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Won't Somebody Think of the JET Programme?

Won't somebody think of the JET Programme?

With the JET Programme potentially slated for the chopping block, it seems that nobody is showing enough concern for the program's future. Cue JET alumni:

When current participants in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program gather, the discussion often focuses on English teaching methods. When the program's U.S. alumni get together, however, talk often turns to a weightier subject: U.S. foreign policy toward Japan.

[...]

Although the program has an uneven track record when it comes to improving Japanese students' English, it has quietly and unexpectedly become a powerful tool for achieving another objective: grooming the next generation of American leadership in U.S.-Japan relations.

US-Japan relations? Foreign policy? This sounds important.

The program's success in this regard is perhaps best demonstrated by the number of former JETs occupying Japan-related positions in both academia and in the U.S. government. The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo alone employs 25 former JETs, and JET returnees have done Japan-related work at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

"The JET program created a fairly large cadre of people who had Japan experience," says Ben Dolven, a former JET and current director of the East Asia division at the Congressional Research Service, the official think tank of the U.S. Congress.

"You've got a core of people who have had this experience all over, who are now part and parcel of U.S. policymaking on Japan," he said.

In other words, "We worked in Japan and many of us got jobs related to Japan, so we need to keep JET." That's incredibly weak. There's more:

Dolven said that because JETs often work in rural areas, the program gives them a more nuanced view of the "real" Japan, a background that provides crucial context for better understanding the country and making informed policy decisions.

"There are lives being lived all over the country, and if you are just focused on Tokyo, you miss so much," Dolven said.

JETs have lived in "real" Japan, so they know better. People who have been to places like Tokyo or Kyoto don't know the truth only JET's can experience.

If these self-important and smug pronouncements are defenses of the JET Programme, then it can't be axed fast enough. When word came that JET was potentially on the government chopping block, I initially thought that Japan stood to lose a valuable source of goodwill. While the goodwill garnered by JET is certainly a valuable thing, I find it far-fetched to think that US-Japan relations will take a hit if JET is cut.

What made the government panel on waste so compelling was watching the mandarins squirm in their seats as they struggled to justify their existences. The panel put JET under the microscope because it doesn't think the program provides any bang for the taxpayers' yen. In their report [PDF], they note that the program has remained virtually unchanged in its 23 years and that the responsibilities at the national and local levels remain vague. One can't help but think that if the JET alumni were to the face the panel, their justifications would get more than a few laughs.

Comments

JET produces "Foreign relation debate" and other absurdities? Yeah, right? JET really just ends up being a battle between gaijin and nationalistic and ignorant over the "invasion" of white people (remember, black people never seem to be courted by Japanese officials much for purely racist reasons). Maybe that is foreign policy and discussion after all.

Well, my schools recently received a touch screen TV and interactive English CD to complement the new textbooks. It seems to me that I will be replaced by a touchscreen TV and laptop in the very near future.

I'm still not sure if it's a good or bad thing.

Sad thing is, some people believe this bull.

But then, this is the same guy that insisted for a long time that English teaching in Japan was a government-run "make work" scheme for all the foreigners on Working Holiday visas so as to ensure the bilateral continuation of the Working Holiday programs and allow Japanese to go to Canada and Australia.

Actually, there ARE schemes in place that are there only to please the other side. I have worked in a government capacity and it is well known that in order to keep certain quotas rules are overlooked, or in this case, . You really need to look into the whole system and research about student and work visa issues as it pertains between two countries. There is a lot of stuff that goes down, and having enough to do for gaijin is important, especially Americans because the U.S. provides more jobs and student visa to Japanese than Japan provides to Americans. It is a left-over quota system from after WWII.

Is getting the local government find you a subsidised apartment, furnish it and pay shiki kin part of the "real Japan" ? I don't think so. And for many (NON-JET) ALTs today 300,000 a month (for a 20 hr week) is out there in fantasyland.

I don't know much about the JET program but there are plenty of examples of government waste in Japan. I wouldn't see that the money spent on this program any better or worse than others. After all, if you spend hundreds of millions of Yen to build a bridge to an island that 10 people use a day then the JET program doesn't seem that bad.

JET may indeed be a waste of taxpayers money but there are many more worse examples out there ...

Why the constant attack on 'Engrish' teachers? Why not attack the other, more obvious abuses out there?

@Anon 2/14 13:25

You do have a legitimate point in that these budget cuts seem as pointless (as is typical) to be using a single set of bonsai pruning shears to trim the grass at an 18-hole country club (to which these same politicians belong), but it does seem that the only people who want to keep JET are the JETs and the JET administrators. Basically, anyone who gets a fat salary through he JET program for doing not very much.

