JET Programme on GOJ chopping block: Appeal from JQ Magazine and JETAA in NYC

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Hi Blog. Forwarding with permission.  Comment from me below.

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From: magazine@jetaany.org
Subject: URGENT: JET Programme in Danger – An Impassioned Request for your Help
Date: July 6, 2010 4:59:39 AM JST
To: debito@debito.org

Dear Mr. Arudou:

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Justin Tedaldi, and I am the editor of JQ Magazine New York, a publication of the JET Programme Alumni Association of America’s New York Chapter. I also write about Japanese culture in New York for Examiner.com. I lived in Kobe City for about two years, and my first work experience out of school was as a coordinator for international relations with the JET Programme.

I’m a longtime follower of your site (over ten years), and I would like to ask your help on behalf of all the JETs worldwide. As part of Japan’s efforts to grapple with its massive public debt, the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Program may be cut. Soon after coming into power, the new government launched a high profile effort to expose and cut wasteful spending. In May 2010, the JET Program and CLAIR came up for review, and during the course of an hourlong hearing, the 11-member panel criticized JET, ruling unanimously that a comprehensive examination should be undertaken to see if it should be pared back or eliminated altogether. The number of JET participants has already been cut back by almost 30 percent from the peak in 2002, but this is the most direct threat that the program has faced in its 23-year history.

We are asking JET Program participants past and present, as well as other friends of the program to speak out and petition the Japanese government to reconsider the cuts. Please sign this petition in support of the grassroots cultural exchange the JET Program has fostered and write directly to the Japanese government explaining the positive impact the Program has made in your life and that of your adopted Japanese community.

http://www.change.org/petitions/view/save_the_jet_program

Any effort you can make to pass along the petition link below or include as a posting on your site would be most appreciated. I am also open to e-mail interviews for the Examiner if you would like to discuss this further.

Thank you for your attention, and please let me know if you have any other questions.

Best regards,

Justin Tedaldi
Editor
JQ Magazine New York
http://jetaany.org/magazine

==================================

To: uschapters@yahoogroups.com; aadelegates@yahoogroups.com
From: president@jetaany.org
Date: Mon, 5 Jul 2010 12:21:09 -0700
Subject: [uschapters] Save JET and JETAA – Sign the Petition

Mina-sama:

As you recently were notified, the JET Program and JETAA are on the chopping block. More detail can be found at the link below.

In addition to sending your anecdotes and JET Return On Investment stories/videos to Steven Horowitz at stevenwaseda@jetwit.com, please sign the petition below to demonstrate your support. This is for anyone to sign, so please forward to your friends and family to demonstrate the hundreds of thousands of people that have been positively impacted by these meaningful programs. Thank you for your support.

http://www.change.org/petitions/view/save_the_jet_program

Sincerely,
Megan Miller Yoo
President, JETAANY

APPEAL ENDS

///////////////////////////////

COMMENT: I have of course written about JET in the past:
http://www.debito.org/?p=294
And here:
http://www.debito.org/HAJETspeech.html

In sum, although I have never been a JET myself, I am a fan of the JET Programme. The program has its flaws, but overall its aim, of ameliorating insular tendencies within Japanese society, is an earnest and genuine one. I would be sad to see JET go, as its loss would be a detriment to Japan’s inevitable future as a multicultural society.

Sign the online petition if you want. I have. What are other people’s thoughts and experiences about JET? Is it fat to be cut from the budget, or an indispensable part of Japanese intercultural education? Arudou Debito in Sapporo

UPDATE: I just remembered, I did a paper on JET’s goals way back when. You can read the full text of it here.

研究ノート

INTERNATIONALIZATION THROUGH TRANSPLANT EDUCATORS:
THE JET PROGRAMME PART ONE
By David C. Aldwinckle, Assistant Professor
Faculty of Liberal Arts, Hokkaido Information University
Hokkaido Jouhou Daigaku Kiyou
Vol 11, Issue 1, September, 1999


Keywords: Internationalization, Public Policy in Japanese Education, The JET Programme

SUMMARY

Internationalization, or kokusaika, has become a buzzword in Japan through its attempts to become an outward-looking, “normal” country in international circles. To this end, the Japanese government over the past ten years has sponsored the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, which offers educational internships of one to three years for young college graduates from English-speaking countries. These teachers, acting as assistants to native Japanese English teachers in Japan’s smaller-town junior and senior high schools, have been expressly charged with increasing Japanese contact with foreign countries at the local level. As the first in a series, this research paper will seek to outline the structure of JET, critique its goals, and briefly focus upon its operations in one locale, Hokkaido, as a means of case study.
http://www.debito.org/JETjohodaikiyo999.html

90 comments on “JET Programme on GOJ chopping block: Appeal from JQ Magazine and JETAA in NYC

Comment navigation

  • As others have accurately stated, JET was never intended as an ESL programme. It was a sop to the US during the days of huge trade deficits, and a way to plant seeds of pro-Japanism in young educated folks in various countries. Hence the proclivity of those who supervise JET to hire only young and inexperienced people whenever possible. The idea was to get them to Japan, give them a Potemkin village style tour for a year of so, and then get them home.

    If Japan was serious about improving English education, it would start with the Japanese English teachers themselves- training them on modern ESL pedagogy. It would continue to revamping the curriculum, perhaps removing English from the list of compulsory subjects. And it would end with hiring only trained and experienced foreign teachers. Not as ALTs (anyone can be an ALT, native speaking ability is not a necessity) but as fully tenured members of professional teaching staffs.

