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Tokyo to boost teachers’ ESL for 2020 Olympics

As of next year, high and junior high school English language teachers in Tokyo will be required to spend three months abroad, in a bid by the Tokyo Board of Education to raise the standard of English teaching in schools as the city prepares for the 2020 Olympics.

Nishiwaseda Junior High School in Tokyo's Shinjuku ward. Image: Dick Thomas Johnson

“In seven years, the students will play a key role as volunteers at the Olympics”

“Teachers can teach a lot to students by spending three months abroad, learning not only about English education but also about different lifestyles”

Through the programme, teachers will study on a TESOL course, and live in a homestay in order to gain an understanding of different cultures. The project will launch with its first intake of 200 teachers in their third year of teaching in April 2014, provided the ¥600 million (USD$5.9 million) annual budget is approved by the Tokyo Metropolitan government.

Eventually, all of Tokyo’s high and junior high school English teachers will have to spend three months abroad, though the locations have not yet been decided. There are currently around 3,300 eligible teachers in the prefecture.

At the moment, there is no national study abroad programme for English teachers, and overseas study is not a prerequisite for teaching.

Keiko Kumagai, a manager in the board of education’s guidance department, said that teachers’ experiences living abroad would “lay the foundation for their classroom education.”

“We believe English teachers can teach a lot to students by spending three months abroad, learning not only about English education but also about different lifestyles and interacting with people in different cultures,” she said.

Teachers will learn how to teach students to debate in English, enabling them to better enact the revisions made by the Education Ministry to its high school curriculum guidelines in April, prohibiting Japanese being used in English lessons and placing particular emphasis on one-on-one communication.

Tokyo’s appointment as the host city for the 2020 Olympics has provided a further incentive for the project. “In seven years, the students will play a key role as volunteers at the Olympics,” Kumagai said.

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