36,000 JET ALTs a year?

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I saw this mentioned in the news last week, and a post on Mutantfrog Travelogue reminded me of the story just now.

I have a lot of history with the JET Programme. I first came to Sendai on JET, had three great years in junior high schools and an elementary school, then was involved in running the Miyagi program as the Chief ALT Advisor for four years. I think I saw the best and the worst of JET.

The best thing about JET is that it has the potential to take intelligent, educated, energetic, and motivated people and put them in a position where they can interact with, inspire, mentor, and befriend Japanese children and teachers. When this works it works incredibly well, and I have had the pleasure of working with some exemplary JETs in my time.

The worst thing about JET is when teachers and schools are not supportive, don’t provide clear working guidelines or support their ALTs, and host institutions are unwilling to actively manage JETs and provide feedback and discipline where necessary.

Assistant Language Teachers on the JET Programme are assistants. They are able to help, support, and contribute to classes when their colleagues and schools work to make that possible. Like many things in English education in Japan, training and implementation are going to make most of the difference, not spending more money or deciding to put an ALT in every school (whether they want one or not). There seems to be an expectation that ALTs should be radically improving English education in Japan, but to me that is like saying that the new textbooks should magically do that. It’s not going to happen unless the teachers and schools facilitate and allow it to.

In the spirit of my ‘if I ruled the world’ blog posts from last month (on elementary school, junior high school, high school, and university English education in Japan) I am going to come up with some suggestions for the JET Programme on the blog tomorrow.

In the meantime, what do you think about the proposal to double JET numbers? Any good or bad experiences with JET? Please leave a comment below.

As you say, depends more on how they’re used. Didn’t Miyagi eliminate JETs for a private firm of some sort? Are they coming back to the fold?

Hey William, unfortunately Miyagi went with privately supplied ALTs when they axed my job 😉

I hope this new policy reverses that. I am firmly against the dispatch model for teachers, as it merely results in private companies taking up to 40% of the teacher’s salary (also, it may be against the law in Japan)

I would agree with you about the stupidity. Perhaps they’ve realized this in state politics. (Or more likely, someone stopped paying a bribe. (When did I become so cynical?))

Gee, so after 25 years or so and at best minimal gains in outcomes they figure to continue the process in double measure. Mighty confident they can attract 36,000 motivated, inspiring, empathetic individuals each year aren’t they? Call me a cynic as well but why would you double a less than successful effort unless someone is making money? Money would be better spent in improving the native (Japanese) teachers teaching the language.

Hi Simon
Definitely agree that training the Japanese teachers would have a much better return on investment. I also see problems with recruiting that number of quality people, to say nothing of the chances of them reforming how the ALTs are supervised.
It’s kind of like English in elementary school: a good idea in principle, but horribly executed…

Ben, your blog needs some recipes, just saying!
Cheese scones would be a good start.

Funnily enough I have been cooking more recently as I am on a diet! I’m trying intermittent fasting and low-carb at the moment, so both cheese and scones are firmly off the menu 😉

You need something for the cheat days:-)

You know, that is a very good point. Cheesy scones it is tomorrow 🙂

[…] the story I wrote about yesterday seems to have caught the eye and the imagination of people I know. I have yet to see a positive […]

Before we debate about whether or not training teachers or adding JETs would have a better return on investment, it might be wise to determine what the desired effect is. If we are looking to increase international understanding–especially in rural areas–I would argue that the JET Program has been extremely effective and provided a much better return on investment than teacher training would. If the goal is better English teaching, then the investment in the JET Program would be difficult to justify. What’s the goal?

Oh boy, I don’t think I have enough time to think of a proper response. I am a 4th year JET in Miyagi and like you, I have seen the wonder and horror of the JET Program.

When a JTE is willing to take a little extra time and communicate with a willing ALT about class, magical English instruction can take place. But my biggest problem is that most JTEs don’t respect the ability for an ALT to contribute to class and only use them as a living breathing moving CD player, or ALTs don’t take their job seriously and are simply in Japan for an extended vacation with health benefits.

I’m looking forward to reading your next article.

Hi Andrew
Thanks for the kind words!

Hi Ben. Couldn’t agree more with your mention of the need for emphasis and focus on training. That is the top of the list; not just throwing more people or money at the situation. Also, there need to be focus groups to discuss objectives. As Covey mentions “Begin with the End in Mind.” What is the desired end result? What is the end vision we should all be shooting for to help create? This in turn will give a measuring stick for looking at and evaluating curriculum and teaching materials used (or avoided). The amazing thing to me is that China and Korea have some very fluent speakers of English. What are their teaching methods? What teaching materials are they using? Also, English (spoken language) is very successfully taught in European public school systems. Studying success in order to replicate it, should also be looked into. Maybe looking outside to other programs and other countries bruises the egos of those who control the curriculum or the program of language teaching (and notice the wording of “language teaching” rather than putting the focus on “language learning” by the students, or “langauge acquisition” or practical language “use and fluency”). The roots of the discussion go much deeper (philosophy) rather than just a focus on the numbers of teachers (foreign and native) or the amounts of money spent. If the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall, does it matter how fast or efficiently one gets to the top? Effectiveness seems to be the key concept that is constantly overlooked, unfortunately.

Hi Dan
Thanks for stopping by! Excellent points, succinctly made. I suspect you’d do a better job of reforming the JET program than the current administrators 🙂


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