More and more Japanese parents today are eager to have their children learn English in order to prepare them to work in the global marketplace. Naturally, they want their children to learn English from an early stage, perhaps based on their own experiences of having to struggle with English despite receiving at least six years of English education starting from junior high school. Nikkei (3/25) reported on a survey carried out by Benesse Corporation in July 2012, which showed that 64.3% of the 2,105 parents who have children ranging from infants to college students think their children should study abroad before they finish their education. When asked about their own workplace, 38.4% said they are required to use foreign languages at work. It appears globalization of workplaces is behind the parents’ strong desire for their children to learn English.
Convinced that the current educational system in Japan is not sufficient for children to become fluent in English, some parents are taking action on their own. NHK (5/17) reported on an Indian international school in Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, which is becoming increasingly popular among Japanese. Drawn to the school’s all-English, high-level math and computer education as well as classes that encourage students to debate, the program said today almost half the students are Japanese, despite the fact that students will not be recognized as having completed compulsory education in Japan when they graduate. The network also said some families are beginning to take the bold step of moving to other countries, such as Malaysia, so their children can attend school and learn English in an international environment.
For families who are not so daring, there are juku, or private preparatory schools. According to Nikkei (3/23) and Asahi (5/10), a number of major cram schools are starting new English classes for elementary school pupils, as English became a “compulsory” subject for fifth and sixth graders in 2011. For example, Waseda Academy, a popular prep school, will open about 10 classes this summer in the Tokyo metropolitan area for fifth and sixth graders focused on English education, while Daiichi Seminar opened an online English course for primary school students in April. Tact Co. Ltd. also opened a bilingual preschool in Yokohama in April, where children can spend four hours a day in an English-only environment.
According to AERA (6/3), there is also a bilingual after-school care center in Nakameguro, Tokyo, where children can enjoy music, arts and crafts, physical exercise, and discussions all in English. The center focuses not only on improving children’s English-language skills, but also on raising their intellectual curiosity based on the International Baccalaureate’s educational approach. A school representative says: “In the era of globalization, how you come up with ideas and how you find out information are extremely important. At the same time, it is necessary for you to express your ideas in English… The IB curriculum builds the foundation for this.”
Currently, the Japanese government is considering making English an “official” subject for fifth and sixth graders, which would require more training for elementary school teachers and adopting a new system to evaluate student achievement. It is also considering making English mandatory for younger elementary school students as well. The government seems to be serious about boosting English education, and there is growing momentum within the education industry for supporting English education. There may come a day when Japan will be free of people who have an English speaking phobia.