  • @Mark-

    I think you will find that a lot of JETs do not do those outside activities, just as some who are non-JETs do. In fact, many of the JETs that I know are not only bad teachers, but are lazy. I know of one, in particular, who doesn’t go to school unless she has a lesson. Whereas the non-JETs work longer hours per work, for less money (much less), and many get more involved in their schools. They go to the volunteer days, the festivals, watch the school’s teams at competitions, eat lunch with the students every day, etc., In addition, because of the nature of the contracts, it is much harder for the dispatch ALTs to participate in their community because they often are not even told of these things (which is strange, because sometimes it is special English lessons for students, or other activities that would be up their alley), nor would they receive any kind of benefit from going.

    Personally, I think that until Japan gets serious about education nothing will change. Yes, I realize that some people may think that Japan is serious, between juku and eikawa, and everything in between. But think about it another way – students can pass grades without actually knowing the material (I know a student who is in their first year of junior high yet cannot do simple addition). Bad students can continue going to school and disrupt classes. Students who never even set foot in to some schools still graduate.

    That and not enough people see or are told the reason why they are studying English. I am sure that even some who study it in eikawa couldn’t really answer, or would only say to pass the time. I think that Japanese people need to learn the benefit of studying a foreign language and re-evaluate the aims of their study.

  • Greg Goodmacher says:

    I vote to completely eliminate the JET program. Yes. There have been some good benefits, but for the total amount of money that has been spent, it is a bad investment. I would rather have the Japanese government provide grants to deserving Japanese students to study abroad or provide grants to deserving Japanese teachers to study methods of teaching language and culture. I think it is absurd to hire foreigners with no teaching experience to become language teachers, just become they are native speakers. (Hey, I have teeth, so I can be a dentist!) Doing so devalues the worth of qualified teachers, both Japanese and foreign, as well as wastes the time of students.

  • I am enjoying reading the varied opinions about the JET program and whether or not it should remain. I agree with posters who would like better data about the results of the program before making an informed decision.

    What has just taken place in Okayama is something that no doubt is occurring in other locales as well. The JET program here (as far as I know) has ended and the new ALTs who have just begun work are dispatch employees from Interac. One of these new teachers is my daughter’s ALT. I for one can’t wait to see how the local government reacts when teachers leave during the school year and the imagined financial savings turn out to be just that, imagined, not real. On the bright side, another local city’s school board has decided to revert to directly hiring ALTs when it’s contract with another dispatch company is completed.

  • My wife had no interest in English or international cultures until her first class with a JET ALT in junior high school. This had a profound impact on her to the point that she spent a year studying in Pennsylvania while a student at Yamagata University (a year of schooling for which she received no credit in Japan) and is now an English teacher herself. She is not the only person I know what was affected in a similar way. Such experiences require people from other cultures coming into Japan and living here, something that is still not common in many rural areas. I think Japan has become much more open in the twelve years I’ve been here, especially in rural Yamagata; I believe the JET Program has been a major player in bringing about that change.

  • I think the Japanese’s English is not improving precisely because this has been the second largest economy in the world since 1968. You can have a comfortable life without ever learning English, so you’re better off using that time and energy on something else. The situation will change when the market demands it.

    I’m very proud of my work in the JET Program the past two years. I worked a busy 45 hours per week, made friends all over town, knew the names and families of hundreds of students, had a wonderful time at countless local and school events, got into the prefecture’s newspaper for helping lead an international charity project, had Japanese compositions published four times, and went from knowing no Japanese to passing Level 1 of the JLPT, among other things. I earned my salary.

    That said, democratic governments are drowning in red ink because everyone wants to protect their share of the public trough. We serve at the leisure of the taxpayers. Japan, like the United States, will even have to cut good programs in order to survive. I pray that the government gathers accurate information and makes a wise decision.

  • “I think the Japanese’s English is not improving precisely because this has been the second largest economy in the world since 1968. You can have a comfortable life without ever learning English, so you’re better off using that time and energy on something else. The situation will change when the market demands it.”

    Wrong. Japan doesnt need to speak English because of its racial make up. neither does China or Korea. If you travel to PI, Singapore, Malaysia ect they can speak English because they have many races living together. They may speak malay to each other, but to another group like Indians they can speak English. This isnt neccessary in Japan and probally wont be in the forseeable future. They will only speak it when its neccessary, such as in business transactions etc but amoungst each other Nihongo will always be the language of choice.

  • I’m sure it’s been nice for the kids having an extended holiday but now the Japanese government has far higher priorities for its limited financial resources. Jet’s time has come and gone.

  • I forgot to add.

    The question asked by shibuyara in #9 is a very valid one, whether palatable or not.

    What statistical independent evidence is there to support the assertions that JET is good and has changed Japanese attitudes?

    Firstly, has there been a change, in statistical terms, in the past 20 years?..ie a proper sample and demographic size)..and how is this measured?

    Secondly, what has caused this change?…..it could be the influence of foreign/American films on TV..or the internet or having more money to travel overseas on holidays…etc etc….it may have nothing to do with JET.

    Without further evidence, all the above comments, mine included, are just anecdotes and provide no proof of JET doing anything positive other than in those participating thinking they are making a change. We all have our opinions.

    And one should not be berated for asking the question…..it is a genuine question, whether shibuyara has the answer or not, doesn’t make it less important.

  • 1. How much is the JET program total to the Japanese Government?

    2. How much money would be saved in cutting, trimming, or eliminating unnecessary JET costs?

    3. Anyone else have solid figures when it comes to cost of JET operation?

    In spite of the all the good, bad, and ugly experiences different values of the JET program. The simple fact is that government(s) and Japan is no different are in desperate need to balance their budgets.

