New Accreditation System Must Lead to Improvements in Quality

Japanese language education is becoming increasingly important in breaking down the language barrier for foreign nationals living in Japan. A new system is hoped to become established to improve the quality of Japanese language schools and teachers.

As of the end of last year, the number of foreign nationals living in Japan exceeded 3 million for the first time, reaching about 3.07 million. This number is expected to continue increasing. Foreign nationals are also expected to become part of the labor force across the country.

A certain level of Japanese language proficiency is essential if foreign residents are to be active with the community and workplaces and avoid becoming isolated. However, the nation’s Japanese language education system and quality cannot be said to be adequate.

As of 2021, there were a total of about 2,500 schools offering Japanese language classes — including universities and local governments — with about 120,000 students.

Japanese language schools where foreign students study have long been criticized for their inconsistent levels of education. Some schools accept far more students than allowed with the aim of raking in extra tuition fees, and some schools have been tacitly complicit in allowing students to work illegally.

These kinds of situations make it difficult for students to acquire Japanese language skills and may even discourage them from learning. This problem affects the credibility of schools and teachers who earnestly engage in teaching Japanese.

A law to accredit Japanese language education institutions was passed during the recent ordinary Diet session with the aim of boosting the quality of Japanese language schools and teachers.

The education minister now certifies schools that meet certain criteria in such areas as curriculums and facilities as “appropriate educational institutions.” Information regarding such institutions is to be made available online and schools must gain accreditation in order to accept foreign students.

Under the law, the government will also establish a “registered Japanese language teacher” certification program. To become certified, candidates must pass a written examination and receive practical training in education. Only certified individuals will be able to teach at accredited schools.

The new system is aimed at securing qualified human resources by improving teachers’ pay and treatment, while enhancing their social status. The law requires accredited schools to submit regular reports to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry. Schools with problems will be issued with recommendations and orders.

More than 900 Japanese language schools, universities and other entities are expected to seek accreditation under the new system. It is hoped that this will help weed out unscrupulous institutions and ensure that foreign students receive a high-quality education.

The new system will take root if graduation from accredited bodies is seen as having high value vis-a-vis employment and higher education.

Sixty percent of Japanese language teachers earn less than ¥4 million a year. Part-time teachers’ salaries are even lower. In rural areas, meanwhile, it is reported that Japanese lessons are primarily offered by volunteers. This is why many people who complete Japanese language-teaching courses at universities and other bodies go on to other careers.

In order to raise Japanese language teachers’ salaries, the central and local governments should create subsidy programs, and support frameworks should be established at companies where foreigners work.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 8, 2023)