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Grounding the JETs

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By Lisa Gay

Since it was founded in 1987, the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme has brought over 50,000 young foreigners to live and work in this country. The vast majority of JET participants teach English in public schools, with a smaller number coordinating international events at local city halls. Lately, the program has received a lot of media exposure because the government was considering cutbacks that threaten its existence. Although JET was spared from the chopping block, it was ruled that further study is needed to determine whether the program is still necessary.

It’s not. With no concrete results on how well this 23-year-old experiment is working, the program’s annual cost of 45 billion yen represents a huge amount of money that would be better used elsewhere. To survive an economically battered Japan, JET needs to change… or fall to the government axe.

Full disclosure: I was a JET. And like many other bright-eyed young college grads that constitute the bulk of participants, I enjoyed my time as an assistant language teacher (ALT) in rural Japanese schools. But I knew I was overpaid, underused and had little effect on my students’ English skills.

Being underused in the classroom is a common complaint among JETs (the overpaid part, not so much). We referred to ourselves as “human tape recorders”—many of us weren’t allowed to do much more than read out of a textbook. If the Japanese teacher we were paired with was energetic and committed, we were able to make useful contributions. If not, the ALT would simply sit in the staff room with a lonely cup of tea.

No one has ever proven that providing native speakers to Japanese schools is of any help to students. And if you judge by TOIEC scores, JET is failing miserably: Japanese takers of the test consistently score near the bottom in Asia. Certainly, the money spent on the program could be better used elsewhere, as in funding study abroad opportunities.

Defenders of JET acknowledge these problems. Yet for them, the program is necessary for reasons that extend beyond the classroom. English instruction, they say, isn’t the point of JET (even if 90% of participants teach it on a daily basis). No, the main goal is to bring diversity to Japan.

On that front, the program has certainly had some success. Many JETs have married locals, which is helping Japan change, however slowly, into a more multicultural society. JET has also helped reduce the “otherness” of foreigners living in Japan. Children from remote parts of the country are exposed to non-Japanese on a regular basis and no longer point and gawk at them quite so much.

But this works both ways. Most JETs aren’t truly integrated into Japanese society. Though participants are allowed to stay for up to five years, many end up leaving after two. The program promotes a shallow form of diversity that reinforces the stereotype of the clueless foreigner who must be patiently taught about Japanese language and culture.

Another troubling aspect of JET is the noticeably large bias toward white Westerners. In the age of a rising China and a modernizing India, the government should be devoting resources to teaching Japanese students about non-Western cultures. JET may now include participants from 36 nations, yet half of recruits still come from America. Is this really what internationalization should look like?

For the JET program to survive, it has to do better than sending token foreigners to little rice paddy-studded hamlets. Drastic change is needed. Cash-starved boards of education around the country are already moving towards a system in which ALTs are hired through shady private companies called dispatches. In reality, if government cuts don’t kill JET, these dispatch companies most likely will.

The best way to save JET might be to eliminate its most visible element—the ALT. In the future, the program could invite talented foreigners to participate in a variety of projects, some school-based, some not. Former JETs have gone on to make wonderful contributions as writers, filmmakers and diplomats. Why ask them to spend the majority of their time teaching English? Why not allow JETs to work in museums, hospitals, shops, theaters and other places, provided they have the language skills to survive or the readiness to learn? A lot of these businesses would have use for bilingual liaisons, English-speaking or otherwise. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea for Japanese employees—other than English teachers—to learn how to work alongside foreigners.

Lisa Gay is a freelance writer who splits her time between China and Japan.

This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

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The JET program is a wonderful program if it is directed toward adults. It is a waste of money to put JET people in junior or high schools. The best experience I ever had was teaching a class that I called "The American Cultures" to adults. Notice it says "cultures." The USA has at a minimum six different areas or cultures. An experience traveler in the USA will know the cultural differences just as a Japanese traveler will know the differences between Okinawa, Osaka, Tokyo and Sapporo cultures. Adults want to learn about the differences because they cannot always travel beyond Japan. Keep the JET program, but reserve it for adults.

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Almost the entire English teaching apparatus in Japan needs to be scrapped and totally overhauled. Japanese teachers of English need to be supported, and English classes should be taught in a professional manner. Currently, having 2-4 English classes a month is just absurd. Cut them out, or teach them right. Training Japanese teachers as real English teachers would go a long way to making the program respectable. J-students ridicule their English teachers, for good reason - most of them have no English ability, or very little, speaking Katakana-eigo at best. Get real, or get out of the English teaching business, and start Chinese classes, which is where the world is heading.

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The JET program is dying because it is being replaced by a system that is even worse - outsourced ALTs, underpaid and being squeezed by the unscrupulous dispatch companies in a race to the bottom.

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Another anachronistic assessment by someone who went on the program and therefore knows everything. What a pity your future visions of China and India have blinkered you from recognising the developments of the past 15 years - give the program the credit it deserves for helping internationalise rural Japan and suburban Japan! I'm so tired of articles that gloss over the difference between Japan Now and Japan Then. This is, of course, an endemic problem in historial perspective, but it's still critical.

I do agree that the system is very broken, though. But it isn't just broken for English. Even Japanese classes involve hours of kanji writing practice and compound memorisation drudgery; if a country's own language skills are focused on aesthetics rather than meaning, teaching another language is always going to suffer. Until Japan removes its rote learning aspects in favour of a more discerning, analytical pedagogy, it's going to continue to have the problems that plague it now, not just in JET.