    I know from the JET home page that the average JET salary is 30,000,000Y ($33,000) to to 36,000,000Y ($40,000) depending on experience, certificates.
    The JET ALT has round trip air fare paid for by the program. A around trip air ticket to Japan and US will run about $1200.
    Let’s use that as a base for air fair.

    2009 there were 4,436 participants in the JET Program.
    http://www.jetprogramme.org/documents/stats/2009-2010/2009participants_totals_by_country.pdf

    Let’s round that all the way to 3000. Just an easy figure to start off to account for recurring contracts and a low ball figure to work with.

    $3,600,000 annual cost in RT air fare
    $99,000,000 cost in minimum salaries
    $102,600,000 total basic cost of program
    9.2 billion in Yen per year is the guesstimate cost of the JET program.

    Eliminate free airfare and you save 3.6 million dollars.

    I wonder what other JET expenses can be eliminated to salvage the program from being cut altogether?

  • Hey everyone, I’ve been following this site for awhile but this is my first time posting a comment. I’ll echo some of the other posters by saying it’s been interesting to read the discourse about the merits for and against axing the JET Programme. I have a lot of thoughts about this topic, so Debito please feel free to whittle down this post as you see fit.

    I was a JET ALT. One of the things that the higher ups in the JET Programme like to stress is “ESID,” Every Situation Is Different. Whilst the recruitment and screening process is centralised by the national Ministry of Ed people, once we arrive we are scattered about Japan and hired by prefectural and local governments, which often have little contact with the head office in Tokyo let alone each other. We are placed in small rural villages, islands, and urban cities. Every hiring organisation and sometimes even every individual school does its own thing, so it’s hard to generalise but also hard to streamline. Some JET English ALTs (which I’ll refer to from now on as “JETs,” although I know that many JETs are not ALTs and also do not necessarily teach English) are placed in one school and get to know their students very well and others are placed in 4 or more schools and are lucky if they teach the same student twice per semester. Whilst many JETs have subsidised or free rent, there are many others who pay full cost. Some of us live alone in an entire house, some have tiny 1-room apartments, and some live in teacher housing provided by the school or local government. JETs do various duties at school, and I have heard of JETs who team teach various English classes (Oral Communication, Business English, Reading, Grammar, International Seminar, etc.) with a Japanese Teacher of English, lead English Club after school, participate in other club activities, assist with school festivals and sports days, write English exam questions or conduct interview exams, assign and grade students’ English assignments, and teach English or get involved in other ways within the community during the evenings or weekends. Yes, and being “cultural ambassadors” and just a friendly foreign face to your students and community is part of the expectations of being a part of the JET Programme. With that said, again, “every situation is different” and how “successful” a placement depends on a variety of factors, including the attitudes of the hiring organisation, the schools, the students, the Japanese teachers, the community, and the JET and their willingness to work together. Otherwise we get the scenarios like the JET as a tape recorder or parrot, and in other cases, with no classes at all for weeks or months.

    Some of my fellow JET friends have had very rewarding experiences on the JET Programme and have been heavily involved in their schools and community, and their students and communities have appreciated and valued their contributions. On the other hand, I know many JETs who seem either disillusioned or came to Japan for what sometimes seems like every reason except to teach English or be “good cultural ambassadors.” Before I came on JET I knew that I would not be a “real” teacher in Japan, which would require a teaching degree and knowledge and experience of the Japanese education system. I had many goals for coming to Japan and for my experience on JET, including further improving my Japanese ability, becoming a member of a community here, and developing cross-cultural relationships with my students and co-workers. Again, as I have reflected on my experience I reminded myself that because “every situation is different,” there are JETs who’ve had it both better and worse than me. But I admit that I’ve often been disappointed. I have been disappointed by the lack of clear measurable goals, and the lack of accountability when it is found that the teachers, schools, or hiring organisations are not playing according to the rules or what they claim to be valuing. I have been disappointed by many of the teachers’ attitude of “しょうがない” and many of the JETs’ attitudes of “Who cares? As long as I’m getting paid.” I have been disappointed by the national organisations’ (in charge) lip service but lack of willingness or power to promote and encourage improvements that would benefit both JETs and our students.

    Many JETs do want to get more involved with work. A recent survey of JETs showed that many want to be more useful but are often discouraged by – surprise, surprise – our schools and coworkers who feel that it is too bothersome to give us more responsibility or to integrate us (report here: http://ajet.net/downloads/reports/2010/May/Making%20the%20Most%20of%20Your%20Time%20on%20JET%20EN.doc) Some of the Japanese teachers see us merely as students’ babysitters or entertainers to fill class time after exams and exam prep is over and they don’t have anything else prepared. And for those of us who want to also include something a little more educational in our activities than just playing games, as Jeezus said in an earlier post about a JET orientation presenter, “It didn’t entertain me, so it must not be any good.” I think many of the students and teachers here apply the same logic to evaluate the ALT. Of course students aren’t always enthusiastic about studying or learning in general, let alone English which some students feel is irrelevant to them, and thus will always view the ALT as crappy. Although I do not have teaching certification in my home country, I do have an advanced degree in an education-related field, and I sometimes cringe when I hear some of the activities that ALTs do in their classes (granted sometimes at the Japanese teachers’ requests) that are biased, inappropriate, or perpetuate inaccurate or negative stereotypes of foreigners or certain historically disadvantaged groups. But often at the end of the day, for some Japanese teachers the bottom line is “did the ALT make the students laugh?” I’m not against having fun in classes, and I enjoyed having fun with my students and my supportive teachers, but with so much money being put into this programme and the public criticism being raised, we also need to produce some beneficial results. Or we need to be clear which goals we are aiming for: “happy students,” or “increase average English test scores by X%.” I think this attitude of being students’ entertainment is also reflected in the interview process. Reading discussion boards online for prospective JET applicants it seems like a theme that appears a lot is that interviewers look for peppy personalities or those who seem like people who can “handle” living in Japan. Of course, those who aren’t serious about their jobs are likely to be able to handle having what must seem like a paid 1+ year international vacation. Nevermind that some of them will often come in to work hungover. It’s these types that make all JETs look bad and lazy (granted you don’t have to be a JET to have this type of mentality here). I’ve known good, hard-working candidates who were not accepted to the programme and others who seem short a few brain cells making the cut. And I have known some ALTs who DID have teaching degrees in their own countries, but some of them were seen as being by their Japanese coworkers as being too opinionated or demanding. Although some educators may carry their own or cultural biases coming to Japan, why would having fresh ideas or perspectives in cross cultural or English education be undesirable?

