Sunday, April 17, 2011

Comparing the JET Program in Japan with the Foreign English Teacher Project in Taiwan


By KEVIN STODA, international & multicultural educator


Part 1 of this paper compares the current development of two programs: Namely, (1) the Japan English Teaching [JET] program in Japan and (2) the Ministry of Education in Republic of China’s [R.O.C.] program, called simply the [Foreign] English Teacher Project. I served in rural Niigata Prefecture in Japan with the JET Program (Programme) from July 1992 through 1994. For six terms, I taught at three different high schools each week. I usually undertook team teaching of English but other duties included running the English clubs at two schools as well as offering teachers training and language contests. Since August 2010, I have been living and working in Taiwan on a rural and isolated island chain known as the Matsu Archipelago. Here I teach for the School Board of the County of Lianchiang and serve each week in three schools—two elementary schools and one junior high school. I usually team teach but also teach alone and with a translator 4 classes each week. Here, too, I help students with language contest preparation. In both Japan and in Taiwan, I have created my own English newsletter to connect and update my colleagues and other staff as to cross-cultural activities of interest to me and those I work with.

For the Niigata Prefectural Board of Education in Japan, I worked in both Itoigawa City and Nou Village at 3 high schools—in a region that covered approximately 500 square kilometers but had less than 45,000 residents. These three high schools had different foci and student interests in English was varied. My base school, Itoigawa Koko was considered the academic or university preparation high school. The other school in Itoigawa, Itoigawa Shoko was the commercial and technical high school. Nou village had one of only two Fisheries high schools in Japan.

During my time in Japan, I became convinced that in a test-driven society like that country has traditionally offered its citizens, the best way to reform the foreign language educational experience of Japanese youth would be to significantly alter the tests that were used in that society. Hence, in 1994-1995, when I returned to the USA, I wrote my masters degree in TESOL at the University of Kansas on “how to implement testing or evaluations with beneficial backwash on teaching and learning” in Japanese high schools.

Unlike in Japan, here in Taiwan, I have been hired to teach in the primary school and junior high schools of Beigan Island in Matsu. Just as in Japan of the early 1990s, here in Taiwan I enjoy my duties and enjoy fulfilling the same major three roles or work-related duties of:

(1) motivating and interesting students in their attempts to acquire English,
(2) helping improve teaching and educational delivery practices and methods in schools,
(3) encouraging more international and intra-cultural awareness in the community and among the staff at the schools where I work and live.

In August 2010—the same month I moved to the Matsu Islands in Taiwan—I applied for entrance in a doctoral program at the University of Kansas for 2011 in multicultural education. I have been accepted and am now seeking advice and support from educators, ministry officials, and other people in Taiwan. I hope over the next years to develop a thesis in the area of multicultural education and soon, thereafter, write such a thesis.

In the meantime, in this writing I desire to share my thoughts on where the project here in Taiwan, i.e. concerning Foreign English Teachers, currently stands in terms of progress and in meeting its three primary goals. In order to do this, I will, of course, return to review my experiences and continuing research on international education (and English or foreign language education) in Japan via observations on the much larger and older JET Program. In doing such a comparison, my goal is not to denigrate nor critique either program (or project). The objective is simply to enlighten and take advantage of this point in time to provide comparisons and suggestions on the developments of such English/foreign language and internationalization projects here in East Asia.

Part 1

According to its own official web site, the JET Program “is a government-sponsored, large-scale international exchange program. JET began in the mid-1980s with the purpose of increasing mutual understanding between the people of Japan and the people of other nations. It was designed to do this through increased foreign language education activity involving the importation of thousands of native speakers annually for several decades. These foreigners were then primarily hired to work in local schools throughout the country at both the primary and secondary grade levels. These Japanese Exchange Teachers were normally designated as ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers). Only a minority of ALTs hired were officially trained to be educators.

