I realize I am somewhat late to this, but there’s been a flare-up of interest in “saving the JET Program” ever since the new government’s budget review panel apparently requested the internal affairs ministry to reform the program.
It’s been hard for me to figure out exactly what is going on, but judging from reading through the review results (PDF) and conclusions of the panel (helpfully posted by a commenter on the jetprogramme.org forum), my understanding is this:
As part of the review of the nationally subsidized “internationalization” operations of local governments, some argued for the JET Program to be eliminated. In the end, the panel concluded that the program deserves closer scrutiny in terms of how much of the costs local governments are responsible for, the status of overseas offices with questionable usefulness, and whether the 23-year-old program is meeting the needs of Japanese people today. The “conclusions” take the form of a formal request to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication. Interestingly, I didn’t know that some revenue from the Japanese national lottery goes to fund the JET Program, which was also something at least one panel member objected to.
Ultimately, I would agree with Washington-based Sankei senior writer Yoshihisa Komori who sees the JET Program as necessary to spread understanding and good will toward Japan, even while admitting the need for some reforms and re-focusing of its mission. He cites the example of his acquaintance Irwin, an African-American who as a JET learned the way of bushido through judo lessons on the side.
Why Japan really needs the JET Program
As Komori emphasized, JET alumni are some of the best friends overseas Japan could hope for. They often go to work in government and industry, and their familiarity with Japan produces both good will and a smooth working relationship in many cases. That’s a point I noted when JET turned 20 back in 2006.
But I would add a perhaps more important reason for continuing JET – a reliable supply of Japanese-speaking native English speakers. While JET has proven successful in some ways, it has failed miserably in one crucial other – by and large, Japanese people still can’t speak English! Obviously, this isn’t JET’s fault. Intentionally or not, Japan’s education system produces people with a large English vocabulary that they cannot put to practical use, creating a “Berlin Wall” separating the majority of Japanese from meaningful contact with the English-speaking world.
The JET Program has brought tens of thousands of native English speakers to Japan. Some of them get very good at Japanese. These people can then make careers for themselves as translators, interpreters, or “gaijin gophers” wherever they work, filling the gaps created by a paucity of English ability among the general workforce. I am not sure what Japan was like 20 years ago, but this need remains vital today.
There is a large population of private-sector ESL teachers as well. However, the advantages of the JET Program include a rigorous admissions process and a generous compensation package, which help guarantee a positive experience and make the program look better on resumes. Private-sector English jobs have turned out to be potentially very unstable, so keeping this “public option” might be a good idea.
Hopefully, the budget reviewers and the internal affairs ministry will understand this message. Komori-san, head back to Tokyo and make your case!
38 thoughts on “The JET Program is an abject failure; therefore, Japan needs the JET Program more than ever”
The same Komori Yoshihisa whose vocal criticism contributed to the removal of the English-language commentaries on the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) website back in 2006?
Perhaps his proposed reforms will include a clause that JETs must refrain from publishing anything critical of the Japanese government and its policies for the duration of their contract…
Good post. I appreciate the fact that the JET’s primary benefit to Japan has not been an improvement in English, but exposing all corners of Japan’s schools to non-Japanese people — something that was truly unheard of decades ago. When I first came to Japan in 1992, people on the streets in Tokyo would ask me for my autograph. Now, I bike through abandoned farmlands of the far corners of Japan and people don’t bat an eye.
Pettis, yes that is the guy, and I don’t think you are too far off the mark. As a conservative, Komori seems to prefer foreigners loving the stereotypical image of Japan (bushido for crying out loud) rather than making a fuss about Japan’s wartime behavior or otherwise “hurting Japan” with overly critical rhetoric. Make of it what you will.
Curzon: “When I first came to Japan in 1992, people on the streets in Tokyo would ask me for my autograph.”
It must have been the new-kid smell. I got swarmed with autograph-seekers in 1978, but by 1992 foreigners were far less unusual.
Komori is a shameless jingoist. Doesn’t mean that he can’t be right about some things, however.
Wataru, I’m sure if you wore Hakama, and had your afro, on the streets today in 2010 you’d still get requests for autographs.