It's unfortunate because Japan has risen on the back of a few things: 1) unfair obligations to work ceaselessly, 2) excellent results in 'right' answer subjects like math and science, and 3) the willingness to emulate and reinvent itself more than any other culture.

But these hardships still haven't doused the curiosity of students who love to learn and to use language. I agree with noriyosan73 - the program is of enormous benefit to adults. I taught a volunteer English class for five years, and even during the program, I knew very clearly that those classes were what kept me going when school was bad. Every single week for 5 years was a joy, and I never once regretted spending my evening with those fine people. If JET has to be axed, at least save some of the money for adult classes.

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As a former JET, I've always said that if the government really wants its people to be bilingual, it will implement the proper programs to ensure that it happens. So far it has just been a half-assed attempt to please a few small groups. The low-score TOEIC argument is nonsense. In Japan, many people who don't even study the language are forced to take the test and thus receive low scores. This happens more here than in other countries. The company I worked at had all 400 employees write the test annually - about 50 of them were students. I agree with the overhaul. The best JTEs I have met were part of a program that sent two teachers overseas annually for a one-year sabbatical. Those teachers then come back able to speak English and with much more awareness of an English-speaking country and its culture. They need to do much more of this. One idea, stick JETs in kindergartens and elementary schools - jr high is way too late to learn a second language seriously. I have noticed recently that the local BOEs have taken to hire the local gaijin carpenter, mechanic, cook, whatever at 2,000 yen per hour instead of real English teachers. Most have stopped using JETS and most of these 'cheap' teachers are working with illegal contracts (don't feel like getting into specifics). Personally, I worry when a country starts making major cut-backs in education - especially English education, when Japan's neighbours like China, Korea and Taiwan are all making strides to improve.

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Perhaps before commenting on whether the JET program has been a success or not, writers would do well to have a look at the goals of the program:

"The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme aims to promote grass roots internationalisation at the local level by inviting young overseas graduates to assist in international exchange and foreign language education in local governments, boards of education and elementary, junior and senior high schools throughout Japan. It seeks to foster ties between Japanese citizens (mainly youth) and JET participants at the person-to-person level."

I don't see anything about improving TOEIC or TOEFEL scores, or improving language education at school, so it seems unfair to criticize the program for failing to succeed in an area in which it never set out improve.

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Yokohama replaced JET with a private company that has sent only evangelical Christians who refuse to contribute to the school. One said he was imitating Jesus two days before being fired for inviting school girls to his house. At least the JET teachers contributed in school activities.

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I was a JET who lost my job because the of the budget cuts in my prefecture, every JET knows that the application process is long, grueling, and nerve racking and if I knew I was going to get treated like a human tape recorder, get harassed by insolent high schoolers, and deal with brain dead Japanese English teachers, only to have the prefecture say to me “Thanks for moving halfway across the world for us but we can’t afford to pay you anymore” I would have probably tried something else.

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aedfed

Very good point. If these kids who were in classes that had a JET participant are more comfortable dealing with foreigners because of it, that is a good thing.

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I first taught Japanese university students in 1980...I haven't been in Japan or taught continuously since then, but I can confidently claim that students these days generally have better listening and speaking skills than their counterparts a generation ago.

That counts as a JET-program success, even if direct teaching by ALTs is only one factor in that success. Whether or not today's students have better English skills overall is debatable, and that is related not only to English curricula, staffing, and total hours of tuition, but also to the typical 2010 student profile.

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the article makes many good points.

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Given the incomparable successes in the rest of Asia, the JET program is a total failure. All of that investment would have been better spent on training teachers and getting them international experience, then having other teachers (actual bona-fide ones) from other countries to teach in Japan. Vietnam redid its programs, Taiwan, China etc etc. The JET/ALT standards are really suspect at best and have been a great gift for the rest of the world but not Japan. What a classic pork barrel holdover from the late 80's. Time for it to go.

Cutting it would go a long way to ending the "Engrish" mispronunciation hell of Japanese society and industry because they'd actually have to learn the language as it is actually spoken if they want anyone to take them seriously.

This would also mean that professionals who really can teach English would get paid the appropriate amount as opposed to having to cut their prices because of cheap imports.

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If the goal is to improve foreign language instruction/learning in Japan, then cut JET and use the money to help finance mandatory study abroad courses for Japanese university students planning to become foreign language teachers. If the goal is a kind of superficial "internationalization", then the government has to decide if the billions in tax money it's spending is worth it.

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"The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme aims to promote grass roots internationalisation at the local level..." This is a two way process - good JETS become a conduit of cultural dissemination in Japan and their home country. English improvement is a just a plus.

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A JET is asked to

assist in international exchange and foreign language education

and while it doesn't say improve language ability, I don't think they expect the JETs to further deteriorate the students' language ability. However, if the Japanese government was serious about assisting international exchange and language education they should start with requiring foreign language teachers to live for at least a year (two would be better) in a country that speaks the language. Perhaps as sophomores and juniors in university. And encourage the teachers to vacation in those countries by

• giving them enough time away from school to have a vacation (fewer responsibilities) • promotion incentives • pay incentives

All of which could probably be done for 45 billion yen or less and result in students shocked to discover their teachers can actually talk about another culture and speak a foreign language!

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Overpaid? Hardly.

