The government should listen carefully to the concerns voiced by high schools, universities, and other parties and make appropriate preparations before reforming the university entrance examination system.
A new “standardized university entrance examination program” will be introduced in fiscal 2020 to replace the existing national test for university admissions. Seven private organizations have been authorized to test applicants’ English abilities.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) will maintain the multiple-choice English test designed by the National Center Test for University Admissions through fiscal 2023 and will make the shift to privately administered English tests, such as the Test in Practical English Proficiency (Eiken) and the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), from fiscal 2024 and onward.
Many Japanese people feel that they are not properly equipped with practical English skills despite all the hours they have spent studying the language at school. To allay this concern, the government is introducing the private-sector tests to improve speaking and writing abilities in addition to the conventional reading and listening skills.
But there are two major problems with this approach.
The first issue has to do with consistency with the existing curriculum guidelines. The private-sector tests approved by the government differ in terms of purpose and difficulty because they are designed to assess the test-takers’ abilities for situations such as studying abroad or using English in business. High schools are worried that the content of the tests will not necessarily be in line with the material they are currently teaching.
To improve the quality of English conversation classes at school, schools need to introduce training to improve teachers’ English skills and review their existing training programs. But such efforts are still incomplete.
The other issue is fairness. People doubt whether the private-sector tests, which differ in style and purpose, can correctly gauge students’ abilities. MEXT explains that scores on the tests provided by the seven organizations will be converted into grades based on a six-level international rating method for comparison. But some experts argue that the method “lacks scientific grounds.”
In other subjects, examinees will be screened based on their individual scores. But for the English tests, they will be assessed on the level-based system whose accuracy is still being questioned. This has given rise to doubts about the overall plan for entrance exam reform. For this reason, the University of Tokyo has announced that it will not use the private-sector tests as admissions criteria. Many other universities have similar concerns.
The government needs to fully examine the problems associated with introducing private-sector tests, including fairness, and spend sufficient time addressing them. MEXT should not insist on adhering to the plan of switching to the new English tests in fiscal 2024.