Curzon, you’ve been browsing somebody’s Facebook photo albums. (For others who would like the privilege, I’m generally receptive to Facebook friend requests. Look for Wataru Tenga, that’s me, no secret about it.)
JET’s primary purpose has always been the cultural exchange angle but I think it is time to review the programme to see if the costs paid out are worth the benefits. If the money was spent on training and hiring English teachers who can teach English in English maybe Japanese businesses wouldn’t need so many gopher gaikokujin.
I also want to comment on your idea that “the advantages of the JET Program include a rigorous admissions process and a generous compensation package, which help guarantee a positive experience and make the program look better on resumes.”
The admission process really depends on the country. Some are rigorous but others with fewer applicants, not so much. And the compensation package really depends on the exchange rate. I came in 98 just as the yen tanked and Americans and Canadians were canceling in droves.
Plus man does not live by bread alone. A positive experience is definitely not guaranteed on JET regardless of the pay. The mantra at every training session was every situation is different. I know lots of JETs who left after one year because their experience was so miserable. The most common complaint, which still exists, was being used as a human tape recorder or being told straight out we don’t want you here but the BOE made us take one of you JETs. Some stayed on in Japan and found other work. Others went home and became anti-ambassadors for Japan.
I’ve written a bunch of letters of recommendation that helped people get into JET so I have started to think about it from a different perspective (than say, seeing drunk JETs in Japan stealing road cones).
I’ve been quite surprised to see that “my” JETs are pretty much exactly the same types of students who end up getting into good MBA programs, law, or going straight into government / foreign service jobs. At least in my limited experience (which as been during a “high yen” and “Japan cool” time) they are a future “elite” of sorts.
They’re universally psyched about Japan (to the point that I have to force them to take the part about how they love Kurosawa/anime/ikebana/want to do the Shikoku temple walk out of their damn application letters) and this itself feeds into Komori’s point about it having the potential to create ambassadors. I wouldn’t be too worried about the bad JET stories, actually. Just about everyone knows people with bad eikaiwa stories (or an eikaiwa teacher who will tell everyone who will listen how crappy Japan is to beef them-self up as an “insider”) but the good JET stories tend to be REALLY good. Just like Monbusho – I’ve met loads of ex-monbusho people and just about everyone who went on into academic careers (even things not Japan related like math/science) have nothing but good things to say about it. In a similar sense, I can imagine that it is the JETs who have a good experience that will do things related to Japan or spread the word while people who had a bad experience fade away from J-areas and don’t leave much behind apart from annoyed bar conversation and internet comments.
Also, concerning treblekickeresq’s last point – I can really see how some people get torpedoed by this and it is a totally legit complaint. I think the JET program propaganda goes way too far in pumping up people for how important they will be in their positions. This leaves even the most well-utilized JETs feeling a bit let down. I’ve tried to give “my” departing JETs advice based on what I’ve heard from Japanese people about ALTs – the classroom stuff doesn’t matter, what really matters is getting used to using a bit of English or just talking to a foreigner between classes, in clubs, etc. I usually tell them to consider the day to day interaction with students to be their main job and to take the classroom stuff with a grain of salt.
If you want to know about the calibre of the average JET-ter,
a quick read of Big Daikon Forum will tell you a lot.
hint – a lot of toilet jokes
Yes…on May 21,the screening process so-called 事業仕分け order a review of jet programme as part of administrative reform．
I watched this discussion in real time．(webcast)
Sorry,this decision is not overturned．
Japan has decided to give up the jet programme already．
we’ll see the end of the jet programme in not-so-distant future.
The biggest problem is Administrator of jet, called ’CLAIR’.
that’s what we call “amakudari”,
’CLAIR’ is seen as a symbol of corruption of the government bureaucrat.
we Japanese have doubt about the way of using taxpayer money.
Jet programme was originally started in 1987 to trade friction between Japan and the U.S.
Yes,now,this programme served purpose,times have changed.
I feel like you want to hold fast to vested interests．
yes, because this program is doss．
How many country would employ, even as simple language teachers, nonqualified & unskilled foreigners who could not speak, write and read the national language?
only japan.What a nonsense.
