September 26, 2014

Meeting of the Expert Panel on English Education in 2014

  • Nine meetings were held from February to September 2014 (in addition to five subcommittee meetings) to give a more concrete shape to the English Education Reform Plan responding to the Rapid Globalization (December 2013), which was made by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT).
  • The reform issues such as curricula and teacher training need to be further discussed comprehensively in such meetings as the Central Council for Education.

Background to the reform

  • Amid ongoing globalization, the development of students’ proficiency in English, a common international language, is crucial for Japan's future. Japanese people should expect to achieve top-level English proficiency in Asia. Under the reform of English education, not only the cultivation of fundamental knowledge and skills, but also such abilities as to reason, make decisions or express oneself in order to solve problems by oneself will be inevitable.
  • A lot of improvements and changes will be taking place from now on due to the current Course of Study. However, there are still a lot of issues to be tackled especially in the development of communication skills. With an eye to the year 2020 in which the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held, the government will proceed with studies on the new reform of English education throughout elementary, junior high and high schools so that the reform will be performed in a stepwise fashion.
    In parallel, the government will also implement some efforts in preparation for the reform and promote the reform in an advanced manner.

Reform item 1: Goals presented by the government and the improvement of the contents of education

  • In the Course of Study, the government will present coherent educational goals throughout elementary, junior high and high school education, from the viewpoint of (i) a smooth connection between what students learn in individual educational stages; and (ii) what students should be able to do using English (including the goals in the form of specific index values concerning the four language skills) (specific learning goals should be decided by schools).
  • We will develop students’ English proficiency to the level that they are able to actively use the four language skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) throughout their lives by the time of graduation.
    Moreover, to measure students’ English proficiency and utilize the results for detailed improvement and enhancement of education and improvement of students’ motivation for learning, we must set English proficiency targets which are suitable for students' special needs and career choices at the stage of graduation from high school (e.g. Grade 2 or Pre-1 of the Eiken Test, or TOEFL iBT score of 60 or more, etc.) in addition to the conventional English proficiency goals (50% of junior high school and high school students attain the goals defined according to the Course of Study (Grade 3 of the Eiken Test or higher by the time of graduation from junior high school; Grade Pre-2 or 2 of the Eiken Test or higher by the time of graduation from high school)). We should grasp, analyze and improve students' English proficiency according to such new goals.
  • Elementary school: By starting foreign English activities from the middle grades of elementary school, students can build a foundation for communication skills and raise their interest in English as they become familiar with the sounds of the language.
    In upper grades, students are to develop basic communication skills including the skills of listening to and speaking about daily topics using basic phrases, while also obtaining the mindset for reading and writing. These educational processes should be established as a subject in curricula so that we can develop a coherent learning program.
    The number of English classes and position of English education in elementary school will be further studied from a technical perspective in comprehensive discussions on the curriculum.
  • Junior high school: Students are to develop communication skills which allow them to understand and use phrases for daily topics and exchange simple information. English education in junior high school should focus on the development of communication skills to convey ideas and feelings in English, rather than grammar and translation.
  • High school: Students should experience an abundance of language activities such as presentation, discussion and debate on various topics and enhance their communication skills to understand and convey information and ideas properly.

Reform item 2: Improvement of teaching and evaluation at school

  • In learning English, it is important to develop the mindset to use English actively without being afraid of making mistakes. It is important to conduct language activities where students can actively share their ideas and feelings with each other through speaking and writing at junior high and high schools.
    From the viewpoint of increasing opportunities for students to be exposed to English and smoothly connecting what they learned in junior high school to what they learn in high school, lessons should be given in English at junior high schools as well, in principle, according to the level of understanding of students.
  • Schools should set learning goals based on the Course of Study and from the viewpoint of what students should be able to do using the four language skills (for example, goals may be described in "can do …" form) and improve teaching and evaluation methods. At the same time, schools should verify and adopt an evaluation method, etc. which covers various aspects including students' motivation and attitude for active learning. This can be achieved by focusing on students' interest, motivation and attitude towards communication, which all lead to active learning. For example, learning status should be evaluated against an item described in the form of, "the student tries to do ... using English," rather than one in the form of "the student can do ... using English."
  • In cases where English is to be included in the curriculum for upper grades of elementary school, the government will continuously consider a proper evaluation method by examining pioneering cases.