In addition, a few bilingual foreigners were hired to help organize JET for the Japanese Ministry of Education (known as Monbusho), the local councils of local affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Normally, these foreign-born bilingual (or multilingual) speakers of Japanese were assigned to work in the capital city of each prefecture to help with the various international relations projects that the prefectures and local communities were promoting. In summary, JET aims to promote internationalization in Japan’s local communities by helping to improve foreign language education and through developing international exchange at the community level.

The project or program of JET has been sponsored since the mid-1980s in Japan by 3 major different institutions or stakeholders: The (1) Ministry of Education , (2) Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the (3) the Council of Local Authorities—or CLAIR. This means that within the Japanese system of governance and representation, three different institutions have been focusing on improving Japanese

(1) external or foreign relations,
(2) its nationwide educational foreign language quality, and
(3) providing aid for local levels of society and government to attain, practice
& train each other in skills related to the internationalization process
to assist and set goals the internationalization for community, schools
and local community development.

The three national institutions share in planning, overseeing, and carrying out the JET project—as well as supporting similar other internationalizing exchange and educational programs in Japan.

Normally, all recruitment, hiring, placement and orientation of new JETs (Japanese Exchange Teachers) is largely overseen by these three largest stakeholders but are often then carried out by local representatives in either local school districts (for elementary and junior highs) and or for the 50 prefectural boards of education (for high schools) in Japan. Over the decades, inter government coordination has led to revised training seminars for all participants, agencies and schools involved.

On the other hand, it should be noted that during the initial phases of the hiring project and the annual orientations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is much more active than are the other two agencies. Likewise, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also typically is most active in assisting CLAIR to build, coordinate, and create any other international projects that may spin-off or grow from the JET program. In the past, these spin-offs have included international partner school visits, community government agency partnerships, and the creation of sister cities or other international friendship exchanges or projects. Then, once the JET participants arrive in Japan, the Ministry of Education hands the project much more completely to CLAIR, Monbusho and local, and prefectural schools.

Moreover, each of these three government bodies (and local schools) in Japan have (over decades) predetermined long-term budget commitments, e.g Monbusho has a minimum budget set up for assisting JET activities at the national level. Both the Ministry of Education CLAIR have much smaller shares of monies committed itself to the JET project or scheme, but their commitments have been very long term, i.e. running nearly 3 decades now. In the case of junior high and elementary schools, much of the money comes from the local schools, or CLAIR—rather than the local prefecture. In the case of public high schools, the brunt of monies comes from the 50 prefectural boards of education—with, however, some prefectural financing being chipped in by CLAIR (a relatively small percentage) and the Ministry of Education.

Part 2

In contrast to Japan, in the R.O.C. today there appears to be only two major government stakeholders or community-level stakeholders currently involved in the Ministry of Education’s (Foreign) English Teacher project. In addition, it appears that typically the Foreign English Teacher project is financed fully or almost fully by the Ministry of Education. This financing issue means that ownership for the Taiwanese project as of 2011 is not being adequately transferred to local officials and schools—whereas in Japan, ALTs are financed by various levels of governance.

Another obvious difference in Taiwan has been in the recruitment and hiring of new Foreign English Teachers. In Taiwan this is undertaken currently mainly by private recruiters—with no or little assistance from the foreign ministry nor from other government agencies. In Japan, a great percentage of ALTs are still hired in the manner I noted above—with the ministry of foreign affairs playing a strong role in the early stages—or hiring stage. ( Some, however, are recruited and hired through private head-hunting firms, which is main practice here Taiwan.) In addition, in contrast to the case for thousands of JETs in Japan each year, in Taiwan upon arrival, no real orientation is carried out by the MOE (Ministry of Education) and little or no orientation is offered a local schools or by the county school board of education.

From my own experiences—i.e. after not-receiving any proper orientations here in the R.O.C. --, I could immediately tell that the JET scheme (in 1992-1994) appeared much older and more mature in its develops in handling foreign teachers of English than is Taiwan in 2010-2011. This is not so unexpected, though. The Japanese government ran an much smaller project in the 1970s that had been called the Monbusho (English) Fellows Project. This now-extinct form of the Monbusho Fellow project was likely much more similar to how the current Taiwanese Foreign English Teacher project is currently run That project, too, had hired only fully trained educators to come and teach in Japanese schools. This project in the 1970s in Japan was extremely similar to the project that is being currently run in Taiwan.