    Another issue is the difficultly for JETs to transfer to another assignment within JET. According to JET Programme policies (http://www.jetprogramme.org/e/current/recontracting.html), unacceptable reasons for a transfer include: “My abilities are not being utilised in my current workplace,” or “work place relations and atmosphere are not good.” I don’t understand why these are not good reasons for a transfer. Granted, this policy may prevent frivolous complaints and wasteful transfers, but for a programme that already is being questioned for its relevance and cost-effectiveness, how expensive is it to bring in new people for all the people who quit and returned home who would have stayed but didn’t because they couldn’t move to a better situation where they would be better utilised? And how does this affect the fostering international relations aspect of the programme when someone returns to his or her home country having had a negative experience here (and not for unrealistic expectations)?

    In theory the JET Programme is a great idea. In practice, it’s a little more difficult to pull off. I am glad that there are others who have a very rewarding experience on JET, or, like Kerim, are able to take a not-so-great experience and make it into something rewarding and use it as a springboard to future opportunities. I don’t think the programme should be axed altogether, but it needs some serious work in order to be more credible and worth the money spent on it. In the end though, if JET gets axed or the privatisation trend continues, JETs will be replaced with dispatch company ALTs, which use essentially the same system with the same flaws. The Ministry’s English education and internationalisation goals must also be streamlined with college entrance exams or you get English teachers being told to emphasise two different things in their courses. And as for “internationalisation,” there’s a lot more out there internationally than just English-speaking countries!

  • @TX – Thank you for your post. I think you summed up the JET program, and a lot of dispatch companies as well. Every situation is different. There are plenty of good teachers on both sides. I, too, personally know people with teaching certificates/degrees/etc., who were turned away from JET and thus had to go the dispatch company route. I know people who were on JET, wanted to stay longer in Japan, but their BOE told them they couldn’t do direct hires so they had to do dispatch.

    I know dispatch people who do club stuff, sports day, culture day, grade papers, make tests, mark tests, help with copies and office work, make lesson plans, etc., while some JETs do next to nothing. And, on the other hand, I do know some JETs who work their butts off, while some dispatch don’t.

    As for benefits of JET – their health insurance is also covered by the program, as well as their city taxes. Many get some kind of housing money – some for as much as half of their rent. It inflates their salary a bit, when you add it all up.
    Many dispatch workers have to pay their insurance, housing and taxes all on their own.

  • @ Oishi Ninja

    To my knowledge, JETs get subsidized housing. (The few JETs I knew several years ago all had susidized housing) If this is still the case, then this expense would need to be added into your calculation.

  • @ Mashu and Oishi Ninja
    Some JETs get partial or full subsidies for their housing. A few I know get free apartments or houses to live in during their tenure. (With that said, a lot of them are in very rural locations and often find out that when they arrive they have to purchase a car right away in order to get to work.) Others pay a portion (for example, one to several man). In my placement, as well as most of the others in my area, we paid 100% for our housing.

    @ Alys
    Thanks for reading my comments and sharing your own thoughts. I do think that the health benefits of belonging to the JET Programme is one of the perks, as well as the salary and vacation options, in comparison to private dispatch company ALTs who receive lower salaries and don’t get paid for school recess time like winter and summer holiday. I think the budget could be adjusted to cut costs without seriously damaging certain components of the programme. As I stated before, I think they should seriously reconsider the transfer policies. It should cost less to transfer ALTs to another assignment than to pay for their airfare home and bring in other ALTs as replacement and pay for all of the orientations and what training they do provide.

  • Oishi Ninja says:

    Anyone have an idea of an average JET benefit package?
    I guess to assume since taxes, and insurance is not taken out of their salaries that they pretty much get full pay.

    Since dispatch workers have to pay the insurance, and taxes and such then they must save Japan a minimum of 20-30% in operating costs over a JET.

    Anyone have ideas on how the goverment CAN keep JET can cut costs?

  • I agree that this is a quality discussion, and I thank everyone for giving me different views to consider.

    @Mark Hunter
    Good stuff. I see what you are saying about the ‘roads to nowhere.’ It looks like we agree that the value’s being considered is fair. As regards the Ministry’s approach to communicative-English, for many years they have addressed the issue, but it does not feel like they have made much effort in holding the schools/prefecture I have worked with accountable for achieving the goals they put forth — here is 1 example of their trying to set a framework for getting people using the language to ‘give’ from July 2002 http://www.mext.go.jp/english/news/2002/07/020901.htm . The problem with the ‘desensitized-by-mere-presence’ point is that such ‘tolerance’ may come at the cost of producing students who do not have the ability to make reasonable judgments about the ‘cultural backgrounds’/personal experiences of the ALT that they spend an hour a week staring at — everyone arguing for acceptance of such an approach should take this into account. In short, this sort of tokenism is not an acceptable mid-point to true education in ‘international’ matters. Effective education, in my view, always requires very carefully thought-out/planned discourse to ensure mastery of concepts and abilities. Such discourse does not occur in the cases of ALTs who do the famed “tape recorder” bit.