@nobody in particular,

To counter those 25 embassy staff, I wonder how much of the ill-informed foreign reporting about Japan is done by former JETs as well. Those who think themselves experts (or are deemed so by editors because they happened to mention living in Japan at the latest cocktail party) because they lived in North Bumfuck, Aomori, with a free house, free car, 20 hour workweek and attending a festival or three.

Why anyone wants to put up with all this bullshit just to live in Japan is beyond me. Most gaijins don`t have their shit together because if they did they wouldn`t be here in the first place. Japan is a magnet for fucks-ups and/or those who can`t cut it in their own country. The whole “teach English in Japan” adventure these days these seem like such a hassle and hardly worth the time.

It`s a good thing.

In my opinion:

I've never worked for the JET programme, but I've met a lot of people who came to Japan through JET in my 8 year stay. Of all those people that I've met, I can say that there were some good JETs and some bad. But that's really no different from any other company (not just eikaiwa and ALTs, but really, any company).

I'm all for revising the programme, better screening process, hiring people who have had at least some teaching experience (even as a 22 year old university graduate, it's not difficult to have some tutoring or teaching experience during University... work as a teachers assistant for your department at university for example), or hiring people who are at least somewhat interested in Japan are just some of the things that JET can do.

But more important, axing JET leaves a lot of room for the private ALT dispatch companies, and we've seen on this board before plenty of evidence to see that they aren't the future for ALTs in Japan either. With the gyomu-itaku, cut pay during school breaks, no shakai-hoken, no pension... sure this is fine for teachers who stay for a year or two just to have their fling and move on, but for people who want to make more of a (for a better word) career here, it sucks.

We all know that these dispatch companies aren't going to give up gyomu-itaku for more proper dispatch contracts (with 3 year limit before the school board has to hire you directly, better benefits for the employee, etc.) any time soon.

To me it makes sense to keep the JET programme, not because it's a gold mine of cushy jobs for expat Americans who have spent a few years here, but because the alternative is worse, in a lot of ways, for employees. That's why I say revise, not axe.

If gaijins are stupid enough to believe teaching English in Japan is anything more than a short-term fling then they get what they deserve.

8 years? How’s therapy going?

Please DON'T tell me you did 8 years with NOVA.

But the elephant in the teachers' union lounge is that English education in Japan is such a joke in the first place. There was no coincidental boost in international rankings on ESL-type exams with the introduction of JET. English skill is as bad as ever. Japan is the 3rd worst country in all Asia(!) on TOEIC scores.

If the goal is better English education, the money should be spent sending Japanese teachers abroad to learn some approximation of conversational English, and then change the school textbooks to focus on English use, and pay the salary of one competent teacher instead of one teacher plus 1 assistant.

But JETs just say that English teaching is not the true goal of the program (telling us to ignore the "T" in "JET") and no results should be expected of it, and it's really a soft power program. Because it's always best for the beneficiaries if a social program has intangible goals. If there are no hard concrete results to evaluate, then it can't be proven a "failure", right? At least until the unthinkable happens, and someone like Renho comes along and asks you to justify yourself.

If the program is basically a bribe to make gaijin think happy thoughts about Japan, then just admit it, be up front about it, and fund 1-month mini-JET exchange trips for well-off, college-educated Western kids through J language schools or J universities instead of 1 - 3 year contracts acting as overpaid human tape recorders. Side benefit, such mini-JETs wouldn't be here long enough to realize many of the negative aspects of life in Japan, so their impressions should be even more positive.

Then you'd ask yourself, "Why would we ever fund 1-month exchange trips for rich Western kids? Can't they experience Japan on their own dime? Plenty of backpackers seem able to do it without the funding. Thousands of others get jobs without JET. Meanwhile tens of thousands of Chinese are happy to merely survive scrubbing dishes to get their Japan experience."

Then track back and ask yourself "Why are we already funding 3-year exchange trips for well-off Western kids?"

It doesn't matter if many of the JETs are "good people". Plenty of "good people" in Japan are unemployed and ignored by the government after falling through the wide holes in Japan's social safety net. Most taxpayers are "good people" too.

Why not hire certified English teachers educated at certified educational institutions where real English is spoken? Then evaluate their performance by testing their students' progress using any of the nationally recognized tests such as EIKEN, TOEIC, TOEFL, SLEP, ETC. Then weed out the bad teachers, keep the good ones and keep going.

Wouldn't it be nice, too, to offer some choices? Allow the kiddies to choose Chinese, Spanish or some other language? What a novel idea that would be! How about recognizing that some people just can't learn a foreign language no matter how hard they try and let them go do something else they are good at or want to do?

