In Japan, English education is given a very high level of importance, as demonstrated by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science & Technology’s recent decision to implement English education from primary school level as of 2011.
In Japan, the ability to speak English is held in high esteem. English is sold as a career boosting, world unlocking, potential achieving, missing piece in the struggle for success (Seargeant, 2009, p. 107-131). However, despite the ideology of English and its prestige, Japan continues to feature on the lowest ranks of the TOEFL score board across Asia (Yoshida, 2009, p. 387). In a survey conducted by Benesse Corporation involving 4,718 participants, Yoshida noted that 55% of the participants claimed not to enjoy studying English and 90% said that they were not confident in using English. It is perceived as exceedingly difficult for the Japanese to learn English. It seems clear that the educational policy and instructional methodology being used in Japan to teach English needs to be revised.
Conversely, English education in countries such as Finland have been marked by their great success. The Finnish education system is receiving a lot of publicity in the Japanese media at the moment, and it seems that Japan is looking to Finland to provide a model for how English education could be improved in Japan. One of the key aspects here is CLIL. In 2007, 16 of the 24 Polytechnic Universities in Finland were offering full degree programs which were conducted entirely in English. The project was very successful (Isokallio & Grönholm, 2007) and more and more universities are following suit around the world. In Japan, the University of Tokyo has just launched the PEAK program, which offers classes on Environmental Science and Japan and East Asian Studies entirely in English. At Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, I was specifically informed that the syllabi I wrote for the two classes I was teaching should use a Content-Based methodology. Sophia University is also leading the way in Japan as a centre for educational reform and CLIL implementation, offering perhaps the first ever university level CLIL courses in Japan, which I have the honour of teaching on.
CLIL is certainly becoming more popular in Japan, as exemplified by the increase in Japanese-context CLIL books, such as Watanabe, Ikeda & Izumi (Eds.) Volumes One (2011) and Two (2012), Sasajima’s (2011) book on CLIL and the forthcoming special edition of the International CLIL Research Journal focusing on the Japanese context. As one of the leading universities in Japan for humanities, social sciences and language education, Sophia is well positioned to be at the helm of this historic shift in educational policy.
Isokallio, Matti & Grönholm, Annika. (2007) “Final report of Project group for joint application of degree programmes conducted in a foreign language at polytechnics” Finish Ministry of Education and Culture, Retrieved 12Dec. 2007 from http://www.minedu.fi/OPM/Julkaisut/2007/Ammattikorkeakoulujen_vieraskielisen.html
Sasajima, Shigeru. (2011) CLIL: New Ideas for Classes [CLIL 新しい発想の授業] Tokyo: Sanshusha.
Seargeant, Philip. (2009) The Idea of English in Japan: Ideology and the Evolution of a Global Language. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Watanabe, Yoshinori, Ikeda, Makoto, & Izumi, Shinichi Eds. (2011) CLIL: New Challenges in Foreign Language Education. Volume 1, Tokyo: Sophia University Press.
Watanabe, Yoshinori, Ikeda, Makoto, & Izumi, Shinichi Eds. (2012) CLIL: New Challenges in Foreign Language Education. Volume 2, Tokyo: Sophia University Press.
Yoshida, Kensaku. (2009) The New Course of Study and the Possibilities for Change in Japan’s English Education [生井健一、深田嘉昭〔編〕(2009)言語・文化・教育の融合を目指して―国際的・学際的研究の視座から、開拓社]、