Japanese high school students debate over issues

I wish the site has an English page, so I can print out the URL and you can read it. But it does not and the article is available only in Japanese.

According to the Nov. 5th issue of Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese daily newspaper, some of Japanese high school students think English classes offered by ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers) are "boring" and serving as "a break" between classes. I do not mean to intimidate ALTs, but I have find the opinions interesting because they defy my assumption that young Japanese people adore ALTs and welcome anything they do. Well, this assumption itself needs a clarification but many researchers say that Japanese people in general have the blind adoration of Westerners and enjoy their company, even if they are not able to speak English well.

For those who do not know about ALTs, they are assistant teachers who came to Japan from English speaking countries, and the assistant status is given if they do not hold a teacher license issued by the Japanese government.

According to the Asahi Shimbun article ALTs' classes are "too low" for the intelligence of high school students. That is what the article says. Please bear with me some more, because the article is interesting. The opinion, actually, is of a Japanese teacher of English who had been upset with an ALT class that taught the conversation of "What time is it?" "It is 3 o'clock." The Japanese teacher had thought her students would handle much higher contents. OK, true. Japanese high school students usually read contents that are political, philosophical, and cultural. But it is also true that many Japanese people do not understand the simple question of, "Excuse me, but do you have the time?"

The article says the teacher has decided to introduce debating in her English class. This attempt has succeeded that Utsunomiya High School has won a high school debating contest.

My point is not to agonize ALTs, but we, English teachers, often assume learners cannot handle higher topics if they do not hold basic skills. Yes, basics are important, but sometimes we need to challenge students with bottom up approaches: train them with words and sentences first and have them figure out how to use the words and sentences by themselves, which used to be called sink or swim teaching. Teachers' roles are facilitators. Too many times, teachers depend on top-down methods, and teach grand concepts first and supply with tools later, which is easier for the assessment of the learner comprehension. But isn't it only for teachers' benefits? If learners use words and expressions and reproduce them in the ways they are taught, the progress is easily measurable. Don't we have to challenge them more and have them use what they have learned for their own benefits even if teachers are unable to foresee their benefits?

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