How online learning can boost english language teaching in japanese schools

Shall we Skype? Yes, but later: Impacts of an online English learning programme among Japanese students

Yuki Higuchi, Miyuki Sasaki, Makiko Nakamuro

The caliber of English language teaching in Japan is disappointing in comparison to other East Parts of asia or with the grade of other school subjects. This column assesses the impact of an English learning programme via Skype for Japanese students. Although a positive effect on English communication skills cannot be established, mostly likely because of the low utilisation of the programme, it did have a positive effect on student attitudes. Policymakers may decide to consider how exactly to combine regular English lectures and online English learning programmes to boost results.

It has increasingly been recognised among researchers and policymakers that the grade of education, instead of mere length, is very important to individual earning power and economic wellbeing. In Japan particularly, the standard of English education has been a concern because it hasn’t proved effective in comparison to other East Parts of asia (Butler 2015), so when compared with the standard of other school subjects. For instance, based on the latest OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) for Grade 9 students, Japan ranked second in science, fifth in mathematics, and eighth in reading in 2015. 1 On the other hand, Japanese students’ performance in English has been definately not satisfactory. Admitting that there surely is no widely accepted, internationally comparable performance measure for English, Japan ranked 35th among 72 participating countries in a standardised English test conducted by EF Education First, a worldwide language training company, 2 and the common Test of English as a SPANISH (TOEFL) score among Japanese test-takers ranked 138th among 169 countries where TOEFL test centres operate. 3 Furthermore, a nationwide English test conducted in 2014 by japan Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture (MEXT) revealed a most Grade 12 students were ranked at the cheapest level (A1) in the normal European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), with their speaking performance lowest among the four skills measured. Predicated on these results, MEXT recognised that the grade of English education, particularly in nurturing speaking abilities, ought to be improved (MEXT, 2015).

However, Japan has been long portrayed as a ‘non-immigrant’ nation (Bartram 2000) where foreign residents constitute only one 1.7% of the full total population. Therefore, so as to lure and cultivate foreign talent, the federal government launched the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme in 1987 where it dispatched English-speaking aides (Assistant English Teachers, or AETs) for Japanese English teachers in primary and middle schools (Grades 1 to 12). This programme has expanded since that time – 4,404 AETs were employed by 2015, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) aims to help expand raise the number of AETs to 6,400 by 2019. 4 However, individual annual charges for an AET are approximately $53,000, including salary, coordination, transportation, etc, 5 causing much financial burden to be shifted onto the shoulders of the neighborhood governments. Therefore, Japan continues to be struggling to allocate an adequate number of native English teachers to public schools.

So that you can test an alternative solution to improve students’ communicative English skills, we conducted a social experiment to judge the impacts of a newly developed Skype English learning programme for Japanese high schoolers (Higuchi et al. 2017). In neuro-scientific economics, an education production function exists where school inputs such as for example teachers, textbooks, and classroom facilities are likely to ‘produce’ outputs including academic achievement, and the outputs ought to be analysed for his or her efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the inputs. Using information and communication technology (ICT) instead of the conventionally used school inputs has been examined in a variety of areas in education (for a fantastic survey, see Bulman and Fairlie 2016).

Predicated on the above-mentioned background, we collaborated with a Japanese public senior high school and introduced the Skype programme to 322 students in Grade 10. Probably the most notable characteristics of the programme is its individualised and self-paced format – students communicate for 25 minutes with English-speaking Filipino interlocutors at mutually convenient times and using learning materials of their own choice. Another notable characteristic is its relatively low priced. Based on the programme provider, the cover employing one AET can offer a lot more than 20 times as much active communication hours for every student.

To be able to rigorously measure the impacts of the Skype programme, we adopted a crossover randomised controlled trial design. That’s, we first randomly selected 161 students (half of our sample) to get opportunities to utilize the programme for the five months from July to November 2015, as the remaining 161 students were permitted to use the programme through the following five months (from January to May 2016). While each of the sample students had equal possibility to utilize the programme by May 2016, only half of these had availed themselves of the in December 2015, whenever we conducted an endline survey to get data for today’s study.