    @Ted
    Ok, thanks for giving me some more specifics. I agree that supplying schools ALTs is better than paying for purposeless dump trucks and concrete, but the discussion seems to center around whether or not the ALT and the program set up to accommodate her/him is providing as much good for the cost. Not sure where all of the money comes form initially; I only mean to point out that the money’s going to education would seem to better serve the public interest [Sorry, I’m actually a tad bit confused as to what you are asking, so I am trying to answer the question according to how I am reading it.]

    @Jack
    Cool, thanks for clearing that up. It sounded like you were referring to the entirety of a negative experience and its after-effects. Looks like you were actually addressing elements within the program. That works, and it allows us to maintain the stance that the ‘bang for the buck’ evaluation is a proper one.

    @TX
    “Accountability” was the key word in your fantastic contribution to the discussion. The ESID point is just a fact-of-life, and it is the responsibility of the administrative organizations to ensure that all ‘situations,’ as ‘different’ as they may be, are successful situations. Using different experiences and perspectives to come about a commonly understood body of knowledge that can be readily-modified under the same ‘difference’ premise seems to be what ought to be the goal here. Excusing failure because of ‘difference’ is what leads to a negative view of perspectives and experiences that may differ from one’s own.

  • If you want to compare the cost of JET to using haken dispatch companies, I can help out. My city pays a dispatch company 21 million yen per year to supply 4 ALTs. The company pays the ALTs a base salary of 240,000 a month.

    You can find the same information at any city hall. You just need to make a Freedom of Information request and they will provide you with a copy of the contract that the city signs with the haken.

    JET was never intended as anything resembling a career. That is why the salary and benefits do not rise, even after the JET completes one or two contracts. As a rough guesstimate, a JET costs in the area of 5-6 million yen a year once all costs are factored in.

    I have done seminars for various education groups and tell them all the same thing: hire responsible and professional native speakers. Hire them directly, as you would any other member of your teaching staff. Treat them with respect and in turn expect them to behave professionally.

  • I think TX pretty much summed up everything that went through my mind while reading this comment thread.

    I’m a current JET and the talk of the program being cut has been going around for months, a couple months ago, a number of ALTs in my prefecture (including myself) had school assignments changed to have more people going to more schools, fewer days a week. Basically to spread everybody out since the program is shrinking.

    I don’t think it needs to be cut, but it needs serious re-working. A lot of what people have said on here is valid and correct, but erasing it because it hasn’t turned Japan bilingual in 20 years isn’t a good one when there are a multitude of other factors involved. From my own experience, students’ lack of interest (in ANY subject, let alone English), Japanese English teacher lack of English ability (why isn’t this also being discussed by the suits up top?) and just simply, the education system not really caring if you can communicate (SPEAK) in English, rather than, “write a sentence using SVOO.” The last one comes out usually when I’m trying to help students with 英検 interviews, they can do the writing/grammar, but when asked questions (“Why?”) they stumble.

    There are always JETs who are great, and JETs who aren’t, but the “success” or “failure” of the program shouldn’t be attributed to them (us?) alone.

  • Without question the JET program has mixed reviews.

    In this financially stressed environment that the country is in, can the JET Program be sustained at current costs?

    The politicians would have an easy time to nix the program depending on the climate of the public opinion of the program.
    It would not take much digging for the media to find enough horror stories of less than professional ALTs over the last two decades to reveal scandals. With public support, the program would be easily justified to be axed.

    Now, the real question is…
    With billions of Yen saved from JET’s demise…

    Where would the money saved go?
    Where else could the JET savings go to support education in Japan?

  • It may not be just budget concerns.This article from New York Times last week details how South Korea is already replacing teaching assistants with robots.If you read the article carefully, words such as “exacting”, “sticks to script”, “the female model seems more effective at teaching”,”replace native speakers” , “(students).they get shy before a foreign native speaker, afraid to make mistakes”. The truth could be more frightening.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/science/11robotside.html?scp=1&sq=engkey&st=cse

  • A39..
    Great article from the NYTimes.

    I was wondering what “frightening truth” were you referring too?

    Looks like the tale of John Henry is playing out in the English
    teaching industry.

    Of course, the robots appear consistent, cold, and are devoid of personality.

    On the other hand, the robot ALT will not…
    1. ever be late.
    2. show up to class hungover.
    3. have no work misunderstandings that are due to cultural differences.
    4. have no vacation, sick days, or personal leave issues.
    5. doesn’t need a work visa.
    6. saves time in screening potential ALT candidates.
    7. need housing, car, bank account, medical expenses.
    8. never gets tired.

    And I though they just made good vacuum cleaners.

    — So they don’t demonstrate any of the humanity (good or bad) of their fellow Japanese teachers. Great. I wonder if the educational labor unions realize that they’re next to be replaced.

    Once again, Gaijin as Guinea Pig.

  • Michael Weidner says:

    I know I was kinda harsh in my post earlier on, but I do feel that the whole system is broken. Some people did bring up some valid points when it comes to the usage of AET’s in the classroom, as well as accountability and credibility. I think a lot of the problem stems from a very apparent lack of communication between all parties involved.

