Primary schools start move towards introduction of English

This year marks the start of the transition leading up to the 2011 implementation of the revised teaching guidelines for primary schools, which will effectively make English compulsory for fifth- and sixth-graders.

According to the Education, Science and Technology Ministry, 98.7 percent of the nation’s public primary schools are scheduled to offer English lessons in the fifth and sixth grades during this school year. They will offer an average of 28.2 lessons (one lesson lasts 45 minutes) by the end of the school year, and 53.8 percent of these schools will offer 35 lessons throughout the year as stipulated by the revised teaching guidelines.

In relation to this move, primary school teachers have been offered a variety of training programs. During the 2008 school year, 80.7 percent of the schools sent their mid-level teachers to training programs offered by regional boards of education, while 66.6 percent arranged in-house training programs for their own staff.

Middle school districts–each of which consists of a middle school and nearby primary schools–saw collaboration between middle schools and their feeder schools in areas such as teaching methods.

Yet many primary school teachers still feel anxious about teaching English to their students.

Last year, Obunsha Co., a publisher of English teaching materials, conducted a survey of teachers in charge of English programs at public primary schools nationwide. When asked if they believed their schools would “experience a smooth introduction of English,” only 8.7 percent of the 505 respondents said yes, while 52.5 percent said they were concerned, as their school had experienced some problems already.

In response to a question about what they regarded as problems, with multiple responses allowed, “What and how to teach” was at the top–with 78.6 percent–followed by “What and how to assess” with 63.8 percent and “Planning lessons” with 62.6 percent.

Because English will not be treated as a regular subject, there will be no official textbook, and there is no standard as far as what must be taught.

Though the ministry has produced the Eigo Noto (English Notebook) workbooks as supplementary materials, teachers will likely have to search for their own methods for the time being.

(Nov. 12, 2009 Daily Yomiuri)

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