Reform item 3: Improvement of English proficiency evaluation and entrance examination at high schools and universities

  • High schools and universities will assess and analyze students' English proficiency and learning status in terms of the four language skills and utilize the results to improve teachers’ teaching techniques and students' English proficiency.
  • In entrance examinations, communication skills in terms of the four language skills need to be evaluated properly.
  • The government will promote the use of English qualifications and certifications, which evaluate the four language skills, for entrance examinations, on the premise of consistency with the admission policies, etc. of individual universities.
    In this regard, the government will establish a consultative body comprised of experts in various fields, including school education and examination theory, as well as English qualification and certification organizations. The consultative body is to promptly promote efforts including the following items:
    1)Provision of proper information on English qualifications and certifications
    2)Establishment of guidelines (relation with the Course of Study, adequacy of evaluation, score conversion method, examination fee and venue, adequate and fair operation system, etc.)
    3)Comparative study among examinations and research, analysis and information sharing concerning questions in English examinations
  • The details of the Achievement Test, including the utilization of English qualifications and certifications, will be considered with reference to the activities by the liaison council.

Reform item 4: Improvement of textbooks and educational materials

  • If English is to be included in the curriculum for upper grades of elementary school, the government will develop, analyze and utilize necessary educational materials, etc., including those using ICT, which provides high learning effect.
  • Through textbooks, the main educational materials, students' abilities for thinking, judging, expressing, etc. should be further developed by conducting language activities, such as giving explanations, making presentations and discussing. The government will thoroughly reflect this intention in the next amendment of the Course of Study and promote the revision of the Ministry's standards for textbook authorization.
  • The government will consider the introduction of digital textbooks and educational materials, including audio and visual materials.
  • An ICT environment for English education will be installed in schools by actively using financial measures for ICT budget for local governments.

Reform item 5. Enhancement of education system at school

  • Regional education systems will be enhanced by conducting training seminars under collaboration with universities and external specialized agencies in the region, as well as by providing lessons under the cooperation of leading teachers in the region, managers for English education, external experts and other relevant parties.
    This will need support measures such as the fostering and deployment of English education promotional leaders, etc., who will play a central role in the region.
  • At schools, it is important to clarify the policy for English education efforts under the leadership of the principal and reinforce the education system centered on core teachers, etc.
  • In order to connect the learning in elementary school to the learning in junior high school, substantive collaboration between elementary schools and junior high schools is required. Such collaboration may include lectures given by mutually-exchanged teachers, which is expected to have effects of collaboration between elementary and junior high schools, and a joint training program in which teachers from both schools work together to develop curricula and lesson plans.
  • In the middle grades of elementary school, homeroom teachers will be in charge of giving English lessons, utilizing team teaching with assistance language teachers (ALT), etc. as well. In the upper grades of elementary school, a more professional teaching system is to be built, by training homeroom teachers in English teaching skills and utilizing teachers dedicated to English teaching.
  • In order to increase the confidence of elementary school teachers in teaching English, the government will promote the obtaining of the English Teacher's License for Junior High School by such means as supporting the establishment of qualification seminars under the Education Personnel Certification Act.
    The government will also promote the use of external English tutors, English teachers in junior high and high schools and other relevant human resources.
  • The government aims to secure ALTs for all elementary schools by 2019, while also promoting the use of ALTs in junior high and high schools with a view to increasing opportunities for students to use English in practical situations, such as conversation, presentation and discussions.
  • Development and improvement of university curricula for teacher training are required. For example:
    1)Enhancement of training on basic English phonetics and pedagogy necessary for English education at elementary schools, simulation classes including team teaching, research on educational materials, exercise for collaboration between elementary schools and junior high schools, case studies, etc.
    2)Enhancement of English phonetics necessary for conducting communication activities in English during lessons at junior high and high schools, English pedagogy including theory for second language learning, communication lessons for comprehensive development of the four language skills, etc. These improvement measures should be taken from the viewpoint of enhancing teachers’ English expertise and teaching ability. They will be further reviewed in comprehensive discussions on teacher training.

Meanwhile, training for the teachers who are currently teaching at schools should also be conducted for English lessons at elementary schools and advanced language activities conducted at junior high and high schools.

(Office for Promoting Foreign Language Education, International Education Division, Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau)