Although proficiency levels did improve over 2018, they did not reach the levels hoped for.
“We want to raise the overall level by analysing common challenges”
By the end of 2018, 42% of third-year junior high school students had reached Grade 3 of the Eiken test (equivalent to A1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). This marked an improvement of just 2%.
And 40% of third-year students at senior high schools reached Grade Pre-2 (A2), with an increase of less than 1%.
The results, released by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science, Sports and Technology, show that both groups have missed the 50% target set 12 months prior.
This is despite reforms and initiatives in the country’s school system, including plans to teach children the language with robots, aimed at improving English levels in the nation ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup and 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Both events are expected to draw a large number of foreign tourists.
According to The Japan Times English lessons will become mandatory for fifth and sixth graders at public elementary schools.
Not all regions and schools failed to improve significantly, with schools in the central city Saitama (located outside Tokyo) and the Fukui Prefecture performing well. Both achieved over 60% of students at the required level.
A spokesperson for the Ministry said the next step would be analysing what worked in some schools, but did not elsewhere.
“We want to raise the overall level by analysing excellent efforts and common challenges and widely sharing that information”.
The reasons for falling short are not entirely clear, though the number of teachers with English qualifications is reportedly very low. As a result, the number of native English-speaking assistant language teachers at elementary schools has boomed in 2018. Last year 13,044 were employed – up 132 from the previous school year.