Winter 2014 Opinon Exchange Meeting

 Opinion Exchanges with CLAIR

On Friday, December 12th, six members of the AJET 2014-2015 National Council met with representatives from MIC, MOFA, MEXT, and CLAIR to discuss and exchange opinions on the JET Programme, the AJET report on JET involvement in tourism and economic activities, plans for English education reform in Japan, and more.

The meeting commenced at 9am, and began with opening remarks from CLAIR Executive Consultant Masahiro Fukukawa and AJET National Council Chair Sandy Cheng.

The AJET winter survey and report, “JET Involvement in Tourism and Economic Activities”, was presented by Rochelle Zheng, Project Manager for AJET, to CLAIR and the three ministries. The report highlighted the enthusiasm of JETs to be involved with activities pertaining to tourism and economic activity in their communities, even outside of work. Interest was expressed by ministry members in the idea that visitors from overseas are just as interested in smaller, less-well-known towns as they are in large cities with major landmarks. Visitors often seek an authentic and unique Japanese experience, which JETs are well-placed to provide given their locations and connections.

Mr. Satoshi Uemura of MIC presented the next segment, discussing recent changes to the JET Programme, including the projected increase to a total of at least 6,400 JETs by the year 2019. Mr. Uemura then introduced the new MIC initiative, the Seminar for Globalization with JETs. The seminar will be a crossover between JETs and local revitalisation leaders. The objective is to connect people and deepen knowledge of Japanese thinking. The initial seminar will take place in October 2015. Attendees will number around 100, with JET representatives, local revitalisation leaders, local government officials, and representatives from MIC, MOFA, MEXT, and CLAIR. The aim of the inaugural seminar will be to invite attendees to witness techniques and ideas for people to be more active and aware of their societies, as well as helping JETs to understand Japanese society and values. Effort will also be made to match JETs with Japanese volunteers and activists to more closely connect them to the communities around them.

In the third segment, its focus was on progress in the English education reform plan, and was presented by Mr. Tsuyoshi Enomoto of MEXT. During the past year, MEXT has been working alongside English education experts and teachers from all levels to develop a successful strategy for the reformation of the English curriculum. The following are being discussed as tentative plans.
From 2020, foreign language activity will begin in elementary school Years 3 and 4, while English will be taught as a core subject for Years 5 and 6.
MEXT is seeking to change the evaluation of English from “How much grammar and vocabulary have you studied?” to “What can you do using English?” This assessment method seeks to decrease the need for rote memorization and encourage active use of language. Textbooks will also change: 5th and 6th year elementary school classes will receive official textbooks (rather than the current Hi, friends! foreign language activity assistance manual).
Junior high and senior high school textbooks will be expanded and revised to include more emphasis on cultivating various abilities through training in debate, presentation, and discussion. The implementation of digital textbooks is also being considered.
Special focus is also being given to training and teaching Japanese members of staff to teach English better, as well as how to successfully implement ALTs in the classroom. New training courses that focus on the English teaching skills of teachers, as well as development of their training skills to pass the abilities on and to support other teachers, are also being offered. For aspiring teachers still in university, qualifications are also under reform. Finally, admission to universities from senior high school is being revised. It was indicated in the presentation that across university admissions in Japan, there are almost no tests measuring the four essential English skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening) as part of their admissions testing. MEXT is seeking to include an English proficiency test requirement into the admissions system for universities.
Further enquiries were made by AJET about the lack of fluidity in the current system, as there is a lack of communication between the different school levels concerning English. MEXT stated that the issue of abilities and study at each level (and the constant repetition of the same material) is something they are hoping to fix with the reform. The new national curriculum will seek to standardize the flow from elementary to senior high school, and hopes to establish a more equal ability level, regardless of the school.
The final theme, regarding finding employment after JET, was presented by AJET Director of Alumni Relations, Ms. Ashlie O’Neill.
Ashlie discussed that the impetus that had driven the executive council to create this new position was driven by a desire to provide more opportunities for departing and alumni JETs, as well as establish a more concrete connection to the JETAA communities around the world. To this end, AJET has begun having meetings and networking with JETAA branches all over the world, to discuss their styles of organization.
AJET is also currently in the preparation stages for providing more professional development calls on useful information for departing JETs, including resume drafting, and a look at the job market in their home countries. Furthermore, AJET has recently re-launched their webpage, ajet.net, to include more helpful information in relation to job searches, and resume creation.
It was reported that AJET’s effort to aid in employment in Japan for departing JETs is also being further developed. AJET is currently in liaison with companies who are looking to hire JET alumni, such as Mitsubishi Motors. Ministry representatives were interested in the idea that many companies seek to hire JETs specifically based on their prior experience with and immersion in Japanese culture and lifestyle. Social media will also play a large role in the future of AJET advertising and passing on more job opportunities to JETs seeking employment both inside and out of Japan.
Overall, while AJET’s new position is still in its infancy, many steps are being taken to develop projects that will help it to grow further in the future, such as mentoring programs, resource and publication databases, and more physical events that JETs may attend to meet future employers one-on-one.

The Opinion Exchange concluded at 12:05 pm.