You’re encouraged to remember that japan spend money 400 million dollars a year to feeding these foreigner.
this is our tax…
it’s wasteful expenditure．
these foreigner doesn’t not do anything in japan.
ambassadorship?crap..you mean it
I can tell you,whining and complaining won’t help．
Go ahead and start looking for a next job in own country.
“He cites the example of his acquaintance Irwin, an African-American who as a JET learned the way of bushido through judo lessons on the side.”
Oh please. Komori is an ass. I know this. I had a few drinks with him tonight.
I’m sure he is glad he knows a black person’s first name. He has been in America, what, 200 years now?
Now, now. Don’t let Big Daikon give JETs a bad name. They make 2ch look like a round table at Oxford.
Anyway, toilet jokes? Last I looked they had long since graduated to talking about sex that can get you jailed in Texas.
Since we had a doozy of a discussion of US prisons here a year or so back and my just having made fun of Texas…. I thought that I would share this.
As a Japanese tax payer myself I am alive to the evils of ‘amakudari’ of which Kotaro complains. (The UK too suffers from an excess of ‘Quangos’ staffed by highly paid members of ‘the great and the good’.
There is a danger, though, of “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”. Perhaps the JET programme should be reformed rather than simply cancelled.
Japan lives by its exports. It firmly needs to engage with the outside world. This can’t be done by expecting everyone else to learn Japanese.
20 years ago Japan was an economic superpower, and western schools rushed to introduce Japanese language teaching. After two lost decades Japan no longer looks like that superpower, it looks like a ship whose captain has lost his way and is in danger of running out of fuel. I expect many Japanese courses are being cancelled in favour of Mandarin.
I am a spouse to a Japanese wife, and a father of a Japanese daughter. I strongly wish to see Japan a successful player on the world stage.
While English is such an important international language, it makes good sense to improve teaching.
“Japan lives by its exports.”
I think that a better way of putting it would be “Japan has thrived by its exports”. Over 70% of Japan’s GDP is domestic and there are good arguments being made that stimulating domestic consumption is the ticket from here on. I see your major point, however – one of the main ways of stimulating domestic consumption that is being discussed is increasing tourism.
Also, Japan’s economy doesn’t look that bad when you compare it to the French and German performance over the past decade rather than the American and Chinese. China is China and America’s economy as a draw and productive force is warped to the point where as many as one in twenty people in the country may be illegal immigrants. Japan needs to start looking for alternative ways forward, but I’ve always found the European comparisons to be more useful.
“I expect many Japanese courses are being cancelled in favour of Mandarin.”
Not really. The absolute number of Japanese students has continued to increase. Mandarin students are growing more quickly, but Japanese is still about equal in the US. The best numbers on relative change that I have seen are 2002-2006 – Japanese rose from 3.7 to 4.2 percent of language students and Chinese from 2.3 – 3.4% In any case, economic factors don’t always make the difference – there are about twice as many university students in French classes than Japanese and Chinese combined. This backs up your major point about the JET program, actually – it contributes to a “cool Japan” factor which really does exist and has continued to keep Japan on the radar of young people through two “lost decades” (or whatever we’re calling them).
Kotaro – “How many country would employ, even as simple language teachers, nonqualified & unskilled foreigners who could not speak, write and read the national language?
only japan.What a nonsense.”
That is a solid potential argument. However, you should also consider the potential cost / benefit of hiring Japanese speakers who also speak English at a native level for those posts. Would demand MUCH higher wages than the average JET because of a comparatively small pool. In addition, I don’t want to be disparaging as this does not apply to all, but it is no secret that many Japanese teachers of English at the middle-high school level do not speak English well enough to teach conversation or pronunciation. The JET program may not be the best potential solution, but scrapping it will only make the core problem worse.
“Anyway, toilet jokes? Last I looked they had long since graduated to talking about sex that can get you jailed in Texas.”
Since the Supreme Court struck down all sodomy laws, even Texas should be safe for the kinky.
“Over 70% of Japan’s GDP is domestic and there are good arguments being made that stimulating domestic consumption is the ticket from here on. ”
But don’t forget that no matter how big the domestic market is, they still need a very large export sector to acquire the foreign currency needed to purchase all of the fossil fuels and raw materials that Japan lacks, which are needed to support even a semblance of a modern life-style.