    For Example:
    Teachers, BOE’s, and Schools are under the impression that JET AET’s have to take tests and have certain requirements in order to be on the JET Programme. The real situation is quite different however. Depending on the Consulate or Embassy that did the screening, the applicant may have gone through an intensive interview and testing process, or just a simple interview. That leaves a large disparity between applicants who are being asked to do the same job. The Consulates/Embassies verify that they are sending qualified people, but since there is such a disparity, how can they accurately verify that they are able to do the job? Things I have heard of happening while employed on JET: calling in drunk, going in to work drunk, calling in sick in order to take a trip to Tailand, showing up late, or not showing up at all. Don’t get me wrong, there are many fantastic JETs out there. The problem being that they seem to be few and far between, and those bad seeds put not only other JETs, but other foreigners in a bad light.

    There needs to be standards and they need to be followed. The reason I say that JET needs to be cut is because the system is flawed and needs to be replaced with a program that has been reworked from the ground up. With good communication at all levels. And responsibility and accountability at all turns.

    It’s not easy to make large changes in this country on the short term so a new program to replace the old one may be the only answer in order to keep things in balance.

    As for DS’s comments, thank you for basically summarizing everything I wanted to say. You rock 🙂

  • Mark Hunter says:

    Still seems many posters think JET is about English teaching. It’s not. I’m not advocating for its renewal specifically, but I believe that officialdom get exactly what they want with the JET Programme. The candidates read the qualifications, pass interviews and come. Don’t blame JETs and don’t analyze this issue from the point of view of English teaching or output results by students. It’s off base. By focusing on English teaching and results, the main thrust of the program, exposing people to foreigners, is shunted aside and the whole exercise goes around in circles. Can we put the English teaching thing to bed once and for all and just leave the blame for crappy results where it belongs, in the Ministry of Education. Flame away all you want on the Ministry, but blaming underlings in a hierarchical society is very odd.

  • I’m a current JET in a mountain town of 2000 people. I feel that some of the comments have been a wee bit unfair; I am most certainly not a parrot or a CD player. Saying that though, I think I am a good ALT, but NOT a good JET.

    I don’t think the solution is to cut the programme entirely. It needs a lot of work, and definitely needs stricter guidelines on the selection process (I remember thinking at London Orientation; “I did so much to boost my application for this, and this guy is acceptd without any relevant qualifications?!?!WTF…”), but ALTs can be beneficial to Japan and to the Japanese, even with regards to learning English.

    However, what I think would be even more beneficial is to find foreigners with a good command of the Japanese language and get them to teach English. In other words, the same way that foreign languages are usually taught in foreign countries. Yes, I was taught various languages by various English people who knew and could speak a foreign language (or two); but I learned the best when I was taught by a native of that language who had a decent command of English. Fair enough, they made many mistakes when speaking English, but they had enough to be able to teach me their language. This is the way that a language should be taught, IMHO.

    Obviously, you’re not going to find thousands of foreigners who can immediately come and teach in the way described above, and so this is where the funding for the JET programme comes from; use it to send the foreigners to intensive language courses so they can learn the language to be able to teach English. At the same time, they’ll be teaching in Eikaiwas and be interns at schools, so they can get real experience teaching and apply what they’ve learned at the same time. After about a year of intensive study, you’d hope that their language is of a sufficient standard to do some basic teaching; at that time, send them out to the rural towns and enroll them on a professionally made correspondence language course. Those with stronger Japanese language skills teach in high schools, and those with less teach in JHS and ES. Of course, new participants can only start out in areas with the centres for the language courses (e.g. cities and big towns), but after the year, they can trickle out to rural places. And to make up for the costs of the language programmes, these new language teachers are contracted for a minimum of three years after their study year. And their study year should only have a minimum salary to cover their costs. When they leave, these people become much more employable, having been on and completed an extremely competitive programme, and having definitely acquired a new language. Also, Japan would have people in various foreign countries who can speak Japanese; this has the benefit of giving Japan the foreign Japan-friendly diplomats they want (who they can talk to because they speak Japanese!), or these people can go back and become Japanese teachers themselves, thus spreading the language further.

    My idea would obviously run up huge costs, but it would do all the positives that the JET programme does now, [i]and[/i] definitely teach English to a high level. The number of participants of this programme would be significantly fewer than the current JET programme, but the quality of participants would be higher with stricter interviews and requirements. But the rewards (being paid to live in a foreign country and study its language) are huge, so there would be applicants. But the strict application process would weed out the I-want-to-be-paid-to-party people.

  • Michael Weidner says:

    Mark Hunter – “Still seems many posters think JET is about English teaching. It’s not.”

    Mark, I think it’s a little naive to think that it’s not about English Teaching. Many applicants think that it is a “cultural exchange”. I’ve been an exchange student on two occations. Both cultural exchanges. I’ve also been involved with several other groups that also exchange students and teachers. From all of my experience in these fields, I can tell you that JET *isn’t* a cultural exchange. If they says it is, they’re lying to you. Either that, or they are doing an aweful job of the program. Japanese people today get a lot of exposure to foreign people through TV, movies, etc; they don’t require a live person in order to be exposed to them.

    I think a large part of this whole “OMG you’re a foreigner! You’re like sooo mezurashii!” frame of mind is because the society puts us out there on a pedistal. By setting up those who come over here on JET and other programs like it to fail, they fufill their expectations of lazy, undependable foreigners and reinforce their “us vs. them” mentality.

    “The candidates read the qualifications, pass interviews and come.”
    As I mentioned before, these qualifications are only loosely defined and are spotty at best. How is someone coming into work drunk considered acceptable? Even as a cultural exchange person?

    To me, it’s embarassing. But the type of issues that I mentioned in my previous post are not only prevalent, they are unchanging. Even when I was involved with the Rotary Club, they had stricter rules for candidates coming over, and stricter rules while they were on their exchange. Those rules were set in place because problems in the past had occured. Other cultural exchange programs followed suit when problems arose. Yet these problems with JET are as prevalent now as they were 10 years ago.

