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What do you think of the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) program?


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JET set two main goals for itself: English education and internationalization. It's been marginally successful at internationalization, albeit mostly in ways that keep "international" neatly in a box that Japanese schools can open and shut when they choose. For English education, JET has accomplished very little, particularly for the level of expense. JET still manages to hire and train better than the big dispatch companies, but that's a very low bar.

JET is a hugely expensive program. Nobody can really say how much is actually spent because the cost is spread out over multiple government agencies, each of the prefectural budgets, and thousands of local budgets. Estimates put the total cost at well over 40 billion yen per year ($400 million). For that money, JET has placed mostly inexperienced college graduates into schools, and then the program cuts those workers off after three years (now sometimes five), just as they are beginning to develop into effective teachers. The curriculum was poorly designed from the start to use ALTs, and Japanese teachers were poorly trained to use ALTs. These problems have only marginally improved over time. The program was window dressing, never really designed to accomplish its purported function of improving English. English ability has improved in Japan since JET's inception, but for reasons almost entirely apart from JET.

For the same money, Japan could (and should) have invested in professional teachers. Send Japanese English teachers abroad to study English or enter English language teaching programs. Retrain every current Japanese English teacher in communicative language teaching (instead of grammar-translation). Create more situations for students where they have a need to use English meaningfully. Shrink language class sizes. Send more students abroad. Hire foreign teachers who possess TESOL degrees (not just flimsy certificates, but full M.A. degrees) and teaching licenses. Make foreign teachers regular, permanent teaching staff at schools. Put bona fide language teachers into elementary schools, and start English (including reading and writing) from elementary 1st or 2nd grade.

Granted, the roughly 40 billion yen annually can only go so far when spread out across the entire school system. It would not begin to cover all that I'm suggesting. But there are so many ways to achieve significantly more impact in English education than what JET has accomplished

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It's main purpose surely must be getting young Japanese kids used to being around non-Japanese people. The main purpose surely can't be English education; if it were, the whole thing has been an abject failure. How many years has it been going now? Where does Japan rank in the international TOEIC scores again?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

For quite a few JET participants it looks like a paid working-vacation with the possibility to experience Asian and other "in-the-area-countries" (not just Japanese) culture.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Great opportunity to come to Japan, meet locals and have a fun couple of years.  Not sure any of the pupils learned mjuch language from the programme though.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

It's main purpose surely must be getting young Japanese kids used to being around non-Japanese people.

I cannot make head nor tale of that one.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

This all really depends on what you're judging it on. There are very strong murmurs that it's just what is now called a "soft power" exercise. That is, to bring young Western people to Japan, show them a good time in the name of "teaching", and then get them to go home and tell everyone how wonderful Japan is. The guy behind the program, Sasagawa, clearly had some very questionable ideas. Subject to the "you can't please all the people all the time" caveat, as a soft power exercise, I think you'd have to say the JET program has been a runaway success. Many participants praise Japan to the skies because they had three years on effectively a holiday camp. Conversely, those who come here as experienced educators can be very disappointed.

If the JET program was intended to improve the English communication skills of Japanese people, then yes, as mikeylikesit says, it has been very poor value for money. An almost complete failure. Some people claim that there is value in it stopping a certain number of Japanese people staring when they see a white or black face, but I think that is setting the bar at an embarrassingly low level. Surely that should be the type of thing the recently reintroduced "doutoku" (morality) lessons should be for. This is a human being (show oriental face) and this is a human being too (show white or black face).

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Mikeylikesit nails it thinking what I was thinking when on the Programme myself over 20 years ago.

It was great fun though!

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The JET Program (with its predecessors the BET and MEF) formed to inform English teaching and local municipalities was likely run along the line of the foreign yatoi hired in the Meiji era to modernize Japan in jurisprudence, diplomacy, military, and education. The yatoi accomplished the Japanese government's aims (maybe all too well). JET, 30+ years later, probably has made inroads in globalization for local authorities, but maybe not so much in substance for English teaching. But at least municipalities and education boards are getting enlightened to the fact that not every native English speaker looks white.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

As a former JET I think it was a wonderful programme bringing young enthusiastic graduates together from a bunch of countries to aid in grass roots internationalization. Bringing other cultures to the doorstep of Japanese youngsters trapped in a rather archaic education system has great value, often the kind of value that cannot be translated easily into statistics. Japanese teachers are often overworked, over burdened and lacking passion for their given subject so these JETS can play a vital role in stimulating curiosity and bringing some ‘wowness’ into learning.

Despite the many flaws , failures and misgivings of the Japanese approach to English instruction, it’s all the stuff that happens in the hallways, at the sports carnivals and in the community that makes the JET programme very special. Imagine your average school without the token genki gaijin rocking the boat a bit! Yikes!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Wish that there was more understanding that exchange and teaching in the JET do not and should not involve only native English speakers and Western countries.

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As one person online correctly put it, the JET Programme turned out to be in the end...an exchange programme to mostly facilitate international marriages and other friendly relations between Japanese citizens and middle class, college educated young people from other advanced, industrialized, capitalist democracies. Some of the most adamantly pro-Japan people I know are Americans, Canadians, Britons, etc. who were JET participants and ended up marrying Japanese natives.

That's all well and good, but is a program like this really necessary in 2018? When it started in 1987, the Japanese government's leaders understandably feared that the country's perceived mercantilistic trade practices were generating hostile feelings towards Japan by Americans and others. So I guess it was decided that young people, under the guise of "teaching" English, should be brought to Japan to basically take a "working holiday" and enjoy all that the country has to offer.

But who in the advanced industrialized capitalist democracies (besides South Korea) thinks so negatively about Japan today? Every time Donald Trump opens his mouth and complains about Japan's unfair trade practices, personally I wonder if the guy just stepped out of "Back to the Future's" DeLorean time machine from the year 1985. The man is so lazy he hasn't updated his economic understanding of Japan for the last 30 years. It's like the bursting of Japan's economic bubble never happened in that man's mind.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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