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"Many of us weren’t ALLOWED to do much more than read out of a textbook"

"Why not ALLOW JETs to work in museums, hospitals, shops, theaters and other places..."

Hogwash. JETs are ALLOWED to do pretty much whatever they please under the guise of "grassroots internationalization". Only a few ALTs are qualified, trained, and motivated enough to propose innovative lessons. But when they do, most supervisors -- and every placement has at least one keen licensed teacher -- are happy to work with the ALT on the lesson.

Rural JETs today fill a role that didn't exist in the eighties: providing hope and modernization to rural communities struggling with population decline.

The decision is up to the Japanese public, not us. Until that decision is made, individual JETs should focus on their jobs, not the peanut gallery debate.

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A lot seems to be hidden behind that "not allowed" tag. Yes it would be difficult, but any really "bright-eyed young college grad" would step up to the plate and start real change. The lack of "concrete" results is partially due to a very vague goal to measure against. Think you were overpaid? Lack of action in changing anything might suggest the author is, but not a problem that can't be fixed - just give the excess back!

Have known some JET's, but they were quite positive, and had an impact beyond language (culture, sport, etc) because they felt they had something worth offering.

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Have known some JET's, but they were quite positive, and had an impact beyond language (culture, sport, etc) because they felt they had something worth offering.

Excellent point.

Still, scrapping the JET program may not be such a bad idea. If local governments feel there is a need to internationalise, then they should pay for it themselves.

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I was a JET.For Lisa here to say she was overpaid is quite staggering and I believe the root of the problem. Some people decided you see to do the bare minimum and this is why the program has faltered. Others however who looked for "work" and attended PE clases,cultural groups etc and encouraged students to engage in English in informal situations.These JETS were far from overpaid

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I have to agree with the overhaul idea. I have been a JET myself. Yes, some of us worked hard, but a lot figured out that JET was just a meal ticket for extended vacation and a lack of responsibilities. I firmly believe that they brought about the original disdain for the whole industry (of having foreigners teaching English to Japanese people).

If I were allowed to advise the overhaul, I'd suggest the following:

Choose applicants in the education field, so that they have an idea of what is expected of them, and what they should do.

Provide better training before and during their time in Japan. Structured lessons on how to teach not bitch-n-moan sessions.

provide and require instruction classes for the Japanese teachers of English of how to utilize their JETs more effectively. This means, pass over the tests to be graded between ALT taught classes, instructions for pair-taught activities, phonics instruction, role-play, etc. (Have them earn their paychecks from work not from sipping green tea).

When not in the classroom, have the ALT provide assistance to local businesses... CORRECT ALL THOSE ENGRISH MISTAKES!!! that City Halls, and businesses put out.

If we want to say that cultural interaction is important, then prepare the ALT before hand with outlines for what they will teach to the Japanese (food, home-life, free-time activities, work-life, etc.). And lets import some foods, etc. to provide a taste of home instead of just pictures.

If salary is too high for communites, then reduce it to the same level as the local Eikawas, but provide incentives for each teaching or community improving activity the ALT helps in. This would reward effort rather than just pay for the drinking parties.

Those are some of my ideas. I know a LOT of JETs have been doing these things in one form or another, but with structured assistance and acknowledgment from the community, and training from the program overseers, I think those activities will be more effective.

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It's pretty hard for some JETs to make a meaningful contribution when they are only in a class maybe two or three times a month. The ones that are based at a school are able to make much more of an impact than those that are "one shots". I don't like how a lot of people on here just blame the ALTs. They are the ones put into a system that wasn't designed to use them in the first place. That system is Japanese Education. As an ALT I really had to push to get a lot of my activities into class. Many response I got were "Kore ha chotto muzukashi" or "maa, mata kondo yarimashouka?". What is an ALT supposed to do in a situation like that? They don't know the rules, many aren't conversed in the language. Why not make it an exchange program, were Japanese teachers go abroad, and foriegn teachers come to Japan?

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As a former JET who is also a certified teacher with experience in Japan, the US and Mexico, I would offer some quick solutions to help improve foreign language education in Japan:

1) Send prospective JTEs abroad to an English-speaking country as part of their own language/cultural immersion training. All teacher-training programs in Japan should incorporate this into their curricula (i.e., a semester AT LEAST spent abroad in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, NZ, etc.) This is, in my mind, the best idea never actually tried in Japan. It would boost their confidence in spoken English, as well as demonstrate to their students that it is quite possible to function outside Japan using English.

2) Hire ALTs who are actually trained and certified English teachers back home and (better yet) allow them to be more equal partners in all aspects of team-teaching, to include lesson/activity planning, curriculum design, grading, etc. This would help dispel the unfortunate image of ALTs as clueless yahoos who are just here to booze it up on the Japanese taxpayers' tab for a year or more.

Just these 2 ideas, rather than keeping the JET status quo of the last 20+ years, would go a long way in improving BOTH the grassroots internationalization and foreign language instruction in Japan.