    Granted, not all JETs are bad. I’ve met my fair share of excellent JETs. But sadly, the percentage of those on the whole is too small for me to be impressed with the screening process. Or the program as a whole. Unimpressed enough to disuade those that I know who want to come to Japan to not come here on the JET program.

    I’m sorry, but the Japanese people deserve better, as do the people who are coming here.

    — Point of order: I think I’m going to call a moratorium on any further mentioning of the stereotype of the “Drunk (or Hungover) JET”. We’ve heard that cited enough, and even if true (and we have no concrete evidence to say that JETs ARE coming to class drunk) Debito.org does not believe in judging the status of the whole group based upon the actions of a few; that is the element of prejudice. Now back to the discussion.

  • Sorry, JETs are not teachers -they are assistants. All ALTs are. They are not legally allowed to be in charge of a classroom and cannot teach by themselves, as they do not have teaching licences. Because of this, they are as effective in the classroom as the teacher who is in charge of the class allows (or helps, or hinders) them to be.

    If we are looking at the effectiveness of the English educational system, start with the teachers, then look at the materials they use, the expectations of students and parents, and the tests that define education for a lot of students. Don’t bother looking at the assistants, many of whom do a great job. They don’t really make any decisions.

  • JETs are good. JETs are bad.
    I agree, the talk of the stereotype irresponsible JET is beating
    a dead horse. Even reading about brilliant ALTs, teachers, students,
    and B of Eds is beside the point.

    The axing or whittling down of JET is a financial issue and not one of pedagogy.

    The Japanese Government (or any other) does not have the luxury
    to understand the benefits of any cultural program.
    Their main concern is to balance their budgets.
    Education has never been on the forefront of any government.

    So, the issue isn’t quality ALTs, or better English education,
    or progressing xenophobia but one of Yen.

    Yes, it all gets down to money.

    I am curious for people’s solutions to the problem.

    What solutions do you offer so that the JET program funding not be cut?

    — I’m not sure we’re all line-item inspectors of the exact costs of the program, but that is essentially the question as far as Renho is concerned.

  • Mark Hunter says:

    Michael Weidner..agreed, JET isn’t a true exchange of cultures. It’s about exposing people to foreigners. True exchange would involve much more than the “look at the foreigner” thing to actually delving into our commonalities as humans, not differences. The number of JETs who claim to be used as human tape recorders is quite high and emphasizes (and I think your point)that not a lot of exchange is taking place. This depressing reality about exchange of culture does not then by default make JET an English teaching programme. It clearly isn’t. Let’s not shoot the messenger (JET participant) who passed the (albeit perhaps weak at times) screening process. Blame for lack of results, whether in the cultural exchange or English areas lies elswhere, namely with the organizers and the Ministry of Education.

    — We’re going around in circles now. Let’s not retread just to show agreement. Push the discussion forward. Let’s consider the question Oishi Ninja posed about concrete budget cuts. Let’s pretend we’re before a Dietmember Shingikai, trying to justify this program in terms of nuts and bolts, not principles and goals.

  • sendaiben says:

    Okay, looking at budget cuts.

    Cut CLAIR and the JET bureaucracy. Enforce the law so that BOEs can’t use dispatch companies to provide teaching staff. Encourage and provide support for direct hire of ALTs by BOEs. Encourage native speakers to get certified as teachers in Japan (a couple of people have done that here in Miyagi, so it’s possible for motivated people with support). Force BOEs and schools to focus on educational objectives as written in the course of study.

    Stop wasting millions of yen on pointless toys like interactive whiteboards (the BOE I worked at cut teacher salaries and positions every year, yet spent millions on pointless technology no teachers could use).

    Goodbye JET, hello effective English education 😉

  • Sendaiben raises a good point – ALTs are not in charge, the English Teachers are. However, one thing I have experienced a lot in Japan, and it is more the rule than the exception:

    Japanese Teachers do not have time to properly lesson plan with the ALT.

    They have homeroom problems to sort out, clubs to coach, parents to placate – and little time for anything else. Get rid of the free babysitting service that are clubs – farm them out to the community, and then maybe teachers and ALTs will have time to get a good synergy going.

  • Oishi Ninja says:

    From DS figures.

    Let’s say we take the average cost of a JET is 5.5 million yen, then DS’ city’s 4 ALT average comes out to 5.25 million yen per ALT.
    So we are talking about a .25 million savings per JET to dispatch company.

    250,000 (yen) x 3000 (JETS) = 750,000,000 Yen saved

    7.5 Million Yen!

    And that’s me really low balling it!

    4000 JETS that would be 1 billion Yen Saved to go else where
    as the government saw fit.

    Using the 2009 data from JET page

    250,000 x 4436 = 1,109,000,000 Yen

    That’s a lot of sushi!

  • Mark Hunter says:

    Sendaiben, amen to the useless digital stuff. This technology does not mesh with actual classroom practice, or at least not enough to justify the expense. Ditch it! Spend the money on teacher training.

  • Pip Bernadotte says:

    I like everyone’s arguments, especially those for the reformation instead of cancellation of the system. But if you look at the supposed cost of hiring ALL JETs for a year (9,000,000,000 yen) you realize that that is only 90 million dollars for 4000 teachers every year right? Thats only a little more than it cost to build the new highschool near me 2 years ago… (in SC, USA) So cutting the JET program (based on those figures) isn’t even a drop in the bucket compared to healthcare, Education, military or ANY OTHER program in the Japanese government. Compared to the total defense budget of US$44.693 BILLION in 2005, $90 MILLION really doesn’t seem all that bad to me.

