Positions on International Education in Japan – by Malin Matus

Positions on International Education in Japan – by Malin Matus

As a Canadian expat living in Japan I have a strong interest in international issues, especially those related to education and language learning. I’m a mostly bilingual father (English and Japanese) raising a completely bilingual daughter, who doesn’t hesitate to correct me. She will be entering school next year, and as a result I have been paying close attention to what opportunities are available for her education here in Japan. Particularly, I would like her to get a bilingual education in English and Japanese, as well as an international education so she can appreciate her multicultural heritage. Therefore, for this blog I investigated the topic of international education within three educational organizations: MEXT – the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, Science and Technology, JAFSA – Japan Network for International Education, and OECD & CERI – Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development  & Centre for Educational Research and Innovation.

Is the main governing body of all education in Japan. For good or ill MEXT wields a great amount of authority on what is taught and how it is taught in the compulsory education environment (Grades 1 -9). However, their policy and authority often extend beyond compulsory education into secondary and post-secondary as well. Regarding international education MEXT has released a recent report on the topics. In April 2011 under the heading “International Education” MEXT released:

In their report MEXT outlines both the need for English education; “Globalization brings about unprecedented necessity of English in universities and enterprises” (2011, p. 5), and a policy to bring about this education, “it is most important to use educational materials based on actual English usage, to actively introduce debates and discussions, and to resort to other means for improvement of lesson quality” (2011, p. 6). Finding this report was a new thing for me. Previously I had not known that MEXT is taking a decisive stance to promote English education as a means of globalizing learning. From my perspective as a teacher MEXT’s policy is certainly a step in the right direction and I like how they view native ESL instructors as, “a valuable asset increasing opportunities for students to come across practical English, and to actually use English by themselves” (MEXT, 2011, p. 7). My only point of concern is that while MEXT has stated this policy in 2011, I and my native ESL colleagues are essentially unaware of this stance. Furthermore, MEXT outlines several ways to improve English and international studies by: engaging in speech competitions or debates, having guest speakers talk about how they use English in their work/research, develop exchange programs with schools in foreign countries, etc. (2011). Unfortunately, in the four years I’ve been teaching at a middle school, there has been little to no movement towards these initiatives at the instructional level. So, while MEXT outlines a well thought-out and practical approach to enhancing English instruction and globalizing learning there is a large gap between policy and practice.

Is an NPO founded in 1968 whose mission is to “promote and enhance excellence in international education in Japan and provide for a connection to the global community” (About JAFSA, n.d.). They go about this through networking partnerships between private and government institutions and universities in Japan. JAFSA has a relationship with 225 Japanese universities (JAFSA member list 2, 2016) which is just over a quarter of the universities in Japan. They also boast that their membership encompasses 90% of the inbound and outbound students in Japan (JAFSA member list 1, 2016). This is all new information to me as previously I had no idea this organization existed. JAFSA seems quite dedicated to promoting international exchange at the university level. One thing to note is that JAFSA membership was at 250 universities in 2011 which rose sharply to 283 by 2013 (JAFSA member list 1, 2016). In no other two year span, since 2005, did membership increase by such a margin. This is interesting as the sharp increase in JAFSA university membership corresponds to the release of MEXT’s policies to promote globalization in education in 2011. Of course we can’t say MEXT necessarily drove up JAFSA membership, but we can not discount it as a factor either. From my standpoint as a middle school teacher JAFSA is not part of my circle. Certainly, I agree with any attempts to promote internationalization of education, however, JAFSA’s workings remain inaccessible to me. What I’d like to see is JAFSA or a JAFSA like organization developed at the primary school level to help support the implementation of international education programs at the start of a child’s education.

Is a huge repository of research, articles, blogs and other media related to education at all levels, with a specific focus on the future of education. While OECD & CERI encompass a vast range of information and research on education their position on international education is indicated in their book  Languages in a Global World Learning for Better Cultural Understanding (Chiesa, Scott and Hinton [eds.], 2012). Chiesa et.al. states,

In our globalised world, language competencies are increasingly important. It is no longer an advantage for a job seeker to speak just one non-native language (NNL). Rather it now could be a drawback for a job seeker to only speak one language. (2012, p.26)

CERI takes a firm stance that learning a NNL is an essential element of a student’s future success in the job market. Since, CERI so strongly promotes NNL learning I also conclude that they similarily promote international education as I believe the two are inexorably linked. Comparing CERI’s stance to that of MEXT and JAFSA, CERI’s is certainly the strongest; that NNL learning and by proxy international education are essential. MEXT recognizes that it is advantages for Japanese to learn English but they do not say it is essential. JAFSA’s position is even more watered down as they merely promote the concept of international education without taking a strong stance about the value of it. The thing that struck me about this CERI book is that until I discovered it I was unaware that so much research had been complied pointing to the positive results of NNL learning. In the past I had read research that had indicated some benefit but it seemed the jury was still out as to the value of NNL learning as a whole. However, CERI’s book makes s very compelling case that NNL learning is of benefit to the student as a person, to society and ultimately, to the world. As an ESL teaching in Japan where, at the level of instruction, there is a fair amount of antipathy towards English learning, finding this book was a real validation of what I had always felt was true: that NNL learning has great value and is a valuable life skill, not just a hobby or a curiosity.

In this blog I discussed the policy/opinions on international education from three organizations; MEXT, JAFSA and OECD & CERI. While all the organizations supported international education in some form, CERI made the strongest case as to international education’s value for the future of our students. To my surprise, I discovered that MEXT actually has some very clear policy and goals related to international education, and it is quite disappointing to see how MEXT’s decisions are failing to enact much change at the instructional level. Going back to how I started this blog with my concern over my daughters education. I can say that after reading more about international education; I am more determined than ever to promote my daughter’s bilingualism and international awareness. In addition, I feel the fire of motivation burning in me to take language and cultural education into my classroom with renewed verve. Because of my discoveries I once again feel confidant the English language instruction does matter,  it is worthwhile, and it will prepare my students for their future.

Della Chiesa, B., J. Scott and C. Hinton (eds.) (2012), Languages in a Global World: Learning for Better Cultural Understanding, OECD Publishing, Paris.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264123557-en

Japan, Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports, Science and Technology. [MEXT], Tokyo. (2011, June 30). Survey on the Five Proposals and Specific Measures for Developing Proficiency in English for International Communication. Retrieved March 29, 2017, from http://www.mext.go.jp/en/policy/education/elsec/title02/detail02/1373861.htm

JAFSA – Japan Network for International Education. (2016, July 13). [webpage member list] Retrieved March 29, 2017, from http://www.jafsa.org/en/membership/jafsamembers/entry-973.html


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