Japan Society of Fairfield County

Culture Watch, Society Watch (10)
by Dr. Ikuko Anjo Jassey

      When I went back to Japan in May, I met my publisher for my latest book in Tokyo for lunch. Soon after we started the meal, one of the two editors asked, "What do you think about the teaching of English at elementary schools?"  A few days later, again I was asked exactly the same question by the president of my former workplace, who had been a provisional Council Member of the Central Council for Education. Having been concerned about the quality of Japanese education that had been deteriorating for some time and about the fact that no active and efficient measure had been taken by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, I replied, "The teaching of English at an elementary school itself is not a bad idea; however, if we have to reduce teaching hours of major subjects in order to teach English, I believe we should reconsider this idea thoroughly." Thus, whether elementary school children should be taught English at their schools is a hot topic in Japan now.
      The ratio of Japanese people who disapprove this idea accounts for forty-nine percent, which means almost half of the nation does not consider that the teaching of English at elementary schools is a good idea.  What is an eminent reason why half of the nation is opposed to the idea?  As represented by Professor Masahiko Fujiwara who claims Language Arts and Mathematics education is the key to a nation's prosperity with reference to culture and economy and that there is no need to teach English to elementary school children, Japanese people are greatly concerned with a further reduction of teaching hours of basic subjects at the elementary schools. In fact, it is said that Japanese children's education level has been drastically deteriorating since the late 1980s, mainly because of the reduction of the amount of teaching hours and content of subjects.
      Still, astonishingly enough, the Ministry enforced the new guideline for elementary and middle schools in 2002, regardless, in which as much as thirty percent of content of major subjects was eliminated from the elementary as well as from the middle school curriculum under the policy of providing children time "to nurture thinking skills and creativity." Believing apart, the yearly teaching hours for all subjects in Japan as of 2006 is about forty hours less at elementary schools and ninety hours less at middle schools, compared to those in Connecticut(CT). Let's look at Language Arts and Mathematics for the sixth(fifth in CT) grade as well as the ninth(eighth in CT) grade: Japan allocates 175 hours for Language Arts and 150 hours for Math, at the 6th grade and 105 hours for Language Arts and 105 hours for Math, at 9th grade, while CT distributes 294 hours for Language Arts and 147 hours for Math, at the 5th grade and 150 hours for Language Arts and 150 hours for Math, at the 8th grade. (As for 1985, the teaching hours for those subjects in Japan were 210 hours for Language Arts and 175 hours for Math, at the 6th grade and 140 hours for Language Arts and 140 hours for Math, at the 9th grade, whereas in CT, the teaching hours on those subjects are the same as those of today.) Therefore, it seems no one in the Ministry came up with some common sense that without acquiring substantial basic knowledge, neither "thinking skills" nor "creativity" would be nurtured. Furthermore, the dumbfounded news that the Ministry of Education reduced middle school English class hours from five to three weekly in 1972, which went against the world trend of English education enhancement, is still fresh in our memory, although it happened almost 25 years ago.
      Thus, while reducing English teaching hours at middle schools, the Ministry is now trying to teach English at elementary schools, another act of folly. What the Ministry of Education is planning to do is nothing but incoherent. Isn't rebuilding the quality of compulsory education far more crucial than the teaching of English at elementary schools? Certainly, the timing of implementing English education at elementary schools is premature.

(1) Unlike Japan, in the United States, since each state has autonomy in terms of education, teaching hours differ from state to state.
(2) In Connecticut, a majority of public schools are divided into three levels of schooling:  The elementary school(K-5), the middle school(6-8), and the high school(9-12). On the other hand, in Japan, the elementary school is comprised of 1st-6th grade, the middle school 7th-9th grade, and the high school 10th-12th grade. Therefore, Japan's 6th grade is compared with CT's 5th grade and Japan's 9th grade with CT's 8th grade.

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