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Some very interesting points made above. It is interesting that this program has spawned an international pool of current and former "teachers" who have largely had a similar experience of the host culture, although that is spread across a pretty broad spectrum. As a former JET, there were certainly times when I absolutely hated my job. Were it not for a small collection of friends, and a lovely girlfriend (who became my wife) I would have left after my first year. If I had I would not have seen some of the positive results of my time there. There is literally a generation of kids (I taught in a junior high and did a lot of one shots to local elementary schools) that hopefully discovered that learning English can be fun. I'm sure the majority haven't picked up the language, but I'm sure I helped instill a passion for language in more than a few. I think that is the job of JETs. Sure the program needs an overhaul. So, make it better Japan. Make it better JETs. But don't scrap it. Personally, I would concentrate all ALTs in the elementary schools. Make English an option in junior high, and then let high schools and community centres (so the oldsters have a chance) host JETs for more cultural-type classes. In essence, try to build a desire to learn the language at a younger age and then support that love for learning as they age. It would cut a lot of the waste from the system, increase the opportunities for those who develop the desire and hopefully breed a more proficient speaking ability in the populace.

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JET is a luxury that most non-english speaking countries would love to have. The complexity of making most effective use of it aside, just the fact that many small towns can have access to an English speaker is something that many are grateful for...lingusitically and culturally. Ive spent 20 years all thru asia being a guinea pig for everyones english language with a mixture of emotion about that. When I moved to Europe I found it exactly the same situtation! I thought Id escaped being the token foreigner..but no..it was .."oh wow lets hang out,I need to practice my english!". The fact is that people want to/need to learn english from all walks of life..from physicists to waiters so how can u supply enough trained teachers?? its impossible. so any contact of anysort is valuable.

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FACT: If any Japanese ever actually has the need to speak English on a professional level (and not asking where the bathroom is while safely protected within the bubble of his or her tour group), it will most likely be with another Asian, who is also speaking it as a second language.

CONCLUSION: JETs, ALTs, and all other teachers are useless. The government should scrap all budgets for foreign teachers of English and use it to train Japanese Teachers to properly teach English.

All this talk about need for multiculturalism, and how it's important for Japanese to see foreigners as more than tokens, is completely beside the point, and based on western views of how Japan should be.

Learning English to be player on the International stage has absolutely nothing to do to being exposed to westerners or western culture.

The government should get rid of all JET, ALT and other similar programs and spend the money to encourage Japanese to study English at University, and then spend a couple years abroad learning to teach English.

Hiring foreigners to come in so they can hear "native pronunciation" is absolutely useless.

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Will anyone in the political power level read these excellent ideas? Change cannot happen unless the politicians want it to happen.

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No Japanese are learning English properly. JET is a waste of time.

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I once applied for the JET program but was refused. At the time I had an MA in Applied Linguistics (TESOL), JPLT Level 1, and 3.5 years past experience working in Japan. They refused my application because they said I had lived in Japan for too long...

Now call me naive, but wouldn't it be smarter to hire someone who, first, at least has a bit of knowledge about teaching English, second, Japanese skills, and third - also perhaps most importantly - familiarity with living in Japan so they aren't going get homesick and suddenly decide to return home half-way through their contract? No, apparently not. It was then that I realised the JET program has nothing to do with the English education of Japanese kids, it is nothing more than a taxpayer funded cultural exchange program.

It should make every Japanese taxpayer's blood boil that the English education of our kids is being sacrificed so JET can continue this expensive, pointless cultural exchange program.

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That diversity seems like it was more economic. And that didnt work, the JETs just sucked it up and set living standards higher-like a child of divorced parents, where they have 2 sets of economic backing, and are allowed to wallow in everybody else's pity. And if pity is not what is wanted then the diversity that was set economically didnt get there did it. So in order to balance the over-diversity, Id say it is time to scrap it-perhaps starting something totally new bringing in ideas suggested here. But Id ask for a leigh time before that started, to allow the dust to settle from the diverse and now popular English community that has been infitrated into the J.community.

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As much as I think the JET programme has merit, it does occur to me to think: What if the money was used to send one teacher from every school abroad for a year, each year? That would bring in heaps of prospective teachers who would come back skilled! They might quit teaching after, but at the very least they'd have the passion for language.

The only problem would be if they hole up together abroad instead of seeing the world.

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gaijinfo, well said. on another note,I always wondered how poor countries like the Philipines, Sri lanka, etc have so many of their people speaking English. They study English from Elementary school 5 times a week!

The biggest issue I feel (at Elementary schools) is the education system in Japan. Teachers are way behind. I feel like we are in another era. Students still bully (verbally) while the teacher just watches (so i interfere on behalf of the J-teacher and discipline them by telling them why what they are doing is wrong). Teachers call their students idiots (baka). Teachers being negative by saying too hard, too hard (i interefere again and say no it is not, it is easy, easy, then afterwards i tell the teacher to try and not use the word "muzukashi"). Everyone speaking at the same time or when I am speaking (I interfere again by warning the students (and asking the j teacher to help me) but when the J teacher fails and the students still act out I send them to the vp after a few warnings and screams..haha..they have never been sent out of the class or to the vp and you should see the shocked faces of the students and the teachers. Lastly, the Lack of passion for teaching (this could be in any country) The conditions we have to teach in is what is very difficult and frustrating for an ALT! As for JHS, either eleminate the program completely, or give the ALT a class to teach on their own once a week for each grade and class (the job of the Japanese teacher is crowd control and assisting the ALT in demonstrating games or explaining rules). Will this ever happen?? Unlikely. But I am slowly bringing it up to the attention of teachers by embarrassing them in front of other teachers and students. I guess, i feel like my work here is to train Japanese teachers by showing them their faults. I am sure they hate it at first (or in some cases....), but most, quickly realize which way is better. Within 3-6 months I have classes running like a machine. English starts becoming fun for both teachers and students. And I can finally get students and teachers to answer simple questions such as how are you and whats your name without hesitation!