Sigh.

Okay folks,

Why does everyone only focus on the foreigners as the problem with ALT/Jet? All I hear is how ALT's aren't trained properly or are getting a 'free vacation' and such things. BUT what about the lack of ANY coordination in the use of ALTs? What about the lack of support or care from many Japanese teachers? If the certified Japanese English teacher can't or won't or refuses to use the ALT is that only the ALT's fault? How can you assist someone who doesn't want it? Why is 'every situation different'? Should it be? NO. There should be standards for using the ALTs and training for the Japanese teachers to use them.

As for training. More certifications, more qualifications. That is the wrong idea sorry. Assisting in the teaching of English through conversation and games is the job. Someone with a Master's degree is not going to waste their time doing this job. Most people with only a 4-year degree quickly get bored wit the job as it is. They certainly won't and can't raise the pay so where are these more qualified people going to come from?

So to fix/save Jet and/or make having ALTs in school more useful a lot of things would have to change on the Japanese side of things too. Why doesn't anyone talk about that? Likely because making changes like that is like a dream within a dream within a fantasy. Ahh well..

Assisting with conversation and games as a job is a waste of money for the government and a waste of an education for the ALT. How about upgrading the English abilities and teaching skills of the Japanese teachers instead? A far better use of money and time.

Jesus some of the backbiting going on here between GAIJIN who believe they are owed more, and GAIJIN they believe are living the easy life off the backs of the Japanese is appalling. I swear anyone who complains that GAIJINs or more specifically WHITE anglo English speakers have an easy time and are just manipulating the Japanese to come to Japan, take their money, screw some Jap chicks, get drunk, and then fly home are seriously disturbed and COMPLETELY wrong.

Every foreigner who goes to Japan is getting screwed over, its just that simple. No matter how sophisticated or intelligent, or how many degrees you own, or whatever the experience you have, YOU will always be on the outside of their Japanese vertical hierarchy.

I pity those backbiting GAIJIN foreigners, especially the white European, American, snobbish assholes who believe that by admonishing their own people and degrading their countrymen they some how advance their "cultural experience" in Japan. People like that need to be left to fend for themselves and completely isolated, the anti social, backstabbing, self centered, self important, pricks that they are.

If Japan wants bilingual kiddies it needs to do one of two things:

Provide well-trained English-speaking Japanese teaching staff who can provide regular communicative language classes from grade 1. Not just an hour a week but an hour a day, integrated into the curriculum in a meaningful way

OR

CLIL. Teach science, history etc. in English (in Japan? ha! fat chance)

Everything else is just window dressing. My 2 cents; get rid of the JET program, start investing in getting English-speaking uni Ss into education careers, build their language and language-teaching skills and invest in staff to replace retirees. It may take 20 years to start seeing results but it makes more sense than trying to retrain window-watching 45 year old teachers who are too dyed in the wool to change how they teach.

There was a post in here, perhaps a few back……a great, big, whopping thesis of a post……….general theme being to let JET’s / ALT’s on loose in the classroom, on their own.

Why not let the wanna-be teacher take your appendix out, while he is at it?

Why not let him take over the management of your retirement fund?

I mean, come on, give these people a chance!

The idea of letting a person (barely an adult), who has no relevant language teaching qualifications, limited to no Japanese language ability, actually on the loose in the classroom, unassisted, and unsupervised, is the most self-serving, arrogant, opinionated and totally preposterous idea I have ever heard.

So your native English means you are more fluent in English than the Japanese teacher you are assisting…………….that does not make you a language teacher’s bootlace, let alone, give you’re the right, unlicensed and unqualified, to be the academic custodian of any Japanese child, and nor does it mean that you should be trusted, in any capacity, with those kids, on their own.

You know what I think? I think you need to get a grip of yourself, realise your role, and pull your head in.

Okay person,

Part of the frustration that ALT’s feel (“I do have wings, let me fly”) is based on being bored.
Once the novelty of being a Sensei in Japan wears off, the monotony of the job, and lack of responsibility (you are essentially an interactive voice model and confidence builder), starts to bite.

This is made worse, by a sometimes conscious, an often subconscious / barely subconscious feeling, that (a) you could do so much more, if given the opportunity, (b) feeling guilty for your actual role – “I really should not be getting paid JUST to do this”, (c) a feeling that the restrictions of the job are the reason you are not seeking further insight and/or qualifications (to help you better understand language teaching, and do a better job of it), rather than blaming yourself, for the reality of being caught in an intellectual void, or finding yourself up against an intellectual brick wall.

