English skills of Japanese students fail to meet government targets

JIJI, FEB 2, 2016 via Japan Times
All four English skills — reading, listening, writing and speaking — of junior high and high school students in Japan have failed to meet the government’s targets.

Data released by the education ministry Tuesday showed that starting English lessons in elementary schools and classes taught in English has not produced major results so far.

The figures come from a survey conducted last June and July on around 90,000 students at about 500 public high schools and some 60,000 students in 600 public junior high schools. The participants were chosen at random.

The survey was conducted for the first time on students in their final year of junior high and the second time on students in their final year of high school.

Under the basic educational promotion plan, half of junior high school students across Japan are expected to have English proficiency equivalent to Grade 3 by fiscal 2017 in the popular Eiken English proficiency test when they graduate.

Similarly, half of high school students are supposed to have English proficiency equivalent to Grade 2 or Grade Pre-2 in the Eiken test by the time of graduation.

However, the proportion of students in their final year of junior high school who reached the targets was 26.1 percent for reading, 20.2 percent for listening, 43.2 percent for writing and 32.6 percent for speaking. In the writing category, 12.6 percent got a score of zero.

According to the survey, 56.1 percent of the junior high school students said they like English.

The students in their final year of junior high are the first generation in the country that received English classes when they were in elementary school. The hours of English classes and the number of English words taught in junior high school were also increased for them.

A ministry official said some teachers and experts noted that junior high school students are more willing to speak English.

Some 10 to 30 percent of high school seniors passed the targets. The proportion of those who surpassed the goals increased some 7 percentage points from the previous year for reading and writing and advanced some 5 points for listening. The rate for speaking skills was unchanged. The ratio of students who got no points for writing fell to 18 percent from 30 percent.

These high school students are the first generation to receive English education under the ministry’s new curriculum guidelines, which include the introduction of classes taught wholly in English.

A ministry official said their improvements came from the change of the English class system, but the scores were low and it can’t be said the change is achieving the desired results.

The survey found that 44.5 percent of final-year high school students like English, up some 3 points from the previous year.

Around 40 percent of junior high and high school teachers conducted integrated lessons of the four skills, including discussions on listening content.

The ministry official said the number of schools conducting English speech and discussions classes is still low. A lack of teachers’ skill is considered one factor and better training programs are needed, the official said.

Ministry study: Long way to go for English levels in public schools, Asahi Shimbun, Apr 6, 2016

Japanese public junior and senior high schools are falling far short of government targets for English proficiency, according to the education ministry’s national study released on April 4.

Only 37 percent of junior high school graduates achieve the equivalent of a Grade 3 level of English proficiency under the Eiken test by the time they graduate, against a target of 50 percent by fiscal 2017.

The education ministry’s goals in that time frame also call for 50 percent of senior high school graduates to progress to the Grade Pre-2 level at minimum. The study found that only 34.3 percent had reached that level of English proficiency or above.

The result was more than 15 percent off its target, but nonetheless marked an improvement of 2.4 percentage points.

The results for the junior high school study combined those who have passed the Grade 3 level Eiken test, or a private-sector equivalent, as well as those students considered by teachers to be at that level.

The combined result was that 36.6 percent of third-year junior high school students were at the Grade 3 level, recording an improvement of two percentage points over the previous year.

The ministry also released results by prefecture for the first time.

Akita led the way with 39.7 percent of its junior high school graduates passing the test for the Grade 3 level or higher.

The prefecture has special programs that subsidize junior high school students who decide to take the Eiken test as well as organize two-night “English camps” where students between grade 5 in elementary school through the senior year of high school can learn the language through exercises such as plays.

The ministry study also looked into the English proficiency of teachers at public junior high schools. The study found that 30.2 percent had gained the equivalent of a Grade Pre-1 level, the second highest level. That was an improvement of 1.4 percentage points.

The education ministry is seeking to reach a goal of 50 percent of junior high school English teachers with that level of English proficiency by fiscal 2017.

“A common feature of the prefectures that have high levels of English proficiency among their students is efforts made to improve the ability of teachers to instruct and evaluate their students,” said the official in charge of the study.

The study was conducted in December 2015 at 9,522 junior and 3,409 senior high schools.