As a tangent, this makes me think of an odd theoretical question though: would the currency of an entirely economically self-sufficient country that has no foreign trade be worth anything on the exchange market?
Kotaro: “How many country would employ, even as simple language teachers, nonqualified & unskilled foreigners who could not speak, write and read the national language?
only japan.What a nonsense.”
That’s really not true at all. Teaching of English is very similar in most other East Asian countries, such as Korea, China, Taiwan, Thailand, and perhaps others I’m not familiar with – all of these countries employ large numbers of native English speakers who often don’t, and certainly aren’t required to, know the language of that country in the slightest. There are also Japanese teachers in Thailand, and probably other countries, who operate in a similar way, without knowing the local language.
M-Bone: “That is a solid potential argument. However, you should also consider the potential cost / benefit of hiring Japanese speakers who also speak English at a native level for those posts. Would demand MUCH higher wages than the average JET because of a comparatively small pool. In addition, I don’t want to be disparaging as this does not apply to all, but it is no secret that many Japanese teachers of English at the middle-high school level do not speak English well enough to teach conversation or pronunciation. The JET program may not be the best potential solution, but scrapping it will only make the core problem worse.”
It seems to me that the biggest problem with the JET program specifically and the ALT positions in general, from the perspective of English teaching rather than abstract ideas about “international exchange” is the emphasis placed on both hiring extremely young – and therefore inexperienced – teachers, as well as the extreme cost-cutting that municipalities hiring ALTs have been engaged in recently. Although plenty of ALTs don’t speak Japanese, there are still quite a few that learn it fluently, and while there are many who have no real interest in or aptitude for teaching, there are also those who both like teaching and are good at it. However, the employment structure makes it impossible for skilled ALTs to remain in their positions for more than a few years, no matter how much they want to.
Now, regulations prohibit foreigners from becoming proper public school teachers in Japan, even if they are fluent in Japanese, but it seems to me that if more of an emphasis was put on genuine pedagogy rather than superficiality, they would come up with some sort of system to allow skilled language teachers to stay, perhaps an alternate track that allow for foreign language teachers who haven’t come up through the Japanese higher education system to become certified in a way that allows them to have an actual career in Japanese primary or secondary schools, rather than just a job for a few years. I DO think that Japanese language ability should be a requirement for such a theoretical program, and that strong preference should be given to those with education/ESL training.
For a program with a some similarities in both conception and problems, consider Teach For America.
“Since the Supreme Court struck down all sodomy laws, even Texas should be safe for the kinky.”
Apparently the state Republican program makes some allusions to bringing some back to make homosexuality illegal.
“But don’t forget that no matter how big the domestic market is, they still need a very large export sector”
I don’t mean to suggest that exports are irrelevant, just that the idea that Japan is totally reliant on them is dated. I don’t think that we need to worry much about the Japanese export sector. The Japanese economy was hammered during the recent recession, but much of the problem was because of the skyrocketing yen (wasn’t it something like 115 in 2007?). Japan still, amazingly I think, is running a trade surplus with China. This suggests that as the Chinese economy grows even larger, that Japan should be able to increase its exports in the short term, especially since we are likely to see a migration of factory jobs OUT of China according to some recent indicators. In any case, while English is clearly important to expand exports in service areas, etc. I don’t think that the English correlation with export strength is necessarily a good one. Consider that Japan’s export powerhouse and foreign market share brutalization days were back when far fewer Japanese spoke English than now.
“who operate in a similar way, without knowing the local language.”
Come to think of it, none of my Japanese teachers in Japan spoke English. That was actually a great help.
“is the emphasis placed on both hiring extremely young – and therefore inexperienced – teachers”
I couldn’t find any info as to average age, but this isn’t always true. Two of “my” recent JETs have been 24 and 25. One has a MA. Also have to wonder a bit about experience. In university teaching, student evaluations in the first year or two are pretty much going to tell the story of your entire teaching career. Either you are going to be a popular teacher or you aren’t. You can take teaching workshops and tinker with fashionable pedagogical tricks as much as you want – some people just can’t teach. We’ve all seen this in our high school days, I take it. A senior teacher with an MA in education can just plain suck in the classroom while someone fresh out of university may be wonderful – student engagement sky high.