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the JETs are the best thing that have ever happened to Japan since white bread

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Let's hope the JETs themselves aren't blamed for the almost complete lack of english amongst the Japanese. Look to the Japanese English teachers I say - some of whom struggle to introduce themselves in English! If they are to keep this programme - hire qualified foreign english teachers, not just kids fresh from college, and let THEM run the classes and have some input into curricula.

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The JET programme does need serious reform. One cannot serve 2 masters faithfully. Either have a programme focused on "internationalisation" (one of those words that's used a lot but very few people understand), or make it about teaching English. JET basically flies a mass of college kids over here, and after a year 50%~70% of them fly back home (on the taxpayer's yen both ways! bloody expensive!). They then cap the number of extensions at 5 years, just when these people are becoming really good at what they're doing... why? So they can force them to go home and "spread the word" about Japan. Idiotic, unless you want people to go home saying, "Yeah, they talk about internationalisation, but actually they just want foreigners to visit, contribute to their pension fund and then piss off."

Major reform is needed.

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While reform and rethinking is never a bad thing, the JET has made seriously positive contributions to Japan. Those that have not been here that long will not (or never) understand this. The Japanese public does however. Young people's attitudes toward non-Japanese are (however glacierly) changing. The money spent on the program is a mere drop in the bucket. There are a lot more wastes on the taxpayer than this. All it needs is better integration in the English education program overall. It should not be scrapped. It has made a positive different and that should be recognized.

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I totally agree with @gaijininfo.

If English really is a global language as many English teachers like to preach, there is no "correct" way to pronounce it. its globally owned now.

Further, I believe Japan would be wise to offer choice in second language study. Many professional people would be more successful if they spoke Chinese.

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More and more business-people now seem to be more interested in studying Chinese and Korean than english.

Agree the JET system needs a good overall as does the whole english education scene. Nova did us all a favour by dying.

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Wow! Lovejapan21, you must be well liked at your school, by students and teachers alike. I hope the 21 doesn't stand for your age. That kind of superiority usually takes longer to cultivate.

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I used to be an ALT , to tell you the truth. Of all the JETS I met, 85% of them are lazy snobs.

I worked for a city in Tochigi, usually the JETS get the better schools while the ALT's get the low test score schools. I didn't mind this and I love a challenge.

I did more work and I had the passion for teaching. Alot of the JETS were annoying, and complaining about everything.

Seriously, they are overpaid and the JET program needs a complete make over, change, and extreme overhaul.

I really do think they need to shut it down temporarily because ALT's work much more harder than ALT's.

Rarely, I'm in the staff room drinking tea relaxing somewhere.

Also, the biggest problem for all ALT's is the dorky English teacher who doesn't like change or new ideas from the ALT.

It's just completely annoying and frustrating dealing with a over confident English teacher in JHS's.

Public Elementary Schools have a serious problem alot of these " old school teachers " don't care about english class, do not participate in the 45 minute class or show some kind of fake enthusiasm when students are watching them.

Talking about nobody is on the same page here people !!!!! It's pure crazy dealing with Japanese teachers who are not motivated or show interest. When I was a teacher I would try together my teach involved in the teaching.

I can't say all Japanese teachers are bad.

Some I've met trying to change the system.

Out of 100 Japanese teachers I met, about 27 of them were totally screwed up. Some are old or have chip on their shoulders or teachers riding the system.(paycheck, pension, health insurance everymonth).

But I think they should hire Chinese Teachers now. They need to think about that.

I think 5th & 6th grade elementary schools she have two language electives Chinese Language / English Language.

Junior High & Senior High same concept

Chinese / English

remember things change rapidly in the future.

China is here to stay.

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JET is a shame that provides no results to anybody. The teacher while in Japan may get some cultural learning and overpaid for what they do, however when they return home they have 3 years of no applicable experience and are starting behind their peers they graduated with. The students dont learn anything from them other than simple phrases. JETs commonly complain that they are not used well enough and that is why the students have low test scores...however how many of them are actually trained in teaching english a second language? 5%? 10% at best? Most come for the free ride, infi parties, and low level of responsiblity. Its a waste of money with no real impact to society as a whole. I say most..not all...dont kid yourself you know its true.

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Genji17.

True words and spot-on.

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It's true that Japan should consider teaching Chinese. But honestly, the country is sooo slow to change. And if they wanted to teach Chinese, there would be a MASSSSSSIVE shortage of staff. So that right there is one reason why they are reluctant. Would it be the smart thing to do? Yes. But it won't happen without a seismic shift in thinking.

As for Lovejapan sending kids out - you realise you're actually breaking the education laws by doing so? Don't misunderstand, I did it once or twice myself, but you actually aren't allowed to send kids out of the classroom, by law. By J-law, All kids have a right to an education - even if that means destroying the education for the other kids. Sadly, not enough J-teachers have the balls to remove disruptive kids from their classes, and with no form of detention and long days at club, there's no real consequences for bad behaviour in Japan. Once they realise that, it's open slather for misbehavin'

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saborichan.

Chinese and Korean courses always been available and there has been a sharp increase in them compared to 10yrs ago.

Look at the ads requesting language teachers alone and you will find that most ads for english teachers are now for tots, etc and more requests for chinese, etc teachers.

