What are SELHis?

SELHis are Super English Language High Schools.

In 2003, the government launched a three-year project in which around 50 (listed here) schools were designated “Super English Language Schools”. Initially, 35 Japanese high schools nationwide were given the special status of SELHis out of 109 applicants, including one national, 26 municipal, and eight private schools. That list has been gradually expanding to include many more schools. Schools with the special status are given financial resources to research the use of English to teach certain subjects and to recruit foreign teachers to create opportunities for students to communicate in English — both inside and outside the clasroom.

All SELHi schools carry out exchanges with sister schools in other countries and teach part of their curriculum in English. In addition, each school is responsible for undertaking research in a particular area of English education. By the end of 2004, the total number of SELHis was 50 and today numbers over a hundred schools.

A listing of SELHis is at this Wikipedia page (unfortunately in Japanese only)

The Education ministry’s goal, through SELHi, is to reform the nation’s education system to produce more high school graduates who can express themselves in everyday English. In the past, Japanese schools have used the grammar and grammar-translation approach, but SELHi schools have to develop and employ more effective methodologies of developing competent English speakers. The ministry has set an extensive list of sub goals, including:

  • Setting up in regional areas schools advanced in English education
  • Having high schools conduct the majority of English classes in English
  • Reinforcing the English and teaching capacity of instructors to be able to conduct such classes
  • Employing more native speakers to teach junior and senior high English classes at least once a week
  • Sending 10,000 high school students to study abroad each year
  • Promoting international exchanges to allow students to communicate, in English, with the outside world
  • Changing the university entrance examination system to emphasize more listening and other communication skills
  • Importantly, emphasizing better communication skills in Japanese as well

The SELHi concept is an ambitious undertaking aimed at improving Japan’s English education system, which has long been criticized for failing to produce competent English speakers even after students complete six years of English study in junior and senior high school, and for those entering university, four additional years of study. It requires that each SELHi school set its own goals over a three-year period, and map out effective for achieving them.

Such methods include:

  • Teaching English through English and minimizing the use of the mother tongue in class
  • Moving away from grammar-translation and toward task-based activities (see sample TBL lesson plan)
  • Choosing texts and arranging tasks considering background knowledge and experience
  • Making available English information resources (books, publications, Web sites, etc.) as needs arise
  • using project based-learning (PBL) method which require research, writing and presentation skills
  • Implementing an extensive reading program

The SELHi initiative has its critics. Some are worried that the project will produce a small elite and foster inequality in secondary education. Many doubt that the program will be successful due to the inability of many Japanese teachers to actually teach English using English. Other problems are that the factors and difficulties within the individual schools to make headway with the programs, see this SELHi ALT blog for insider-views.  

One weakness of English education in Japan is the lack of English teacher training programs and certification. MEXT called on universities in 2005 to step up to provide effective in-service English teacher training programs, to which Sophia University, for example, has responded with its TESOL M.A. graduate program course.

However, one comparative study involving a sampling of 10,000 students, has shown that Japanese SELHi students are doing better than their Korean and Chinese student-counterparts, as measured by GTEC (Benesse Corporation’s General Test of English Communication for Students) scores.  The Benesse study concluded “The Ministry of Education’s initiatives in reforming English education is bearing fruit, at least in the SELHi’s.”

Large Japanese corporations such as JAL, Pioneer, Shiseido, and IBM Japan require their employees hoping to move up into management positions to achieve high scores on the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) test. Thus graduating from SELHi schools is already perceived as a possible asset in that respect.

References:

A Comparison of the English Proficiencies of Japanese (SELHI vs. Non-SELHI), Korean, and Chinese High School Students published in the Association of Sophian Teachers of English Newsletter No. 53 Sep 15, 2005 full report on Benesse survey results here.

Honing English Education ministry gives immersion a try: Japan experiments with Super English Schools

Experimental  syllabus design developed as part of SELHi project; Writing for 11th grade 

MEXT website

High School English has little impact on Japanese by Kwan Weng Kin Monday, August 30, 2004 The Straits Times

ELT News has summary reports of two forums organized by MEXT

Utilizing ICT to Enhance Teacher Collegiality examines the use of integrated e-learning systems and project-based lessons in the SELHi context to enhance teacher collegiality to make student learning more efficient.

An English JET teacher shares his experiences teaching at a SELHi school in Okinawa at his blog Big in Japan.

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