Of course, there are those, who are fooled into believing, by the applause / interest / polite (sometimes not so polite) manners, and/or the small scale “wins”, that they actually are language teachers, and thus there is no need for further credentials or training. Such people sometimes imagine, they are actually capable of running the show themselves, even though they really can do little else, other than to encourage enthusiasm, during language exercises and games, often directed by the Japanese Teacher.

To make better use of ALT’s, proper training is essential. Properly qualified native English speakers need to be appointed as team leaders. On-going courses need to be offered (option to do RSA, while on the job, for example), for those who are interested, so that ALT’s who become fascinated by the work, and see a career path, can walk away with a more meaningful and better respected experienced. If something like that could be co-ordinated with the Japanese, then, on a gradual and limited basis, “teachers” who perform well, could be considered for teaching, unassisted, on occasion.

As it is – no way – far too risky.

Whatever the way forward is, two things need to be recognized – proper language teaching qualifications are essential (could be done on during the term of employment, paid for by the instructor), if better use / cost efficient use of the instructor resource is to be considered, AND, the JET system is presently GEARED to employing unqualified people with a strictly pre-defined and limited role.

The latter won’t change (i.e. introduction of greater responsibility – for example, today, you will be teaching language points XXXX on your own), unless the ability and capability of the instructors is increased.

I believe, it would be cheaper / more cost effective for the Japanese, if they employed a limited number of senior people, qualified to both teach language, and to also teach language teaching courses, and then gave contracted teachers, the option of further study, at their expense (RSA for example), while on the job.

Contracted teachers, who performed well in their on-the-job studies, could then be considered for solo classes here and there (not always), free up Japanese staff resources elsewhere.

Naturally, any course offered could tailor made to cater to / have special emphasis, on the Japanese curriculum, to begin with.

There is a tremendous amount of resentment among Japanese teachers who have to work with these whiney bitches otherwise known as ALTs.

If people want a career - send em home or invite them to start their own business. That's the only way they are likely to get one. As for all the jiggery pokery: what a collosal waste of public funds. Give them this, make them do that. What bullshit, my friend. You simply ARE NOT NEEDED.

What part of 'piss off back to where you belong, you little twerp' don't you understand?

Bit of the pot calling the kettle black there I think. Japanese teachers as a group are those who insist through their unions and in other forums that they 'need' their ALTs. If that wasn't the case you'd all be gone in a New York minute.

Not true of course, they don't need you they need to take responsibility for their own efforts - but if you must have a crutch what's to be resentful about?

"The whole “teach English in Japan” adventure these days these seem like such a hassle and hardly worth the time."

Anymore, this is 100% correct. Why anyone would spend a good chunk their money flying to Japan and setting up an apartment to work at a job that pays $2,000 US per month in the most expensive country in the world is beyond my understanding. Someone with a high school diploma could probably land a job at Home Depot that pays more than this when COL is factored.

I'm a K-6 certified teacher in Arizona with an M.Ed in Elementary Ed. For someone with my qualifications and a few years of experience, $3,500 US per month, paid housing, utilities, and flights to and from LAX are easy to come by in places like South Korea and Saudi Arabia. Granted, these places are generally suckier than Japan for an extended period of time, but when you've got student loans and a mortgage to pay back home, they start to make more sense. My wife is Japanese, but considering the deals we can get in Japan vs. the States (even with the economy in the toilet) or somewhere else, Japan makes little sense for either of us.

You do realize that the JET programme is more than just teaching English right? There is an internationalization aspect too. Being able to get foreigners into places where the students probably have never seen anyone from outside of Japan helps introduce them to the fact that their world view isn't the only one out there-- and I would say that is just as valuable as teaching English. You can learn a language just fine, but it takes a lot more to learn what cultural differences really look like.

That is a very fair point. In fact, I think that in the early days of Jet there were real internationalisation gains made. However, the next level of internationalisation (beyond people no longer gawking chronically at foriegners and treating them as visitors from Mars) would seem to be a bit beyond the reach of the program as it currently exists.

To maintain the internationalisation benefits that have already accrued, I would suggest that a much lower level of exposure to the foriegner is necessary (perhaps monthly visits or something like that); certainly not the 'royal' treatment normally reserved for diplomatic exchanges. The expense for that kind of thing is high, and any need that might once have existed is now well past.

Its true though.
If you've just lived in Tokyo you truly haven't experienced the real Japan. This isn't just a Japan thing, the same holds true of most countries. I would never consider someone who has lived in London to have really experienced Britain and Stockholm is totally unlike the rest of Sweden.

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