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As a person currently in the JET program, I have to agree with a lot of the commentary here. There are far too many people in the program who are, quite frankly, only here to take advantage of the fact that it IS a pretty nice setup, compared to a lot of english-teaching jobs, here and elsewhere. Speaking for myself however, I know that I work as much as I can, and try to make myself useful and participate instead of sitting around. Though sometimes it can't be helped, particularly with the way the program is setup. The JETs who complain about having free time but don't even TRY to participate in other ways are the problem, certainly, but there are plenty who DO want to do more, but are limited by either an unhelpful/unwilling staff of teachers or something like it. It certainly IS a waste.

As for the low test scores-- it doesn't make sense to blame the entire program for that. I can't imagine they would be any higher if JETs didn't exist, what with the current state of the education system in Japan period. Everyone expects that by throwing a foreigner in a classroom, suddenly the kids are supposed to start speaking fluently or take an interest, and that's ridiculous. The kids who don't like English aren't going to like it whether or not you're a long time teacher who's qualified or a fresh out of college person who didn't know what else to do. And I would agree with everyone that they need to focus more funds on actually training Japanese teachers, or help them find ways to teach more effectively than the 'read and repeat' syndrome that pretty much kills enthusiasm for the students AND the teachers.

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Where JET went wrong, they thought international meant English(American, British, etc) and ignored that english is NOT the lingua franca of the world.

Many Japanese today still think so, foreigner = must speak english, etc.

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JET is a shame that provides no results to anybody.

No one?

The students dont learn anything from them other than simple phrases.

Which is it? They don't learn anything or they learn simple phrases? Would you prefer they spout Shakespeare at 12 years old?

however how many of them are actually trained in teaching english a second language

It is my understanding they are not supposed to be. That part should be and is the job of the Japanese English teacher in the classroom.

Its a waste of money with no real impact to society as a whole.

I completely disagree. Japanese English Education has made giant leaps since the late 80's and much of this is due to JET and its influence. Yes, reform and reworking of the program could be a very good thing. However, that does not take away from all the good it has done, intentional or not, up to now. I have no interest invested in said program. I am merely a witness to the changes it has brought about even with how hard change can be in this country.

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Hi there. Another active JET here. I agree with most of the comments but I must also emphasize that JET is a fantastic idea. I wish more countries offered such opportunities as it is an excellent way to diversify, and for many a way to fulfill their Japanofile dreams.

I think all of the blame lies in two places. The first and foremost is the school system. It's horrible. Absolutely atrocious. It seems that teachers here forgot how bad it was when they were students; otherwise you'd think they would do something about it. Some do try, but more will be needed to break the monotony. The problem? No freedom, lecture style. Being forced to go to lectures you don't like is horrible. These kids are being bored into insanity; not just in English class.

The second is CLAIR. I don't know what the point of CLAIR is. Senior JETs seem to do most of the work for them, getting kicked out when their 5 year term is up; and all the higher-ups get hefty salaries for sitting on their senile retired asses.

There is certainly a lot to hate; but I'm definitely in favor of reform as opposed to axing.

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"Where JET went wrong, they thought international meant English(American, British, etc) and ignored that english is NOT the lingua franca of the world."

Hmmmmmmm....if English is not the lingua franca of the world, then what is?? Mandarin? Not at the present time.

Love it or hate it, English is by far the most common language for international business, travel and other forms of communication. Even non-native English speakers use English as a global language.

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Truth hurts=

Yes no one. The JET teacher has no valuable skill to take back to an already scarce job market. The students have proved that the system doesnt work, ie test scores. And the Japanese teacher, from reading past experiences does not use the JET teacher in a responsible way so useless there too.

If they could spout Shakespeare at 12 that would be amazing but not going to happen. However if somebody has 8 years studying a language they have no reason why that cant carry on light conversation with out often heard errors of Lets making fun, I nice doggie have.

You are right, they are not supposed to be trained in TOESL but why not? Thats similar to hiring an art major to do an accounting job.

If jet has done all you say...must have been truly bad before. However from a purely dollars invested vs. results produced, the JET program makes GM look like a good business model.

If you dont do away with it, it needs a complete overhaul from level 0 on up.

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genkimark.

Go to ANY non-english speaking country and try to commonicate with a local outside the business and the touristy areas. Don't even need to head that far out of the big cities.

Yet, many of the learn english in school but they can't speak it.

Even try to have business meetings, etc in europe where many are NOT held in english. Time to take the blinkers off and see what is really out there.

There is a reason why many top-business man are tri-, etc lingual because english alone won't cut it.

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Lets not kid our selves here!

I am not a native English speaker and even I know that if you intend on doing business internationally or traveling there is but one language that even comes close to being universal and that is English.

I have yet to see a university graduate from anywhere (Africa, South America, Asia, etc..) except Japan that doe not speak some English and especially if they are in business.

The most studied foreign language in China and in other Asian countries is still English other languages are nice but even Chinese is limited to doing business with China only, not so for English.

We can try and fool ourselves into thinking otherwise but the facts remain the language of business and tourism is English.

Now this all said the JET program is a massive failure because of the typical Japanese shortsightedness when it come to foreigners they do not expect use to stay here and even gear the program to insure that.

The solution is simple, their are plenty of good long term foreigner living in Japan that have families and could be of great benefit to the language teaching in Japanese schools and who would greatly benefit from having a full time Job in a stable teaching environment.

