Sophians Talk about Japan and the World

Sophia University Should Take Lead in Reforming English Education in Japan

Tetsuya Yasukochi
(Lecturer at Toshin High School and Toshin Business School)

Presenting Sophia as Japan's Most Globalized University

Tetsuya Yasukochi Lecturer at Toshin High School and Toshin Business School

I wanted to study English at university from the time I was in high school, but I wanted to study English that could be used for communication, not English literature. I couldn't get into a national university because I was not good at mathematics, but I discovered the Department of English Studies in the Faculty of Foreign Studies at Sophia University and became a student here.

After entering Sophia, I discovered that it was more than just a place for the creme de la creme of English from around the country. A lot of the students had lived abroad, something you rarely saw in Fukuoka, where I was from. A number of classes, even non-language courses, were conducted in English, and students spoke English as well. For a year I wondered why I felt so far behind the pack, even though I had studied so hard and managed to score well on my exams. Looking back though, it was actually a prime chance for me to experience a global society, an opportunity that very few people in Japan had at the time. And it was undoubtedly that experience that made me the person I am today.

Many of my school friends traveled to foreign countries as if it was a walk in the park, which was unusual in Japan at the time. I got so frustrated by this that I searched for affordable airline tickets and spent the summer vacations after both my sophomore and junior years wandering all over America.

When I was attending Sophia, these global aspects of the university made it stand out prominently from the others. Even to the present day, thanks to the backing provided by its establishment under the Society of Jesus with its powerful worldwide network, these aspects have not changed at all. For example, in 2014, Sophia established a new Faculty of Global Studies. In addition, preparations for the introduction of CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning), a ground-breaking program merging specialized English education and language instruction, are proceeding on a school-wide basis. Sophia University continues to stay a step or two ahead of everyone else.

As a graduate, though, one recent point of concern for me is that since all other universities are also making efforts to highlight their global character, it appears that Sophia is becoming less recognizable as a global university. Also from what I have heard, the slots for study abroad programs, which we fought for and struggled over while I was a student, are recently being left over and unused. This is a situation that honestly breaks my heart.

I sincerely hope that students will make more use of and take the fullest advantage of this university’s unique global environment.

University Entrance Exams: The Root of Japan's Flawed English Education

Tetsuya Yasukochi Lecturer at Toshin High School and Toshin Business School

There is one more point that makes me very thankful I entered Sophia University: the presence of Professor Yoshida Kensaku, a leading figure in English teaching methods. Sophia University graduates are at present doing impressive work in the field of English education. Thanks to Sophia, I too have been working for 25 years as an English lecturer at a preparatory school.

However, I believe that learning English in preparatory schools can be seen as the most negative side of Japan's English education. I might be a nonconformist because I purposely chose to place myself in such a school and since I see it as my duty to transform their negatives into positives.

One key phrase in our country's current educational and business climate is the "cultivation of global personnel," and improvement of English communication ability is one of the key issues related to this. What is required is the acquisition of four skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking, and to this end the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) is enacting measures for reform in English education, which include the introduction of English classes into elementary school curricula.

Preparatory schools, however, are only hindering this progress. The overarching mission of preparatory schools is to have students succeed at being accepted to colleges, and therefore they are continuing to conduct classes that focus heavily on improving students' knowledge and ability in reading comprehension, grammar, and vocabulary, which are required for entrance examinations.

Faced with such an environment, I actively incorporate audio-based materials into my own instruction methods, and my goal is to successfully both teach to the entrance examinations and enable the acquisition of usable English skills. But it is evident that unless the formats of university examinations themselves are changed, even this cannot resolve the fundamental problems that exist.

So let us once again consider in what aspects of English entrance examination questions these flaws lie. Roughly 80% of the questions are related to reading, roughly 20% to writing, 2% to listening, and none to speaking. Of the four skills mentioned above we can say that these tests are heavily weighted toward only two, or really only one, of them, and to make matters worse, the formats in which test questions are presented differ greatly among universities. This means that high school students have no choice but to forego actual English study, instead devoting themselves to studying the "tips and tricks" specifically applicable to each university of their choice. And of course, high school teachers in turn have no choice but to support them accordingly.

