April 15, 2013

Teaching to the TOEFL

Here's an educational reform I approve of:

The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) will be required both to enter public universities and to graduate from them if the policy recommendations adopted Monday by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's education reform panel are formalized.

In terms of evaluating real-world communication, the TOEFL makes for a much better yardstick than the esoteric nonsense that worms its way into the entrance exams required by Japan's universities. A connection to the real world is sadly lacking when it comes to English instruction in Japan.

It's a curious paradox in a country so infatuated with American and British culture and the English language. But the sad fact is that in 2011, Japanese students taking the TOEFL ranked third from the bottom out of 33 Asian countries and came in dead last on the speaking section.

Of course, to have any effect, such reforms would have to permeate the entire educational establishment. I'd bet on that happening never than anytime in the foreseeable future. In any case, the rest of the article is worth perusing if only for this politically incorrect nugget:

The proposals, including introduction of the TOEFL, are also designed to correct the "excessive egalitarianism" at schools and to nurture the abilities of top-level students, Endo said. "Japanese education has sought for equality in (student academic achievements). Because of this, it has failed to offer education that capitalizes on (their individual) characteristics," Endo told reporters.

It's nice to see that somewhere in the world there is an educational apparatchik not beholding to the cant of "equal outcomes." Japan never stopped believing in the bell curve, it's just that they've always explained it as the sole product of strenuous effort.

Keep on scrolling down to the bottom for this juicy tidbit:

Japan spends 3.6 percent of its gross domestic product on public education, while the United States spends 5.3 percent.

Ever notice how advocates for government managed healthcare like to cite lower spending/better results when comparing other countries to the U.S., but not when it comes to public education spending?

(Though I doubt the numbers for Japan take into account the huge fees parents have to cough up for "free" public education in Japan, true of healthcare spending too.)

The successful implementation these reforms aside, they'll give a much-needed boost to Japan's ESL industry, floundering since the economy went off the rails in the 1990s, precipitating the catastrophic bankruptcy of industry-leader Nova (along with the school I worked at in Osaka).

Hmm, maybe if Social Security goes bust, I'll retire to Japan and pretend to teach English to students pretending to learn (let's be honest: that's what most English instruction in Japan boils down to).

Plus, a rekindled interest in Eikaiwa (English conversation) could give all those Mormon missionaries in Japan something productive to do with their time. It was certainly the most productive thing I did with mine.

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