On the other hand, currently I’d have to admit, English delivery in Taiwan schools in 2011 is certainly more modern and techno-savvy or multi-media-savvy than was the case when I was teaching English in Japanese schools. For example, all classrooms have projectors hooked up to computers. One school has interactive computer whiteboards. Moreover, in 2010-2011 the communicative-language teaching-approach has made its inroads in several other ways. For example, the most obvious area in which this has occurred is in the development of textbooks, which employ jazz chants and other suggestopedia-like elements, including music in each chapter..

At this point, I should emphasize that the JET scheme has already been the world’s largest foreign teacher import and exchange program for decades. In contrast, the Foreign English Teacher project is a relatively new modest program and is run on a less certain shoe-string budget, i.e. in contrast to JET. The lack of support at the local community level is obvious here in Taiwan—even at the elementary and middle school level. As noted above, this is likely due to the fact that the local communities are almost wholly relying on national monies to run their project. This lack of ownership leads to little success in the area of internationalizing the community outside the school or the teaching staffs at the local school—some of whom seem oblivious to the fact that a grat human resource has landed in their school to help them improve their English and international relations skills.

The Foreign English Teacher program in Taiwan and the older (Monbusho English Fellow) project in Japan are or were, in turn similar to Fulbright programs that have been run in public and private schools in Germany, Spain and Argentina for many more decades. Such projects involved hiring young educators to come, live and work in public schools.

The MOE in Taiwan appears to desire to keep its project rather small and is not involving the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the hiring of teachers. Private recruiters in Taiwan are doing the hiring. The Taiwan project currently only hires fully-certified teachers from abroad to work in the various rural schools and under-developed school districts. In contrast to the older Japanese and German programs, these foreign instructors of English are permitted to continue to work in Taiwan in such a program indefinitely. Moreover, as-noted-above, the older Monbusho Foreign English Teacher project in Japan (in the 1970s) was never more than one 10th in size to the JET program, which expanded the number of exchange teachers hired in a single year to as high as 10,000 at one stage in its development.

The enormous expansion in the Japanese Ministry of Education’s efforts to improve the areas of foreign language education consciously also desired to promote internationalization in Japan. The project began in earnest in the mid-1980s as Japan was considered the rising star of global political economies. During this rise, Japanese leaders had become aware that the Japanese were being blamed and mistreated in the global media, too. The invitation of so many educated foreigners to come and work in Japan was a way-of-taking the bull by its horns in the international arena. Such an expanded project required the significant expansion of stakeholders from the 1970s. This expansion of stakeholders included the addition of CLAIR and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs—along with their many human and capital resources. Likewise, the rise of the JET scheme across Japan also required that local towns and local schools put up some of the monies for the foreign JET’s financial and housing support. This expansion of stakeholders with financial interest in the projects success is one reason that the project has continued now for over 25 years. JET also initially allowed more private schools to join in the project.

In summary, the Foreign English Teacher project in Taiwan today combines many of the elements of the Foreign English Teacher or Monbusho English Teacher project of Japan in the 1970s and early 1980s--with improved communication-oriented methodologies and technologies being introduced in the classroom over the past two decades.

In contrast to the JET program, the Foreign English Teacher project in Taiwan is run on a relatively low budget and smaller scale than has the JET (and private Assistant Language Teacher) schemes in Japan. Meanwhile, the biggest financial stakeholder in the project in Taiwan is still almost solely the Ministry of Education (MOE). For example, my county school district claims that all the money or budget for my hiring comes from the MOE. Upon my arrival in a rural county to teach this last year in Taiwan, I observed that one of the repercussions of having placed little to no money into the Foreign English Teacher Project “kitty” was that my local school and the island of Beigan as a whole did not feel fully responsible for integrating me nor employing me fully to help in the processes of multicultural and internationalization outside of the classrooms I teach in.

