NEWS FLASH: Japan Times Eric Johnston doing article on JET, wants to talk to former students taught by JETs ASAP


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Hi Blog. Forwarding. Arudou Debito

Tue, July 20, 2010, 4:50PM
From: “Eric Johnston”
Dear All,

I’d like to ask a favor. If any of you know of Japanese students, or former students, who recently (within the past five years) were taught by JET teachers and would like to share their experience and opinions on the experience for an article I’m doing, please have them contact me, in English or Japanese, at I would prefer to use their names and the general area they live in, but I won’t mention their school name or the name of their teacher.

Many apologies for the last minute request, but I’d need to talk or e-mail them by noon on Thursday (July 22nd).

Eric Johnston, Reporter
The Japan Times


3 comments on “NEWS FLASH: Japan Times Eric Johnston doing article on JET, wants to talk to former students taught by JETs ASAP

  • It would be interesting to hear how these folks would improve the JET program if they had the power. A lot of the online commentary bears many of the warts, but these are self-described ex-JETs.

  • The article:

    Tuesday, July 27, 2010
    Ex-students don’t want JET grounded
    Eric Johnston and Kanako Nakamura ask ‘children of JET’ whether the program deserves to be on the chopping block

    By Eric Johnston and Kanako Nakamura

    Since 1987, the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) program has brought young Westerners — often straight out of college — to Japan to teach English at high schools. But now, Japan’s massive public debt and the need to cut costs have put JET in the spotlight.

    In May, the program came up for review by the Government Revitalization Unit, the jigyoshiwake budget review panel, which recommended JET’s necessity be reviewed. Since then, local governments and school boards, Japanese and foreign academics, and current and former JET teachers have all been passionately arguing for or against cutting the program. Briefly, here are some of the main arguments:
    The case for JET

    The JET program is one of — perhaps the only — project carried out by the Japanese government during the bubble-economy years of the late 1980s and early 1990s to promote kokusaika (internationalization) that actually had some success.

    Since its inception, over 50,000 young foreigners have come to Japan to teach English and share their cultures with young Japanese who would otherwise not likely have been able to speak directly with a foreign teacher. These young people have also benefited local education by improving the abilities of Japanese teachers of English.

    Upon return to their home countries, they act as unofficial goodwill ambassadors for Japan, and their experience as a JET is looked upon favorably by employers such as the U.S. State Department. For a relatively small investment on the part of taxpayers, the JET program has created huge returns, welcoming generations of non-Japanese who have, and will, go on to promote better relations between Japan and their own country and expose Japanese to the outside world in unprecedented ways.
    The case against

    The JET program is a relic of the go-go days of the bubble-economy years, when any half-baked idea could get government funding if it had the word “kokusaika” attached to it. Since its inception, over 50,000 young foreigners with few, if any, teaching credentials have come to Japan and partied for a year at taxpayer expense. They have usually enjoyed their stay, but their effectiveness in improving the English language ability of their students was never quantitatively measured and, given Japanese students’ performances on international English tests, is questionable at best.

    Because most JET teachers are from North America, Europe or Australasia, the program promotes an “Anglo-Saxon” view of the world that disregards the importance of other cultures.

    A JET’s presence in the classroom with Japanese teachers can actually be disruptive to classroom discipline, while the need for their colleagues to assist them with personal matters due to the language barrier places extra burdens on school staff.

    Upon return to their countries, they land the same jobs others who were in Japan get, and it’s naive to think most JETs will be goodwill ambassadors.

    At a time of fiscal austerity and when thousands of native English-speakers — many with teaching qualifications, Japanese language ability and a much better understanding of Japanese culture — can be hired as contract workers from private firms depending on local needs and at lower cost, why should Japanese taxpayers continue to subsidize the JET program?
    The ex-students’ view

    The debate over whether to keep the program with some changes or scrap it entirely begins with a very basic question: What is its purpose?

    Japanese bureaucrats and former JET teachers who support it often cite the program as a shining example of how official government policy can be successful in promoting “citizen diplomacy” and creating a cadre of “Japan hands” in other countries while exposing Japanese to the outside world. But a glance at the speeches often given at the official cocktail parties to honor JET reveals that less is usually said about how effective the classroom instruction has been, while the voices of former students who studied under JET teachers are too often absent from both the official rhetoric touting the intangible benefits of JET as well as the dry, detailed academic studies of English-language instruction in Japan.

    Those who studied under JET teachers in school say they generally enjoyed their classes, but they were divided on whether or not their English abilities actually improved. All, however, indicated they wanted the JET program to continue, but a few said that they wished the JET teachers could use Japanese in the classroom because it would it easier for the students to understand and create, in the words of one student, a more relaxed atmosphere.

    Miho Nakamura, 23, who studied under a JET teacher in Osaka between 2004 and 2005, said that her school had two English classes. In the first class, the JET teacher acted as an assistant to the Japanese teacher of English, and usually read aloud from the English text at the Japanese teacher’s request, in order to show the students how the words were properly pronounced. Students were not allowed to tape the lesson for future practice, and the instruction was largely done by the Japanese teacher in Japanese.

    But there was also an optional class with only the JET teacher.

    “In the optional class, the students really liked English. About half of them understood what the JET teacher was saying, and the half that understood helped the other half during and after class. During the class, Japanese was not allowed,” Nakamura explained.

    The optional class met twice a week for 45 minutes, while the regular English class with the Japanese teacher was four times a week.

    One of the criticisms that Japanese and foreign academics level at the JET program is that it places young, unqualified people in a classroom setting. But as far as Nakamura is concerned, this was precisely why she and her friends enjoyed being taught by a JET.

    “The age difference between the JET teacher and the students wasn’t that great. She felt like an older sister to us,” Nakamura said. “There were also opportunities to talk to her outside the classroom. She did things like help us with our English songs during school festivals. We could converse with her informally, and we couldn’t really do that with our Japanese teachers.”

    Rest at


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