The Yomiuri ShimbunA valuable trove of data detailing the English ability of about 980,000 third-year junior high school students has been obtained. The big question now is how this information will be used to educate children in the future.
The results of the national academic achievement tests conducted in April on sixth-grade elementary school students and third-year junior high school students have been released. In addition to Japanese and mathematics, this year’s exams for the junior high students featured tests to gauge their ability in four English skills — listening, reading, writing and speaking — for the first time.
For the speaking section, students wearing a headset equipped with a microphone answered questions while looking at a computer screen. The national average percentage of correct answers for this section was barely 30 percent. The average for the writing section was less than 50 percent, below the scores for the listening and reading sections.
These numbers illustrate the poor ability of students to express themselves in English. The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has been promoting “proactive and interactive learning.” However, it must be said that, with regard to English, this approach has not yet produced good results.
Boards of education will need to analyze these test results and use them to research teaching methods and effectively place teachers where they are needed. English-language teachers also should check each student’s data to glean the skills they are struggling with and then use this information to shape their classroom instruction for the second term and beyond.
Add training programs
The education ministry has examined whether the test results reflected each prefecture’s efforts to improve classroom lessons. Prefectures with many schools that made such improvements achieved good results overall.
For instance, schools in the Tokyo metropolitan area formed English classes according to students’ individual level of achievement, and kept class sizes to a maximum of 25 students. When classes have a small number of students all with about the same level of English ability, students have more chances to speak and ask questions.
The ministry should widely release online and elsewhere information about excellent lesson examples so schools across the nation can use them as models for their own classes.
There also was a trend of good scores evident in municipalities where many students said they often use English outside class.
The ministry believes factors such as viewing TV programs and websites from overseas, and being in areas where there are many foreign tourists and residents using English increase the likelihood of these students developing an affinity for the language.
Schools also must make their own efforts, including devising fun ways to expose students to English and organizing events at which they can interact with foreign people living in the region.
Improving teachers’ teaching ability will be vital for boosting the English skills of their students.
The ministry set a goal of having 50 percent of English teachers at public junior high schools hold Grade Pre-1 or higher of the Eiken Test in Practical English Proficiency. However, this figure is still stuck around 36 percent.
Efforts by teachers themselves to improve their abilities are crucial. Local governments should prepare training programs that help teachers acquire better English communication skills.