The education ministry plans to make English classes at primary schools compulsory from the third year of primary school, instead of the current fifth year. Classes will be part of the regular curriculum with textbooks and evaluations from the fifth grade.
Currently, fifth- and sixth-graders have English class once a week. According to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry’s plan, English will be taught once or twice a week to third- and fourth-graders, and three times a week to fifth- and sixth-graders.
The aim is to inculcate basic English skills to children from an early age, with the long-term goal of nurturing skills for working on the global stage in the future. The ministry plans to introduce the full plan by the 2020 academic year.
“Foreign language activity” classes have been compulsory in the fifth and sixth grades since the 2011 academic year. The classes aim to develop familiarity with English through such activities as singing and playing games in English with almost no focus on teaching reading or writing.
Because these classes are mainly taught by teachers who are not specialized in teaching English, ensuring the quality of English classes has been an issue for many schools.
The government’s Education Rebuilding Implementation Council proposed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in May that English education be introduced for children in lower grades and that it be made officially a regular subject in the curriculum. When a class becomes a regular subject, schools must use textbooks authorized by the ministry and students are evaluated on their academic performance using a five-point scale.
Following this, the ministry’s review team compiled details necessary to implement the proposal.
The ministry plans to revise the school curriculum guidelines at a meeting of a panel of experts and the Central Council for Education. The new guidelines, including introducing English as a regular subject, are expected to be carried out in several stages, to be fully implemented by the academic year of 2020, the same year the Olympic Games will be held in Tokyo.
In the new English classes for the fifth and sixth grades, a part of the English curriculum currently taught at middle school, including basic learning such as reading and writing, will be taught using authorized textbooks.
The ministry says those classes will mainly be taught by teachers who specialize in teaching English. However, a certain amount of revenue needs to be secured to dispatch such teachers to all schools.
Schools will be allowed to divide one of the three classes each week for the fifth and sixth grades into three 15-minute classes, so that children can have English class every day at school—15-minute classes for three days and regular 45-minute classes for two days.
This is expected to contribute to reducing the burden placed on children caused by the increase in hours for learning English, as well as help children acquire basic skills through continuity in learning every day, the ministry said.
Will there be enough teachers?
By Sachiko Asakuno / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
The education ministry decided to make English an additional subject for lower grades in primary school out of fear that students do not acquire sufficient practical English skills under the current education system. The fifth and sixth grades will have English as a regular subject.
The ministry modeled the new policy after Taiwan and South Korea, where students begin English classes from the third year of primary school. The new policy aims to raise students’ English skills by the time they graduate from high school by giving students more exposure to English.
When a class becomes a regular subject, students use authorized textbooks and have a clear goal.
However, it remains unclear how to secure financial resources to distribute teachers who specialize in English. It will also be necessary to provide training classes for current teachers and review teacher training programs at colleges and universities.
It will be important to examine how foreign language activity is actually carried out three years after its introduction.
High-quality learning environments should be provided to the students by utilizing personnel outside schools and assistant language teachers who are native English speakers.