In the end, I think that JETs will continue to have their greatest effect acting like Eikaiwa teachers. Motivated students will improve their English conversation and get over shyness with foreigners. Meta-level pedagogy doesn’t seem to be the answer here – smart Japanese already learn English vocabulary and grammar to a solid level. The problem is that it is only ever applied to university entrance exams. Scary as it may be, I feel that JETs would be best used as a sort of “Eikaiwa teacher in residence” – let the high performing students out of English class to do small group conversation.
We’ve talked about this recently – Japanese English ambitions will only be held back by the idea that ALL Japanese can / should achieve a reasonable level of English. A small group focus on the motivated would pay dividends, the seat warmers can do the “This is a pen” thing in high school but should have a shot at English intensives and whatnot later on.
And now that I have sobered up.
I think the key in improving the overall proficiency of English is actually to teach less of it. At the moment Japan has a hell of a lot of very unmotivated students dragging down others who have the potential to speak English very well. If MEXT cut the student rolls in English by making it an elective, this problem goes away. They’d also need fewer teachers, and therefore could hire people who actually can speak the language.
Of course, this will never happen.
One thing I strongly believe they should do is replace the English requirement with a choice of foreign language, probably a good list of languages relevant to Japan would be something like:
Word. Throw in German and French as well. The way Japanese understand the modern world has been influenced more by German authors than it has by many other writers. There are also significant economic links between these nations, though I don’t think that should necessarily dictate what gets taught at school.
I don’t think languages should be a requirement after the kids are, say, 14 years old. Most Japanese get along fine without them, and they will continue to do so.
The list above are languages that I think are particularly relevant to Japan today. While German is pretty essential for many areas of history, law, etc., it’s pretty worthless for daily life in Japan, so I’m not entirely sure it would be justifiable in a short list of core language choices that should be available everywhere. Certainly schools could be able to teach others as well, but I’m imagining a small list of languages for which there is required to be a choice on school entrance exams, so that students who select one of them will actually be able to replace English with it throughout their academic career.
“I don’t think languages should be a requirement after the kids are, say, 14 years old. Most Japanese get along fine without them, and they will continue to do so.”
Is English actually required per-se in every high school, or is it de facto required because it’s needed for entrance exams later on?
“Is English actually required per-se in every high school, or is it de facto required because it’s needed for entrance exams later on?”
90% sure that it is a national curriculum requirement.
If you want to evaluate the JET scheme then you really need to work out what it is supposed to do. I suspect the aims have changed over the years. JET was based on the BET scheme and the primary aim of that one was to improve Britons’ understanding of Japan. The teaching angle was thought up by Nicholas MacLean, not exactly as an afterthought but it was seen as a means to an end.
The JET scheme still does a reasonable job on that count but it might be fair to ask how you could achieve the same goal for less money or whether it’s something that needs to be done at all given the number of Westerners who visit these days.
Even if Japan decided that language teaching wasn’t the right vehicle, the country might still want programmes to help build goodwill, perhaps more focused on non English speaking countries.
I think that maybe the program could be refined some more; cutting a bit more from it’s budget, I guess? Although I dont really know what exactly as I dont have access to all the details. But I dont think it’s such a terrible program that should be completely cut. Others have mentioned or hinted, but throwing out the baby with the bath water seems a bit short-sighted. (But then I personally am concerned that much of this jigyo shiwake thing is being short-sighted by having no time to discuss projects with people completely unqualified to make judgements – but that’s a tangent.) I think the estimate floating around cyberspace seems to be about $400m for the cost. That’s absolutely nothing in terms of the national budget (stress on nothing). Considering that the cost is small (and maybe could be made smaller by trimming even more fat?), I think that the benefits (I’m not going to repeat many of the benefits already described by many people here and in other places) are probably worthwhile.
I also agree with Roy when he states that maybe the idea of short term contracts could be gotten rid of. And hiring of better ‘qualified’ people given precedence.