If Japan eliminated all the cheap and totally useless "haken" fake English teacher places and modified the JET program into a training program and full time placement of locally hired teacher with long term plans and gave these teachers (ALT?) all the benefits that go along with those positions. there would be no need to subsidies housing or pay airfare or all the other expenses of a heavy teacher turnover.

Other benefits would be a more stable curriculum and motivated teachers that know they do not have to worry if they will still be employed in 6 months and a better rapport and respect from the Japanese teachers and staff at the schools.

Like I said at the start of this lets get real, like it or not (and I really don't like it) English is the only universally accepted language and that is not about to change any time soon especially for Chinese or any other non-Roma alphabet language.

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I am an ex-JET and had a great time in Japan and got a lot out of the experience, but even at the time, back in the 1990s, thought that it was a waste of money.

There were certain benefits - I remember certain students who were definitely inspired to learn a language and have something to do with abroad by having a foreigner around. However, at that cost, it would be better to have trainee JTEs study abroad for one year.

Also, as the article states, "internalisation" is a mirage if the only difference to an area will be a youngster who comes and drinks for a couple of years to be replaced by another. What practical benefit does that have to a small inaka town?

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limboinjapan.

I dealt a lot with companies worldwide and many meetings were held in french(me poor), german, etc.

Plus, not many of the smaller non-international companies have english speaker.

Heck, come to my area or places like Shakuji-koen and english won't get you far.

Not sure about Shita-machi but I don't recall too many english speakers there.

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Ditto for Holiday travel, recall a few locations where I heard my 1st english word after 3weeks.

Looking at population figures I reckon Chinese is the most widely spoken language(includes outside like malaysia, Singapore, etc) followed by Hindi and Arabic.

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Ah_so:"Also, as the article states, "internalisation" is a mirage if the only difference to an area will be a youngster who comes and drinks for a couple of years to be replaced by another. What practical benefit does that have to a small inaka town?"

You hit the nail on the head!

That is why I wrote they should hire "Locally" what I have seen and been told by the teacher in my children's schools sort of makes this point clear, they noticed a difference in the interest in foreign languages and countries before, during and after my children were in those schools, during the time my children were in a particular school the English scores and participation in English related activities went way up and as soon as they left those schools things went back down to what it was like before.

Now imagine having locally hired foreign teachers that are long term in Japan have families and especially children in the local community and schools how much more beneficial that situation would be for the Japanese students.

All my daughter friends are keen on learning English (and some even French) as they have quickly noticed how much more simple it is for my daughter to do and get things that they to want, she can find things on the net faster and way before they can due to her English ability and in their particular case being all in a high tech environment it even more pronounced to the point that even some of her teachers have approached me to possibly help with their IT related English abilities.

They way forward for JET is to transform into a training, curriculum creating and placement of locally hired foreigners!

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genji17,

I think you have JET confused with a job training program. It is an exchange program. Participants come to learn and experience a new country while helping with local language programs etc. If they want skills to use for a job, maybe they should choose better programs in university.

JETs are also not here for test scores. That is the job of Japanese teachers and it is done enough already.

JETs are here to show kids English can possibly fun. I don't see any problem with that nor do I see the prog0ram as failing them in that.

I think people are way grouchy about this subject. In fact, I think one of the questions for applying and being successfully accepted to JET should be 'If someone says "Hello" to you, in any language, do you think you can smile at the person who said it to you?' Those that hesitate to say yes or say no should be immediately excluded as sourpusses that should not be a part of exchange in this country.

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Please excuse any and all English errors in the previous post.

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If jet has done all you say...must have been truly bad before.

It was.

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At Truth

I think you have JET confused with a job training program. It is an exchange program

If thats the case, then I guess I see your points. Though all of my points can are 100% true of ALTS (see GABA, Nova etc). But seriously met a lot of JETs that are here for the Otoro and parties. Know one that even introduce the Yamanote sen game for colors to his class...sounds funny until they even went to far as to have shots of ochya...

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@Zenny11:

Non-international is just that non-international and more and more everything is going international and that is why even in China, India, Malaysia, etc.. the most taught foreign language is still English.

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Just go to any Job site and for every Chinese teaching or any other language for that fact and you will see at least 5 if not more ads for English teachers.

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Just go to any Job site and for every Chinese teaching or any other language for that fact and you will see at least 5 if not more ads for English teachers.

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I just want to mention that I think the TOEIC test is a very poor reflection of a student's English communication skills. All it shows is how well the student knows the TOEIC test and strategies for taking it. JET has no point if the schools don't start teaching functional, conversational English instead of getting kids to remember tons of grammar and uselss archaic vocabulary. Have you ever looked at the vocabulary section of the Eiken test for university admission? Most of the words I've only read in really old books! The focus needs to change, so the JET teacher can bring in their knowledge of natural and situational English.

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English taught don't equal english speaking ability.

Reason why your survived in those locations was because they natives you met could speak multiple languages.

I got plenty of chinese friends here who CANNOT speak english. Same wtih many guys from the ME, we all communicate in Japanese.

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We can dread it or deny it all we want but English is the one language that will be spoken to some degree in just about every place we can go and that is why the JET program was and is focused on English.

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haniwawa.

That is a similar problem to the JLPT as it don't test communciation ability but focuses on reading, etc.

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Non-international is just that non-international and more and more everything is going international and that is why even in China, India, Malaysia, etc.. the most taught foreign language is still English.

