TOKYO – English proficiency of students at Japanese public junior and senior high schools is improving but remains well behind government targets, an education ministry survey showed Friday.
Aiming to enhance students’ English ability ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the government has set targets for results in the Eiken Test in Practical English Proficiency, which assesses examinees’ skills on a seven-stage scale with Grade 1 being the highest qualification.
The government seeks to have a majority of students acquire proficiency equivalent to “Grade 3” or higher by the time they graduate from junior high school, and “Grade Pre-2” or higher by the time they leave senior high school.
But as of December, only 40.7 percent of third-year junior high school students and 39.3 percent of third-year senior high school students met the targets, although the percentages respectively rose 4.6 percentage points and 2.9 points from a year earlier.
Eiken tests, administered by the Eiken Foundation of Japan and backed by the education ministry, are one of the most widely used English proficiency tests in Japan.
While the education ministry said the survey shows student English proficiency has improved overall, the results varied greatly among Japan’s 47 prefectures, prompting the ministry to call for sharing successful practices to improve English education and narrow disparities.
By municipality, Fukui Prefecture cleared the target for junior high school students with the highest ratio of 62.8 percent, followed by the city of Saitama at 58.9 percent and the city of Yokohama at 54.0 percent. Fukuoka, Osaka, Tokyo, Kumamoto and Ishikawa prefectures achieved the goal as well.
Fukui also fulfilled the target for senior high school students with 52.4 percent, while all the other 46 prefectures failed to meet the goal.
The ministry also released the results of a separate English proficiency measurement survey covering 60,000 third-year junior high school students and 60,000 third-year senior high school students, which also failed to meet government-set targets.
The results were particularly low for speaking and writing by senior high school students, with less than 20 percent achieving the targets.
Teachers also failed to meet targets set by the government to have at least 50 percent of junior high school teachers and 75 percent of senior high school teachers holding an English proficiency level equivalent to “Grade Pre-1,” the second-highest ranking equivalent to a university student level.
Some 33.6 percent of junior high school teachers and 65.4 percent of senior high school teachers reached the desired level, respectively up 1.6 points and 3.2 points from the previous year.