“might still want programmes to help build goodwill, perhaps more focused on non English speaking countries.”
The Monkasho Scholarship program is a solid one in that area. However, in line with your suggestion, they might want to shift away from their traditional “Asians come to study technology” vs. “Whites come to study Japan” mandate and increase the number of Japanese studies and cultural scholarships offered to Chinese, Koreans, and those in countries that don’t seem to need soft power help like India.
“that maybe the idea of short term contracts could be gotten rid of”
It seems to me that a lot of the young people who go for JET consider it to be a short term thing and aren’t really interested in staying for more than 2-3 years. Are they really going to get solid candidates if they limit it to people who leave undergrad thinking “all I want to do for the rest of my life is teach high school in Japan”? Honestly, every JET that I know who stayed on past the original contract at cut pay is an archetypal Charisma Man.
In addition, as with certain university jobs, I think that if the demand is going to be for equality in contract conditions, that should also apply to pay. JETs make a full two times what many high school teachers straight out of university are making, more than compensating for the short contract condition. If the Japanese government wants to cut the budget, I have a hunch that they could cut ALT pay by a third and still get good people who want the Japan time and the line on their CV, as long as the yen stays high.
“It seems to me that a lot of the young people who go for JET consider it to be a short term thing and aren’t really interested in staying for more than 2-3 years. Are they really going to get solid candidates if they limit it to people who leave undergrad thinking “all I want to do for the rest of my life is teach high school in Japan”? Honestly, every JET that I know who stayed on past the original contract at cut pay is an archetypal Charisma Man.”
That’s my point – while many (most?) of the ALTs who stay longer are those stereotypical loser expat types, there are also plenty of more competent and committed people who DON’T stay longer because there isn’t any career path. I mean, why this prejudice against someone who does think “all I want to do for the rest of my life is teach high school in Japan”? Why shouldn’t there be a possible way to do it as a real career, with real contracts, pay raises, etc.?
“JETs make a full two times what many high school teachers straight out of university are making, more than compensating for the short contract condition. If the Japanese government wants to cut the budget, I have a hunch that they could cut ALT pay by a third and still get good people who want the Japan time and the line on their CV, as long as the yen stays high.”
That’s what’s already happening- plenty of prefectures, municipalities, and individual schools have withdrawn from JET to hire ALTs either directly or through dispatch agencies, and if you look at the overall compensation package they are paying about 1/3 less than for a JET-sponsored ALT (i.e. slightly lower salary, no housing allowance).
“The Monkasho Scholarship program is a solid one in that area. However, in line with your suggestion, they might want to shift away from their traditional “Asians come to study technology” vs. “Whites come to study Japan” mandate and increase the number of Japanese studies and cultural scholarships offered to Chinese, Koreans, and those in countries that don’t seem to need soft power help like India.”
I’ve met plenty of Europeans doing computer science or hard sciences in Japan, on Monkasho scholarships, as well as plenty of Asians doing sociology, history, etc. I think the divergence is actually more in privately funded students than those on MEXT scholarship, although I would have to check the real stats to be sure.
“JETs make a full two times what many high school teachers straight out of university are making, more than compensating for the short contract condition.”
Wait, are you sure about that? The JET salary is, I believe, 3.6 million yen/year. Do high school teachers really start out making just 1.8 million?
“Wait, are you sure about that?”
I dont think he’s sure at all. I’ve never heard of new high school teachers being paid so low. I cant provide a link but I remember reading that the average for 22 year old full time high school teachers was about 3mil. At about 24-25 it overtook the JET salary, and rapidly increases from there iirc.
While I guess the JET salary could be cut, I dont know if this would help. I know of a couple of cities where they have gone the cheap route and gotten rid of JETs. They cant get native English speakers, so they have gotten non native English speakers. Their English seems to be worse than the Japanese teachers. I dont see the point in that.
Again, Roy makes a good point:
“I mean, why this prejudice against someone who does think “all I want to do for the rest of my life is teach high school in Japan”? Why shouldn’t there be a possible way to do it as a real career, with real contracts, pay raises, etc.?”
