Teachers’ English-language skills declining Cause for concern over government’s educational plans ―危ぶまれる政府の教育計画―


The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) announced the result of its “Survey on English-Language Education Practice” for fiscal 2016 on April 7, 2017. It is the fourth in an annual series of the survey, which has been carried out since fiscal 2013 to cover the public junior and senior high schools across the nation. Highlighted in the latest survey is the fact that the English-language proficiency of teachers in these schools has not been advancing in line with the government-set goals.

The master plan approved at a Cabinet session in 2013 required English-language teachers to have the Eiken (English-language proficiency test) Grade Pre-1 level or higher. It said the level should be reached by 75% of those in senior high schools and 50% of those in junior high schools by fiscal 2017. The survey result made public this time showed that those who have attained that level accounted for 62% of the total (up 4.9 points from the previous year) in senior high schools and 32% (up 1.8% points) in junior high schools. Both ratios, though slightly higher than the year before, indicate that the government-set goals are hard to achieve.

Two days earlier on April 5, MEXT also announced the result of a similar survey conducted in fiscal 2016 on the level of students’ English-language proficiency. Commenced in fiscal 2012, this survey covers the students at 12,850 junior and senior high schools. The ratios of those who reached Eiken Grade Pre-2 or Grade 3 were 36.4% (up 2.1 points) for the third graders of senior high schools and 36.1% (down 0.5% points) for the third graders of junior high schools. Both barely reached the government-set 50% goal to be achieved by fiscal 2017. One of worrisome points about the latest survey is that the ratio of junior high school third graders, which had kept on rising like that of senior high school third graders, dropped for the first time ever.

The two MEXT surveys imply that the teachers’ declining English-language ability is partly to blame for the slower progress on the part of students. Put differently, there is concern that teachers’ English-language ability itself is falling, aside from the problem of their leadership to teach students. Reasons for this may include an easy employment of teachers and some shortcomings inherent in the teacher’s license renewal system. Especially as to the latter, it is said that teachers applying for license renewal are only required to sit for a course without having their academic skill or leadership re-examined.Teachers nowadays are too busy looking after non-classroom affairs and have fewer opportunities for self-improvement. That seems to be also responsible for their falling command of English.

Four years ago, MEXT made public an action plan on English-language education aimed to develop persons who can be active in the international arena. The plan called for English-language classes in junior high schools to be conducted in principle in English and classes in senior high schools to focus on presentation and debate so that students can acquire English-language proficiency equivalent to Eiken Grade 2 to Grade Pre-1 upon their graduation. MEXT said it will start introducing the plan in stages in fiscal 2018 and fully implement it in fiscal 2020.

Judging from the results of the two latest surveys, however, it is questionable whether the government plans will smoothly work or not.(Witten by: Yuto Yawata)






文科省は4年前、国際的に活躍できる人材を育成するための英語教育に関する実施計画を発表。中学校の英語授業は原則として英語で行い、高校の授業では発表や討論などに重点を置き、卒業時に英検2級から準1級程度の英語力を身に付ける目標を設定した。そして 2018年度からこれらを段階的に導入し、20年度の全面実施を目指すとしている。

今回発表された2つの調査結果からみて、政府の計画がすんなり進むのか、危ぶまれる。(八幡 侑斗)


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