    That being said, I will say again that there do need to be a lot of reforms in how the program is run, both from the GOJ side as well as the BOEs that need to be taught how to better handle their “gaijin resources”, but most of all there just needs to be a general nation wide restructuring and enforcement of the English Education system in Japan.

  • “250,000 (yen) x 3000 (JETS) = 750,000,000 Yen saved

    7.5 Million Yen!”

    Thats allot of unemployement insurance payments, job training, and other badly needed income for us out here struggling. The JET program was created during the bubble and could be justified during that time. These days there is no need for all that. [repeated subjective stereotypes of JETs deleted]

  • I’ll be honest, I ticked the “cut it” box on the sidebar poll.

    Why?

    Simple, as it stands, Boards of Education (BOE) are given the choice: hire a JET, or find a staff member via other means. And undoubtedly the very sleaziest of those other means come knocking on their door, hiding a sinister desire to facilitate breaches of workplace legislation.

    But heres the clincher: Hiring a staff-member full-time, without health insurance co-payments, not to mention the unpaid overtime (Junior High ALTs/NTs/JETs don’t oft encounter this problem; see lazy-bum comments above; but I can assure you those in the emerging Elementary programmes, and the more devoted Senior High workers do) is illegal.

    But the BOE cannot afford JET. The price difference isnt just that 100,000 yen a month the employee yearns for, its housing costs and/or subsidies, city tax exemptions, annual flights, JET administrative fees and until a couple of years back, the annual all-expenses paid holiday to Sapporo, Hiroshima or Kyoto. I’ve heard figures thrown around within the industry that the sum cost to the BOE itself for a single JET is between 6 million and 8 million annually. Its little surprise that this is unfeasible. So the BOE is forced to take the alternative, the easiest being the ~4 million (dispatcher cut isn’t slim) shifty dispatch contract.

    But its still illegal. Well thats OK, because the JET programme exists. You should be using that – there’s a handy official line. As long as the impossible JET option still exists, the dispatchers and their practices are essentially given approval by silence. Eliminate the JET smokescreen and finally a push can be made for uniform direct hire positions. a 4 mil direct hire allows proper candidate screening, and even in the low pay areas of Ibaraki/Kanagawa/Saitama/Chiba/Tokyo a saving can be made over the existing dispatcher contracts. The only catch I believe is a few rumoured technicalities involving reserve down payments on insurance, but those are one off investments of invisible money.

    I’m by no means knocking JET, its just that its served its purpose. Heck, it barely even exists anymore. I know Nagano still runs it and there are a pile in Hokkaido, and scattered across Tohoku. The rest is almost uniformly dispatch with a few bastions of direct hire around Osaka, Okayama, Yamanashi and greater-Tokyo.

    As a final note, I’m referring to JET teachers, not community managers and sports instructors or whatever, I’ve little knowledge on them except that the positions were rare in the first place.

  • I think that one thing that a lot of people are losing sight of is the cultural exchange aspect of the program. “Aspect” isn’t even the right word — cultural exchange is the entire point of the program in the first place. If they were just sending English teachers abroad, they’d require an degree in education. What the JET program does (and has always, always been designed to do) is build lifelong bonds between young foreign professionals and the nation of Japan — particularly in its rural areas. ALTs and CIRs aren’t meant to settle down in Japan forever. They’re meant to come and learn, and then take that experience with them into the working world. The children that they teach and the communities that they interact with are meant to learn and grow from that exchange as well. In that, it’s been an exceedingly succesful endeavor. JET alumni (and STUDENTS of JET alumni) are out there in the world, being active in business, politics, and artistic endeavors that further the relationship between Japan and the world.

    Does JET have its problems? Of course — any large, government funded operation is going to. But every year, the program integrates thousands and thousands of college-educated westerners into Japanese communities to serve as agents of cultural exchange. In many of these communities, the JET is the only foreigner living in their area. If it weren’t for JET, many of these rural towns would have no contact at all with anyone not Japanese.

    JET’s contributions to a larger global community far outweigh its cost to the government. To throw away the program entirely would be a mistake.

  • “If they says it is, they’re lying to you. Either that, or they are doing an aweful job of the program. Japanese people today get a lot of exposure to foreign people through TV, movies, etc; they don’t require a live person in order to be exposed to them.

    I could not disagree more. That’s like saying that American kids understand Japanese culture because they’ve watched some samurai movies. A great deal of the Japanese people that I’ve met, children in particular, think that the images of America* presented in TV and movies accurately represent the country. Meaning: everyone’s white, everyone has a gun, perfect teeth, no body fat, and great cars. Everybody knows Johnny Depp. These are things that my students have actually said to me.

    (In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a current JET. In response to some of the things that have been said about ALTS: I currently hold a master’s degree, have received training in ESL pedagogy, and have never shown up to class in anything less than a state of perfect sobriety 😉 )

    If anything, now that western TV and movies are a staple of Japanese life, it’s even more imperative for these kids to have someone around to break down those stereotypes.

    *America being the country that many Japanese auomatically assume represents all western counties, which is another stereotype that JETs help to break down.

  • Reform the program. Why are so many great ALTs with dispatch companies? Some were denied placement on the JET program and are now working with companies who can ‘auction them’ and ‘rip them off’ as they see fit.

    The BOEs are paying way less for ALTs who perform better than those on the JET program. The bottom-line is; what are JETs offering that other exploited ALTs are not offering?

    If the JET program is such that it’s quota for the year does not allow for more people becoming involved, it should be scrapped and the dispatched companies given the preference with major reform more transparency.

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