In actuality, though, students hope to speak English, and teachers also want to teach English using all four skills. These are, in fact, the stated goals of the government curriculum guidelines provided by MEXT. Sadly, we have no choice but to say that the major obstacle to these goals can be found in the current state of university entrance examinations.

Turning English Education Around, with a New Motto of "All Four Skills"

Tetsuya Yasukochi Lecturer at Toshin High School and Toshin Business School

One way to quickly advance the strongly-desired reform of university entrance exams by changing English-related questions to address all four skills involves the application of external tests.

Just recently, the development of a revolutionary four-skill examination known as the "TEAP" (Test of English for Academic Purposes) has been completed by Sophia University in collaboration with the Eiken Foundation of Japan. It is under consideration for inclusion in the entrance examinations of a number of universities, starting with Sophia itself.

While I of course wish to promote the TEAP, it should be noted that there are several other tests measuring all four skills, such as the TOEFL IBT and IELTS. In terms of test content, there is also a need to develop somewhat easier tests more closely aligned with the skill level of current high school students. If these are to be used in entrance examinations, I would like to propose the adoption of the following system for them.

I suggest an "accredited perfect score" system whereby test-taking students who have achieved a certain score on external tests, in addition to exceeding baseline scores in each of the four skills would automatically be awarded a perfect score for the English test portion of general entrance examinations. With this system, students who have successfully mastered the four English skills in a good balance would be able to gain a 20-30 point advantage when taking examinations in other subjects. So what, then, would be the effect of implementing this?

First of all, students would be able to devote themselves not to learning the "tips and tricks" for their desired colleges, but to the study of English itself. Since students have many opportunities to take external tests, they could be freed from studying for English tests at an early stage, and even obtain a test-related advantage if their performance is high enough. Additionally, the English ability they acquire would be directly relevant to their activities after entering universities or after starting their careers.

Universities would be able to secure students with outstanding abilities in all of the four skills. This could greatly advance the globalization of these universities, starting with increased numbers of students engaging in overseas study. This "accredited perfect score" system could ultimately lead to the acquisition of students of the highest caliber.

High school teachers who had previously taught students "usable" English only in the gaps between test-taking instruction, would be able to teach all four skills. Finally, the business world and Japanese society at large would be able to acquire human resources with a promising global future. Simply put, it would be a "Win-Win-Win-Win" situation.

Of course, I do not believe that globalism is equivalent to cosmopolitanism, and the vision I have is of global personnel who also have maintained distinct identities as Japanese people. Still, the reality is that English is absolutely, unquestionably essential for global communication.

One more point I would like to emphasize is that merely making a simple change to, for example, questions adopting only two skills, would be meaningless. I believe that it is both necessary and effective to make "all four skills" a buzzword and to thoroughly instill its importance into the consciousness of the Japanese people.

It is my wish for Sophia University, my own alma mater as well as the originator of the TEAP, to take the lead in carrying out such reforms to English education in Japan.

Tetsuya Yasukochi Lecturer at Toshin High School and Toshin Business School
Tetsuya Yasukochi
Lecturer at Toshin High School and Toshin Business School

Tetsuya Yasukochi was born in 1967, in Fukuoka prefecture. He graduated from the Department of English Studies in the Faculty of Foreign Studies at Sophia University, and is a lecturer at Toshin High School and Toshin Business School. He currently serves as Representative Director of Practical English Promotion Systems and Advisor of the Global Human Resources Development Association, and is involved in activities for the promotion of practical English instruction. He is particularly committed to activities for the promotion of various speaking tests, as well as activities for the promotion of the Test of English for Academic Purposes (TEAP), finalized for adoption in the entrance examinations of Sophia University and others starting from 2015. His numerous written works include university entrance exam study guides, TOEIC guides, and self-improvement books.

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