Abe Cabinet: MOE Minister possible reverse course on J Primary School English education?


(Submitted to the Life in Japan yahoogroups list, which kicked off some debate. Subscribe to LIJ via http://groups.yahoo.com/group/life_in_japan/)

Hi LIJ. Thought I’d throw another bale of info onto the bonfire of debate on English education in Japan:

Wide Show Toku Da Ne this morning had a long segment (about 15 minutes, between 8:25 and 8:40 Sept 29) on the new Abe Cabinet’s change in attitude (and possible change in policy) towards educating Japan’s grade schoolers in English.

In a reverse course, the new Monkashou Minister Ibuki apparently opposes English education in primary schools–which has been going on in Japan for about ten years now, according to the program.

The reasoning is that Ibuki (as do many conservatives) believe that students’ Japanese language abilities are going down. They should work on their native language, hone that to a good level, then work on English. Studying a foreign language at such an early age a) apparently confuses the kids, and b) takes class time away from good, honest study of our language.

I don’t buy this (neither did the panelists on Toku Da Ne, especially anchor Ogura, who made it clear he wishes he had more English education at an earlier age), because:

a) I don’t believe that learning a foreign language at an early age has the effect of “crowding out” the mother tongue mentally. I cite the fact that many countries (Holland and India, for example, as I found out this morning from friends) learn two or three languages in primary school simultaneously along with their mother tongue, and do pretty well with it.

b) I don’t think that English, if taught and learned properly, is a waste of time or deleterious to a child’s education.

c) Catch them younger, not older, when language learning is easier. Duh.

On this point, the show compared two grade schools–one with a native speaker of English coming in to teach along side a Japanese teacher, and the other with the school’s kokugo (Japanese) teacher doing everything without any English language teaching training. The show made clear that students’ attitudes and abilities were far better in the school with a native helping out and a trained teacher. The other school’s teacher said she was afraid to teach and didn’t much like doing it. No real surprise there.

Finally, the show showed some pie charts (I’m typing this whole thing out from memory), courtesy of Monkashou. When it comes to teaching English in grade schools, 70% of parents surveyed were for it. However, 54% of Japanese teachers were against it. Disconnect. It was clear to me that teachers didn’t want to have to teach it, but also they didn’t want foreigners coming there either (either to take jobs away or just plain disrupt the status quo–which was clear to me and to the show panelists as part of the problem).

The final point of the show was that there is a paucity of native English teachers in Japan at the elementary school level, and that should probably change. But it might go in the opposite direction given the recent change in PM and Cabinet.

Comments? Debito in Sapporo

(Submitted to the Life in Japan yahoogroups list, which kicked off some debate. Subscribe to LIJ via http://groups.yahoo.com/group/life_in_japan/)

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