Numbers for high school teachers aren’t much rosier in recent study by education ministry.

Despite a reputation for overall academic excellence, the quality of Japan’s English education programs is a common target of criticism (and chuckling). Despite English being a compulsory subject in both middle and high schools in Japan, and often part of the elementary curriculum as well, Japanese students tend to show far less English-as-a-second-language proficiency than their counterparts in many other countries.

What’s more, a study by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is showing that even the country’s English teachers themselves aren’t meeting the desired benchmarks. Though it stops short of making it an outright requirement for a position, the ministry recommends that teachers of English in junior and senior high schools have English skills equivalent to the Eiken English proficiency test’s Pre-1 Grade (the second-highest level of the exam). Nationwide, the ministry says it’s aiming for 50 percent of middle school English teachers, and 75 percent of high school English instructors, to acquire such expertise.

However, a survey of 52,000 teachers found that only 33.6 percent of middle school teachers’ English abilities were at the Pre-1 level. High school teachers fared a little better, but were also below the target with 65.4 percent having Grade Pre-1 skills. This marked the fifth consecutive year for both groups to fall short of the benchmark.

While you might expect the highest ratio of benchmark-meeting educators to be found in cosmopolitan, internationalized parts of Japan, it’s actually largely rural Fukui, part of Japan’s northside coastal region of Hokuriku, that had the most Pre-1 level junior high teachers, at 62.2 percent. Fukui also tied with Kagawa, another primarily rural prefecture, for the highest percentage of Eiken Pre-1-level high school teachers, 91.3 percent (whether the figures represent the percentage of teachers who have actually taken and passed the Eiken Pre-1 test, or is based on other criteria, is unclear).

While the temptation may be to point the finger at teachers for being as lazy as a shiftless student sleeping through class, Rikkyo University professor Kumiko Torikai, one of Japan’s foremost interpretation and linguistics experts, says that teachers’ existing workload is a factor. “Classroom teachers are so busy that they don’t have sufficient time to devote to researching English teaching methods,” she says. “We need to make adjustments to educators’ work environment.”

In addition, some would argue that having a skill yourself isn’t always a guarantee of being able to teach that skill to others, as any native English speaker who’s taught English in Japan and struggled in crafting effective lesson plans knows. Still, there’s at least some correlation between personal ability and capacity for explaining a language, so it’s understandable that the ministry is disappointed with its study’s results.

Source: NHK News Web via Jin
Top image: Pakutaso

Follow Casey on Twitter, where he still remembers a Japanese English teacher not believing him when he tried to tell her the difference between “first grade” and “first year.”