I hope that there is a change in thinking that moves toward what Roy states, and away from the ‘working holiday’ type paradigm that currently exists. Having high turn over in education, as is the case currently, is not a good idea. Both teachers and particularly students benefit from stability. When you’re on a ‘working holiday’ you’ve got nothing to lose if you holiday more than work. Also, I’m of the opinion Japan needs immigration; this is one little way to help get long termers. I know a lot of long termers who are not ‘losers’ and genuinely care about this country and living here.
Concerning salaries – Can we all be right here?
I was working under the assumption that new teachers make around 20 man a month and it looks like that is the case. Keep in mind that this is an average and that many (strategically used the word “many” above) in the inaka will be making less. A former classmate of mine started off at 16.5 man a month in a school that has not had bonuses for 4 years.
The rest of my reasoning as is as follows – most JETs are eligible for a tax exemption and thus would end up with twice as much tedorikin as many starting high school teachers. There is also the matter of the housing allowance that you mentioned above, which is essentially another form of compensation.
“why this prejudice against someone who does think “all I want to do for the rest of my life is teach high school in Japan”? ”
I think this is a fair prejudice to have IF this individual has never been to Japan or worked in Japan. My comment above was made on the understanding that they would be “virgins” recruited straight out of undergrad like JETs.
I do meet plenty of students like this, and their “magic Japan” fantasies are a problem (from an academic standpoint and it often causes a disaster when they actually go). If the individual who wants to spend the rest of their life teaching high school in Japan has lived and worked in Japan, knows the score, and has a skill/education set that puts the short timers to shame, and has roots in the country, that is entirely a different matter.
I also knocked people who stay on as ALTs at cut pay. I think this is fair as the act seems to justify the prejudice “they lack ambition”. There is, what seems to me, a sense of desperation there (I would feel differently if there were family ties involved that made moving impossible). Remember the guy who lost his eikaiwa job and was talking about working at a convenience store just to stay in Japan? Selling themselves short in the same sort of way. On the flip side, there are people who skill up their Japanese and EFL background and get real jobs at private high schools, universities, juku, run seminars or start their own businesses. They are proactive about their long term Japan prospects, avoiding the eternal cut rate JET sinkhole, and I think, generally to be looked up to as good examples. These are the kinds of people that would be good hires at public schools – I’m just not sure about the cost benefit given the fact that they often have better options. I think that we were on different wavelengths above – I was still talking about “JETs” while you were imagining something better.
“I think the divergence is actually more in privately funded students than those on MEXT scholarship, although I would have to check the real stats to be sure.”
Unfortunately, I last saw stats for 2005, but there are several categories of scholarships aimed at China, for example, and the major focus is practical skills based education (engineering, business, etc.). They greatly outnumbered the Chinese students doing Japanese culture topics in 2005 and it is my impression that they still do. Kyodai, for example, is massively important but may be a bit misleading – they have leading scholars in tech areas and tend to get Euro-Ameriacns and are also a massive draw in the humanities for students from all over. We can’t forget, however, that the Monbusho also includes students at all kinds of third and fourth rate tech schools and they are the places that sway the numbers.
“Also, I’m of the opinion Japan needs immigration; this is one little way to help get long termers.”
I agree, but native English speaking long termers are a tiny, tiny fraction of Japan’s foreign community and likely always will be. Encouraging the immigration of skilled immigrants from India, China, and SEAsia is the way forward.
“If you want to evaluate the JET scheme then you really need to work out what it is supposed to do.”
The JET program was started in the Nakasone years, and I’m pretty sure it was born of Nakasone’s belief that in order to cultivate a sense of nationalism, it was necessary to create an understanding of “national culture.” Thus, you import people from overseas, and put them in front of Japanese school kids so the kids can learn about how they, as Japanese, are different after all. This was Nakasone’s conceptualization of internationalism: by getting to know other cultures, you get to know Japan. A well-meaning philosophy, perhaps, but it didn’t work as planned. Most high-school students don’t instantly think of getting in touch with their inner wabi-sabi just because there is guy a few years older than them from Idaho in front of the chalkboard.
I think the program has been beneficial in other areas, notably the forging good feelings about Japan department that M-Bone highlights, but I wonder if it is now worth the expense. And part of the problem, as the video on CLAIR showed, was that its administrators don’t really know what it is for.
