Dhaka, Bangladesh
Don’t freeze English edn reform

Off the Track

Don’t freeze English edn reform

The government last week announced it was putting off the planned introduction of private-sector English proficiency tests as part of standardized university entrance exams next April after the new system was criticized for many problems regarding access to testing locations and higher examination fees. The current English-language component of the standardized entrance exams only assesses reading and listening comprehension. By using private-sector tests that also check writing and speaking ability, there were great expectations that students would be evaluated in a more comprehensive manner and thereby would prepare better to communicate in English. The announcement was welcomed by many education experts who felt this was the best way to avoid confusion involving the new tests. The ministry will review the system for more than a year while aiming to introduce a new system for around the 2024 school year. However, this will mean the shift to the new test system will be postponed until 2024, and hence the reform of English education will also be delayed. Since Japan already lags behind other countries in terms of English speaking and writing skills, it can’t waste any time in implementing English education reform. Various problems with introducing the private-sector exams have been pointed out for a long time, but the education ministry was slow to respond to such concerns. When education minister Koichi Hagiuda made a gaffe over the fairness of such tests, saying students should compete for university spots “in accordance with their (financial) standing,” it sparked even more criticism and calls for a postponement increased. Some media reports pointed out that the government made a swift decision about the delay because it wanted to avert any negative impact on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s new Cabinet. But the decision is undoubtedly a severe blow to the students who have been preparing for the private-sector exams, as well as the private-sector test operators. The government should be held responsible for this mess. Under the proposed system, six private-sector institutions were to provide seven kinds of tests, including the GTEC (Global Test of English Communica-tion), TOEFL, Cambridge English test and Japan’s Eiken test starting next April.

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