Monday, January 05, 2009

High school education to include English taught in English, more math, chemistry - The Mainichi Daily News

I've looked around on the Internet for a copy of this document and other supporting documents, but haven't been successful, so I can't vouch for the accuracy of the reporting here. I will use this article's content, though, to ask some questions.

Under the revised curriculum, English teaching will focus more on speaking and listening, aiming at moving away from grammar and translation-oriented education.

There is such confusion about what is really going on in classrooms. I have never seen any studies that show that there is grammar and translation education happening at schools at all. There are textbooks that the ministry approves, and there are guidelines that the ministry publishes, but what is happening in classes? What are students really learning? There are so many questions about what students are learning, how can they make reasonable decisions about what to change if they don't know what is happening in the first place?

The number of words students are required to learn will be expanded to 1,800, 500 more than in the current guidelines, bringing the total vocabulary learned in high school and junior high school to 3,000 words.
More questions. What does, "required to learn," mean? Does it mean that if they don't learn them they don't graduate? Hardly! Even if we accept that they only need to know the junior high words in their root form, hardly anyone would get into a college. Who needs to learn these words? What if they only learn 1799? What does words mean? How do they define this term? Are they root words, like act? For this word there are noun forms, a verb form, an adjective form and an adverb form. So does this count as one word or several?

English classes will be taught primarily in English.

In what language are English classes primarily being taught in now? How does the ministry know this, anecdotal accounts? Is teacher training included in this plan? The article says that the plan will be implemented for students entering high school in 2013. Will they spend the next three years training teachers to teach speaking? Will they change evaluation policies to reflect these changes in testing? My guess is that this would be so incredibly time consuming and costly as to be impossible.

Let's assume that the ministry does not have a very good idea about what they are making rules about because they have not done the research. What is the motivation? Window dressing for the rest of the world?

Somebody help me out here, because I don't know the answers to any of these questions, and I think any one of them is really important to students and teachers alike.

High school education to include English taught in English, more math, chemistry - The Mainichi Daily News


Wintersweet said...

Well, if you take a look on , there's certainly research being done on some of these questions. I don't know about what research is being done in Japanese because I can't read it at an academic level, but there's been enough research in English to establish that most English classes in Japan are taught in Japanese, for one thing, and probably enough to answer some of the other questions as well. As for the words, I wouldn't be surprised if they just haven't thought that out very well. Most people never think about what "word" means...Sigh. But yeah, there are really a lot of unanswered questions about this whole thing.

Daniel said...

Thanks for the idea. I'll have a look there. Any recommendations?

I think there are so many unanswered questions about the programs they have in place now that it would be in everyone's interests to explore them before embarking on another, or at least make an attempt at showing what this new twist will prove.

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Michael Stout said...

Thanks for this post Daniel.
Wintersweet is right. There have been numerous studies that showed that English is taught primarily through the medium of Japanese in Japan, and the focus is on grammar and translation. Check out the JALT publications page to find some papers:
I can tell you from personal experience that English is taught through Japanese. I've seen it, heard it. In 6 years teaching at Japanese secondary schools I met few JTEs that were willing to have a chat in Englsh, much less stand up in front of a large group of restless teenagers and attempt to teach in English.
Like so many things that MEXT has mandated, this policy won't be really implemented because MEXT will not provide the funding for the training and support required. Furthermore, while they like to blame MEXT for everything,the truth is that JTEs will continue doing as they have been doing, ignoring the policies. Look at the last few revisions of the Course of Study and then watch a high school English class and ask yourself if the instruction is matching the goals set out in the Course of Study. The new Course of Study emphasizes creative and critical thinking. Hmmm. MEXT just keeps adding things on before anyone can get started on the policies previously set, and to make matters worse, MEXT approves textbooks that are ot in line with the Course of Study, or are layed out in a way that any tasks that DO require thought and communication in English can easily be ignored. There was a great TLT article about this last year. I'll send you the link when I find it.