In any case, the Nakasone connection might explain why Komori, being cut from the same ideological cloth, loves it. It might also explain the DPJ’s stance, but I doubt it. They just see it as a colossal waste of time and money, a scam forced on the jijitai, and, conveniently, another target for shiwake.
Also wanted to mention that there is a great deal of evidence that supports my earlier point that teacher experience is overrated. Here is one study –
Gordon, R., Kane, T. J., & Staiger, D. O. (2006, April). Identifying effective teachers using performance on the job. (The Hamilton Project, Discussion Paper 2006-01). Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.
“Found large gains in teacher effectiveness between the first and second year of teaching, much smaller gains between the second and third year, and no substantial improvement after the third year in the classroom.”
This certainly fits with my experience at the university level.
Now a case can certainly be made for identifying and keeping the good teachers, but as far as I can tell, there is no system put in place to measure the impact of ALTs in a way that could allow two teachers to be compared and one declared “better” for the purposes of hiring.
Those are net GAINs, right? So at the third year they are their most effective, and may continue to operate at that level. That’s just when they get kicked out.
The way that I am reading it is a bad first year, a solid second year, marginally better third year and no notable improvement from there. From the hiring POV, the trick would be to get people who have already had some teaching experience and proved themselves, but it still seems that turning over teachers isn’t going to seriously hurt the quality of instruction.
This raises the question – why not do that elsewhere, or with Japanese teachers? The answer there, I think would be that experienced teachers may not be any better in the classroom, but they sure can be a lot better at school administration, dealing with the PTA, recruiting, student advising, etc. In my job, I’ve definitely found the diminishing returns on teaching experience to be a factor but the impact of experience when participating in running a school, especially within the context of that specific office culture, is huge. The dilemma here for ALTs is that these are areas that many cannot participate in because of language and other barriers.
In relation to our recent Uniqlo discussion, I think that the private sector is pretty much a seller’s market for the labor side – Japanese companies need to incorporate English and “foreign” cred to be more competitive internationally so people can expect to be hired without Japanese if they have the right skill to sell (as I mentioned before, this doesn’t mean that I agree with the ALL English approach). In education, however, I think that the labor side is facing a buyer’s market. From the POV of the Japanese hiring side, if it does not seem that teacher experience is going to be a huge factor in student learning so the major reason to scrap the revolving door would be to have individuals who can participate in the administrative side of school life. Because of this, I think they can demand Japanese language, as many private high schools hiring foreign English teachers do.
Management is never going to be “nice” in these situations. 70% of university classes in the USA are taught by individuals on limited term contracts because management sets the terms of demand and the labor side fills them. If English teachers are going to shoot for long term contracts, they’re going to need to prove indispensable on a level other than “teacher experience = better student experience”. This is something that through research, personal experience, or gut feeling, many, maybe most, educators know to be a dodgy proposition at best. Everyone who works in a school knows someone who has been around since the dawn of time and can’t teach worth jack.
So as the JET program lurches into oblivion and eikaiwa dries up, I think that the way that an ambitious few are going to find fat paychecks and job security is to take the classroom side in stride and make themselves indispensable in the broader school environment. At big schools, this could indeed not require Japanese, but those positions are likely to become super cutthroat.
In a way, this has an interesting parallel with the hiring (and restructuring argument) that salarymen are facing now – keep increasing that portable skill set, get into specialized 管理職, or don’t expect the lifetime job. The same labor logic is being employed in education everywhere and it isn’t like neoliberalism is just going to dry up and blow away.
Jet is a waste of money. It’s a strange belief in the Osmosis method of language learning, which, if it worked, would mean that I, who have lived in Japan for two years, would be fluent, which I most certainly am not.
If my country hired a bunch of gormless uni grads from Japan to teach our children Japanese, there would be an uproar.
Japan is no longer flush with cash, its time to get serious and realize that only through methodical training can people acquire a language. I really feel sorry for Japanese people wasting all this money for such an unreliable method of teaching English. Send the drunken Rashomon enthusiasts home and hire some real teachers.
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