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2008年12月24日 (水)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 23(IHT/Asahi: December 24,2008)

EDITORIAL: Teaching in English


Many high school English teachers must be shaking their heads over a draft revision to curriculum guidelines for senior high schools, proposed by the education ministry on Monday for implementation in the 2013 scholastic year.

The guidelines call for English classes to be taught only in English as a rule. This is the first time that such a directive has been issued by the education ministry.




Curriculum guidelines specify required course contents and classroom hours for elementary, junior high and senior high schools. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology revises them every 10 years or so.


The new directive has us shaking our heads in doubt, too. Granted, Japanese by and large are notorious for their poor command of English. Perhaps a perfect case in point is Toshihide Maskawa, a recipient of this year's Nobel Prize in Physics, who delivered a speech in Japanese when awarded the prize.



Six years of junior and senior high school English may give people a passable level of proficiency in written English. But spoken English is an entirely different matter.


With the world becoming "borderless," English has become an indispensable tool of international communication. We agree with the ministry's reasoning that if students are to acquire better conversation skills, the English education system must change.


And we are also in favor of turning English classes into opportunities for students to practice and hone their communication skills.


But our optimism vanishes when we picture a real-life classroom scene.


Exchanging routine greetings in English should not be difficult even now. But it will be quite a challenge for teachers to explain grammar in simple English so that students can understand, or to answer in English questions asked by the students.


And even if teachers do manage somehow, the bigger question is how many students will be able to follow the lessons?


Some senior high schools are already teaching English in English, but success depends largely on the abilities of both teachers and students. Just forcing the system on everyone will not work. Nobody will benefit from it.


Another concern is that teaching English in English is not a particularly welcome prospect for schools that are strongly oriented toward preparing their students for university entrance examinations. Listening comprehension tests have been introduced into the National Center Test for University Admissions. But with most of the emphasis still being placed on reading comprehension and composition, we doubt that so many senior high schools will be willing to take on the additional burden of teaching English in English.


By abruptly telling English teachers to start giving lessons only in English, the education ministry is creating confusion and consternation. The ministry's job should be to determine what needs to be done to help students become functionally fluent in English and how the nation's English education should change for that end. The ministry should then establish a workable system and desirable classroom environment.


The ministry not only needs to examine such matters as teacher training and curriculum planning, but it also must keep university entrance test reforms in perspective. The ministry should consider the whole situation, including its plan to introduce in 2011 compulsory English classes for all upper-grade elementary school children.


But even with the education ministry issuing uniform directives on all matters, that does not mean the directives could be implemented immediately. Whether they will work will depend largely on the performance levels of teachers and students and the classroom environment at each school.


At the end of the day, the curriculum guidelines should remain just that--guidelines. It should be left up to each school to decide what to do under these guidelines. And that, we believe, is ultimately what will bring out the best in the teachers and their students.



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