By comparing the info on students who were subjected to the programme by December 2015 and the info on those who hadn’t yet done so, we discovered that the programme positively changed the attitude of the students, especially with regards to their interest within an international vocation and foreign affairs. The students’ attitude was measured using perhaps one of the most established measurement scales in applied linguistics (Yashima et al. 2004). On the other hand, regardless of the positive impacts on the students’ attitude, the impacts on the English communication skills, measured using two different standardised tests, weren’t statistically significant.

These limited impacts on English communicative abilities were mostly likely as a result of low utilisation of the Skype programme, that was introduced as an extracurricular activity. Among the 161 students who were subjected to the programme in the time between July and November 2015, only 10 students took 50 or even more lessons over the five months, as recommended by the programme provider. Moreover, 31 students didn’t even have a single lesson. Figure 1 shows the daily changes in the amount of students going for a lesson, illustrating that only a little proportion of students continued to utilize the programme over five months. By analysing the programme usage records and characteristics of the students, that have been collected prior to the programme was introduced, we discovered that the utilisation rate was particularly low among students with a tendency to procrastinate.

Figure 1 Daily changes in the amount of students going for a lesson

These findings will be the similar to behavioural economists’ focus on the issue of self-control. An emerging body of recent empirical studies illustrate the way the self-control issue arises in education, in which a insufficient self-control, including procrastination, can lead to poor test performance or low grades (for a fantastic survey, see Koch et al. 2015). Similarly, our experiment shows that the self-control problem may have hindered the utilisation of the Skype programme, and, thus, it could significantly intervene when introducing an ICT-assisted education programme.

Having said that, our findings imply the Skype programme gets the potential to boost English education cost effectively, since Yashima et al. (2004) discovered that improvement in students’ attitude can eventually result in improvements in the English communication skills of Japanese students as time passes. Especially, in the ‘monocultural’ and ‘monolingual’ Japanese school environment, it is extremely difficult for students to build up a good attitude toward foreign languages and experiences. Identifying the causal aftereffect of the web English learning programme on students’ good attitude may lead us to consider how exactly to combine regular English lectures and online English learning programme in a complementary manner.

More research is apparently warranted on how best to improve and keep maintaining students’ motivation, particularly people that have a tendency to procrastinate, to use such personalised and self-paced programmes when given within an extracurricular manner. This experiment was among the first social experiments conducted in a genuine public senior high school context, and it therefore provides first-step insights into how exactly to enhance the quality of English education. Furthermore, we also argue that such contextualised social experiments conducted in the Japanese education system itself (instead of a lab-type experiment) are anticipated to create more meaningful suggestions to resolve problems that may occur in japan context.

Editors’ note: The primary research which this column is situated appeared in a Discussion Paper of the study Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI) of Japan.

Bartram, D (2000), “Japan and Labor Migration: Theoretical and Methodological Imprications of Negative Cases.” International Migration Review 34(1): 5-32.

Bulman, G and R W Fairlie (2016), “Technology and Education: Computers, Software, and the web,” in Hanushek, E.A., Machin, S.J., and Woessmann, L. (eds.) Handbook of the Economics of Education, Volume 5, pp. 239-280. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Butler, Y G (2015), “English Language Education among Young Learners in East Asia: AN ASSESSMENT of Current Research (2004-2014),” Language Teaching 48: 303-342.

Koch, A, J Nafziger and H S Nielsen (2015), “Behavioral Economics of Education,” Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 115: 3-17.

MEXT (2015), “Heisei 26 nendo eigokyouiku kaizen notameno eigoryokuchousa jigyouhoukoku [Results of the English Test Conducted to boost English Education in Japan in 2015].”

Yashima, T, L Zenuk-Nshide and K Shimizu (2004), “The Influence of Attitudes and Affect on Willingness to Communicate and Second Language Communication,” Language Learning 54: 119-152.