EDUCATION RENAISSANCE | Teachers hope certification will help them shine

Shoko Okuda / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

The following is an article from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Education Renaissance series. This installment, the fourth of five, focuses on a system to certify primary school teachers’ ability to teach English, as the subject has become compulsory for fifth- and sixth-graders nationwide.

“Can you read this to the students?” “Please use simple English.”

At a Feb. 20 training session for English teachers in Tokyo, the participants–who provide instruction in English at primary schools and elsewhere–are learning practical teaching methods for communicating with assistant language teachers.

The workshop, held at Aeon Corp.’s Tokyo headquarters in Shinjuku Ward, was for people who already had acquired certification from the Elementary English Instructor’s Certificate Committee–aka Japan Shogakko Instructors of English, or J-SHINE.

J-SHINE–a nonprofit organization established by educators and the education industry–was established in 2003, the same year launching the certification system to recognize English teaching skills as the public debated the role of homeroom teachers and the extent to which ALTs should be involved.

Under the system, its member organizations hold training sessions and assess and certify participants who have completed the sessions. Teachers with more than 50 hours of English teaching experience are fully certified as an “Elementary English Instructor,” while those with less experience are given a quasi status.

J-SHINE recognizes 53 organizations as its members, including Aeon and other English conversation schools, vocational colleges, universities and nonprofit organizations.

Its training curriculum focuses on practical teaching methods and specific themes, including “goals of English activities” and “viewpoints of international understanding.”

In 2005, Aeon inaugurated its teacher training courses nationwide based on the J-SHINE curriculum. The tuition of the once-a-week, yearlong courses are between about 200,000 yen and 400,000 yen, with classes for varying levels of English.

Yoshikazu Miyake, president of Aeon East Japan Corp., an affiliate of Aeon Corp., emphasizes the approach’s advantages, saying: “We’ve spent years learning how to teach children English, and we’re making the fullest use of that know-how.”

As of March 1, about 31,000 people had received full or quasi J-SHINE certification. About 20 percent of these certified instructors are serving as assistants in English class at primary schools nationwide.

When the certification system was introduced, most of the applicants were English teachers at cram schools. These days, however, even people who have never had experience in English teaching try for certification.

There has been a gradual increase in the number of public primary school teachers getting certified, currently accounting for 3 percent of the total.

Among them is Tomoyo Tsunezumi, 43, a schoolteacher in Chiba Prefecture.

“The training course helped me learn the skills I need to to manage my class effectively,” she says. “And now I can give advice to other teachers at my school, taking the lead in English activities.”

However, the “certified instructor” status does not always guarantee a leg-up when applying for work as an assistant teacher for English classes. Nor is it linked to better pay.

Tomoko Nagano, 41, an assistant English teacher at a municipal primary school in Saitama Prefecture, says, “I was lucky [to get this job] as there had only been a single vacancy.

“There are many people teaching at English conversation schools while they wait for vacancies to open up at other schools.”

According to the results of a questionnaire J-SHINE sent out to certified instructors last year, 374 of the 1,927 respondents said they were involved in teaching English at public primary schools. Of those, however, 24.7 percent were unpaid volunteers, with this figure followed by 23 percent for paid volunteers and 18.6 percent for part-time staff hired for a limited period.

More and more people across the nation have acquired English teaching skills. Now, schools just need to figure out how to make best use of them.

(Yomiuri, Apr. 21, 2011)