Likewise, due to the lack of monetary invested interest in me as the Foreign English Teacher, the local school and school district have not fully appreciated me as singular resource. Namely, with 25 years of international educational experience (adult education, teacher training, primary-, secondary, and tertiary experience), I could be much more involved in continuing adult and parent education. Finally, my base-school is located next to the Beigan Island tourist information office. As I speak English, Germany, Spanish, and some Japanese, I could be a great international resource in the area of training and sharing of culture. (By this, I do not mean one-way sharing. I have a lot to learn—including Chinese language and Matsu cultural history—and I would love to share it with the world.)

Currently, my American counterpart teaching on another island on Matsu does not plan to renew his contract next year. Lienchiang County will have to higher a recruiter to replace him. This is a process that is likely to be completed as long as the well-trained foreign educator is not integrated into the community better through cultural and language exchanges, seminars, and training. I imagine that throughout Taiwan a similar tale emerges amongst the majority of communities where Foreign English Teachers have been posted. I am trying to rectify this situation a bit by producing this article and other papers for the Lienchiang Board of Education, for the schools where I work, for officials and educators at the MOE, and the multi-cultural education specialists in Asia and around the world.


(In the interim, I had taught at the tertiary, secondary and primary levels in Mexico, Nicaragua, Kuwait, the U.A.E., Germany, and several times in my homeland—the U.S.A.

In creating these newsletters, the information was initially on sharing of my own American culture and of issues related to language education. However, I have also shared other cross-cultural insights on travel, holidays, and thoughts on other countries I have worked in, i.e. sharing of cultures other than the USA. I comment, for example, on Germany, Kuwait, and Japan.

In other words, these three goals have been common to the JET Program in Japan and are common to the goals of the project I now teach for here in Taiwan. .

“What is JET?”

Monbusho is the acronym in Japan for the Ministry of Education

The Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) administers the JET Programme in cooperation with local government organisations; the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC); the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA); and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). CLAIR provides support for both JET Programme participants and their Contracting Organisations by arranging each JET participant's arrival, holding orientation seminars, as well as providing counselling and distributing a wide variety of essential resource materials and information.

CLAIR and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs promote all kinds of exchanges internationally—such as partner city and partner institution exchanges. For example, the city of Tokyo has numerous exchanges for its police force, its fire department, its hospitals, etc. to be involved in Southeast and South Asia. Civil engineers and doctors are also involved in exchanges to aid in development work around the globe through CLAIR and foreign ministry assistance and promotions.

When I taught in Japan, I came to realize that public high school’s funding in each prefecture came almost wholly from the prefectural level (with some monies chipped in by Monbusho). This led to a greater lack of ownership for the JET scheme or JET project at the high school levels across Japan than was typically the case for JET projects at the elementary and junior high levels. Due to this ownership (of the local JET) issue, I observed in the 1990s that the JETs at primary school and at junior highs were used more efficiently and give much more autonomy than was the case for JETs at the public high school.

“The English Teaching Recruitment Programme was started in 1978 and initially was exclusively for British university graduates. This programme became known as the ‘British English Teachers Scheme.’ American teaching assistants were later added under the ‘Mombusho English Fellows Program.’ As more countries were included, the programmes were folded into a single entity, the JET Programme, in 1987. Its aims were revised to "increase mutual understanding between the people of Japan and the people of other nations, to promote internationalisation in Japan's local communities by helping to improve foreign language education, and to develop international exchange at the community level.’”

Usually teachers in JET only stay for one, two, or years at a time.

“The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, now in its 24th year, is aimed at promoting grass-roots international exchange between Japan and other nations. The number of countries sending participants has risen over the years, as has the number of participants. In 2010, the Programme has welcomed 4,334 participants from 36 countries.”

Private schools are now often encouraged to hire ALTs through private recruiting firms as is done in Taiwan.



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