Just go to any Job site and for every Chinese teaching or any other language for that fact and you will see at least 5 if not more ads for English teachers.

I have lived and worked in Africa, Asia, Europe, NA/SA.

And the results were:

Africa: English and French you can get by OK if you don't know the local language.

Asia: English (some old areas of Vietnam, Cambodia French) Malaysia is a bit of a strange situation Chinese is prevalent but as my friend found out (he speaks Fluent Chinese) the local Malay people really resent the Chinese Malaysian and they did not appreciate him speaking Chinese, English was just fine for them.

Europe well in my case it was French, English and a few local languages but whenever I got stumped it always ended up falling back on English.

North America and South America: It is English, Spanish, Portuguese and French, but always English will be the fall back language in all cases.

This is reality out side Asia Chinese is of no use nor is Hindi, outside the Middle East (North Africa for some part) Arabic is also of little use.

We can dread it or deny it all we want but English is the one language that will be spoken to some degree in just about every place we can go and that is why the JET program was and is focused on English.

Moderator: Readers, please keep the discussion focused on the JET program in Japan.

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"Most JETs aren’t truly integrated into Japanese society. Though participants are allowed to stay for up to five years, many end up leaving after two. Another troubling aspect of JET is the noticeably large bias toward white Westerners."

I want to write an article for Metropolis. If I get pressed for time I will complain about something. Instead of being positive and informative and trying to show how much a program has accomplished, I will compare it with some ideal and then just rip it to shreds. It is easier to write that way. You can really generate a lot of text if you just present some ideal and show how someone's best efforts fall so short. It is the Karl Rove school of journalism.

"For the JET program to survive, it has to do better than sending token foreigners to little rice paddy-studded hamlets"

You are so right. Send them all to the middle of Tokyo where they can really learn about Japan and the "locals", as you call them, can appreciate their foreign-ness.

"Former JETs have gone on to make wonderful contributions as writers, filmmakers and diplomats. Why ask them to spend the majority of their time teaching English? Why not allow JETs to work in museums, hospitals, shops, theaters and other places, provided they have the language skills to survive or the readiness to learn?"

Just to clarify. One of your major beefs is that the benefits of JET cannot be quantified, but here you want to muddy the performance criteria even more? Well, thanks for being consistent in your criticisms. You truly present a cogent and focused argument.

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To those who overly criticize Japanese English teachers, please reflect on how many different ways they are pressured and pulled. They won't be leaving their job in a year or two. They can't afford to ruffle too many feathers. That's reality. Another reality is that the goal of K - 12 education here is to prepare students to take entrance exams for university. English instruction is part of that preparation. There is no speaking component (as yet, as far as I know) to these entrance exams, therefore, it is not an important part of English instruction. In fact, focusing on improving speaking skills takes class time away from grammar instruction, which is vital for passing the exams. Japanese English teachers are pressured by parents, other faculty members, and even the students themselves to "teach for the test". The presence of a naive and (most likely) untrained "teacher" in their classroom may represent a serious difficulty for them. During my time as a JET, I met many dedicated Japanese English teachers who spoke English well, and really wanted to improve English language education at their schools. Many of them attended continuing teacher training courses in their free time. However, on so many levels, their hands were tied when it came to making real changes.

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Rather be a JET than a Shark. When you're a JET you're a jet.

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Q: I have a criminal record, how will this affect my selection?

A: criminal record will not necessarily disqualify you. However, the seriousness of the crime will be taken into account and a final decision will be made whether or not to offer you a position on the Programme.

Crem da la Crem!!!

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Kitteh sez you can has a cheezburger!

I've never done well with grammatical structure. If you held a gun to my head and ordered me to diagram a sentence, my life would be forfeit. What got me to the point where I can speak relatively well was what works for ALL of us in our native languages. Total immersion and constant repetition. If all you're doing is learning grammar and not spending any time on conversation, you're never going to grasp a language. Stop paying lip-service to actual conversation in English and Japan just might see their English competency improve.

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nigelboy,

Don't fool yourself. The Japanese Government are just covering their behinds so they don't get sued in foreign countries. If you are at all aware of Japan's attitudes to criminal records (especially those related to drugs), you should know you ain't getting in with a serious adult criminal record.

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Don't fool yourself. The Japanese Government are just covering their behinds so they don't get sued in foreign countries. If you are at all aware of Japan's attitudes to criminal records (especially those related to drugs), you should know you ain't getting in with a serious adult criminal record.

I don't give a flying F*** the seriousness of the crimes committed. The fact that ex-cons might still be qualified really saids a lot about the quality of this joke of a program.

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Don't be silly. Ex-cons don't qualify for JET and are not admitted into JET. No ifs and or buts. If you have proof to the contrary, please present. If not, maybe it is time for you to admit you don't know what you are talking about.

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The fact that Japan is doing poorly in TOEIC doesn't really have much to do with JET at all. By your logic, hospitals are the most dangerous place to be because people keep dying there. And sure, nobody has scientifically proven that democracy is any better than communism or anarchy. Call it a hunch or I don't know, common sense. Of course having someone who can pronounce English available is useful! The only debate is if it's cost effective.

This article is full of hyperbole.

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As is the case with schools the world over, there just aren't enough hours in the day to teach and practice everything we expect our kids to learn in the brief time they are ours. Priorities have to be established and things like conversing in a foreign language (like English) are going to be placed fairly low on the priorities list.

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