Japan’s Changing English Education
By Yuri Jody Yujobo
A Japanese student may see or hear the phrase, “Let’s become global-グローバル人を目指せ”. Many Japanese students feel surmounting pressure from both the media and society, to become competent English speakers to spread Japanese おもてなし to people during the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The Bank of Japan predicts over 20 million foreign visitors will come to Japan by 2020. But actually, most of these guests will not be from English speaking countries. Many of the foreign guests may not speak English at all. If they do, then they will be using English as a lingua franca (ELF). This is English used among and between non-native English speaking people. Japanese are also in this category because English is not an official language in Japan. It would be ideal if ELF education would be focused on for 2020, and rather than focusing on grammatical accuracy, American/British pronunciation, or native-speaker norms, classes would provide rich listening input from different speakers of English from around the world. Then, Japanese students will feel more confident to know that English does not belong to only native-speakers and ELF belongs to everyone. This is one step to becoming global.
The year 2020 also marks the start of the abolishment of the Japanese Center Exam for university entrance by including more powers of thinking, judgement and expression questions rather than multiple choice answers. The English section reforms are thinking of allowing private sector tests to be taken which have a speaking or writing component. This test can be taken multiple times. But how can these changes really help students to become global?
It has to be looked at from hindsight. If the center exam is abolished, then it will cause elementary schools, junior high and high schools to change in order to produce deeper thinkers, and expressive students. Already, new types of junior high entrance exams have sprouted up replacing the traditional style of cramming knowledge of four core subjects. Now, students who have not lived abroad can opt to take the Global Entrance Exam and/or Self-Presentations－グローバル入試 at selected schools and choose English as an alternative subject. Also, students also can opt to make a presentation on their other passions, club activities, and awards to promote themselves as a well-rounded and balanced person. Another recent junior high entrance reform is the Active Learning Exam-アクティブラーニング入試. This is a new type of exam in which students are not tested on subject material but are put in a room with students they have never met before and need to complete a collaborative project under time constraints. They are evaluated on critical thinking, creativity, leadership, problem-solving thinking, team-work ability and/or presentations. These are exactly the skills necessary to do well in the new reformed university exams. Therefore, the change in teaching methods toward active learning over several years will probably make a difference in the long run in how students learn and perceive learning. Also, these educational reforms have direct impact in hoping to produce global citizens and to develop future leaders that can work in diverse situations and with people who possess different ideas, values, and challenge them to be effective and successful communicators.
How do students become global? I think Japan is making some good decisions to progress toward this. Hopefully, by the time our current students graduate and enter the workforce, their understanding of diversity will be nurtured and they will be able to communicate, collaborate with people who possess different ideas, values, perceptions, cultures, religions and languages. And this will finally mean, that they have become global.