tend to see in classes where native English speakers with negligible teacher training are thrust in front of Japanese classrooms - students don't tend to learn much more than with their stuttering, stammering JTEs.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

the blind leading the blind,,,

sad that these kids first exposure to a foreign language will be an incompetent instructor. one positive of the large number of immigrants in the US is the large number of native language teachers. From junior high I learned spanish from native spanish speakers.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

katsu78FEB. 27, 2017 - 12:53PM JST Japan will never solve its English deficiency so long as the people in charge of Japan's education think their teachers' failings are due to a gap in the teacher's English proficiency and not a gap in the teacher's ability to teach English.

Not sure I agree with this. Proficiency is a necessity... ability to teach doesn't really matter if you can't even use the language. English shouldn't be quantified as a skill, but as a communicative tool. The focus for far too long has been on grammatical accuracy and spelling - rather than being able to communicate.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

280 on the TOEIC is a shade above guessing. My lowest student without a clue on how to speak English scored 330.

I've met Japanese English teachers with low TOEIC/EIKEN scores who spoke beautifully, understood English well, and taught enthusiastically. I've also met JTEs with high scores who couldn't speak their way out of a paper bag.

Their test scores and ability seem to be disconnected; almost as if the ability to speak is not part of the test. I wonder if any Todai graduates at Monka-sho are aware of that.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

It's like complaining that Alex Ferguson can't play football (he's seventy-five). The job of a a teacher is to explain, clearly and engagingly, how something is done.

It's up to the students to make the best of that advice.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

don-in-japanFEB. 27, 2017 - 08:57PM JST Not sure I agree with this. Proficiency is a necessity... ability to teach doesn't really matter if you can't even use the language.

Not really... a teacher with access to authentic materials can supplement their own gaps in the language quite well.

Now obviously, in theory you're correct - Japanese teachers do need a level of proficiency above zero to teach English. My contention is that most Japanese teachers' English at most schools are already good enough. Sure, their pronunciation is imperfect and they make grammatical mistakes, but if they taught correctly this wouldn't matter. But most people in EFL education here seem to have this obsession with didactic classroom practice, that the only way students ever learn is if the teacher imparts their own knowledge. Japan has to get away from that mindset, and I predict the overall level of English education in this country won't improve one jot until Japan does.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

the results are just embarrassing. i hope the published results dont give the students even more excuse to not even try.

not sure how to fix this as i believe the lack of english skills is directly related to the perception that it is not needed and just a hurdle for school.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I think teachers need to know a subject to be able to teach it. This would be a given for a math or science teacher, so I don't know why English teachers get a pass. When I was teaching I saw students get very discouraged by the low level of English ability of their teachers, which is readily apparent to students.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Abbeyroad45MAR. 01, 2017 - 03:49AM JST I think teachers need to know a subject to be able to teach it. This would be a given for a math or science teacher, so I don't know why English teachers get a pass.

Because English is a skill, not knowledge. In Japan, Eigo is knowledge, not a skill.

I studied music from music teachers who couldn't play my instrument especially well. I took PE classes from teachers who were past their prime and weren't all that fit any more. I took art classes from art teachers who didn't really get my medium or my genre. These things are possible because good teachers of skill-based subjects know how to get students building skills, even if those teachers don't exactly have high proficiency in those skills themselves.

Now, if your only concept of how English is taught is to stand in front of a class and lecture about grammar, then yeah, this approach isn't going to make sense to you. But then, that's been known to be the worst possible way to teach languages for several decades now, so it's kind of shameful that in Japan people are still struggling to just acknowledge that there are alternatives to that approach.

And once again, the evidence is obvious and indisputable: Japan has been importing native speakers of English to teach English since 1978, and by commonly-accepted definition native speakers are the best at a language it is possible for a person to be, yet Japan's level of English proficiency remains abysmal. The reason is that the vast majority of imported teachers in Japan are minimally trained or untrained in how to teach English. You've got literal experts in the language standing in front of the class and using backwards teaching methods (in the case of ALTs, often at the insistance of the JTEs), and so all that expertise means absolutely nothing in terms of students' proficiency.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

katsu78FEB. 28, 2017 - 05:14PM JST My contention is that most Japanese teachers' English at most schools are already good enough.

Unfortunately katsu, this is most pointedly untrue. I have met loads of Japanese English teachers, who cannot hold a conversation in English...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

English teachers in Japan don't know how to improve their language skills. They only obtain grammatical knowledge, but they never use English. TOEIC 730 doesn't mean you are fluent. I've seen a lot of people who had the score 700 or above but could not speak English well. It is true that grammar is necessary, but the problem here is they only learn grammar and don't try to use English as a tool. The fundamental function of language is sending and receiving messages. English learners forget about the function.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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