Mar 24, 2017

‘English Village’ planned for Tokyo. It’s not what you think

‘English Village’ planned for Tokyo.  It’s not what you think photo

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government unveiled plans this week for a facility aimed at improving the Tokyo youngster’s ability to speak English and think globally ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

The facility, which has already gained the moniker ‘English Village’ (although we feel that a certain eikaiwa might have something to say about that), is pencilled in for a September opening next year. Its official name, Tokyo Global Gateway.  

In a recent press release the remit of Tokyo Global Gateway is detailed as being one that shows people the fun in using English as well as its necessity. Half-day courses (3.5 hrs) will command fees of a very reasonable 2,500 yen for students from Tokyo, and 3,500 yen for those from other parts of Japan. One-day courses (7 hrs) will be 4,800 yen and 6,800 yen respectively. We’re not sure why there should be a difference in price based on geography. One night and two night courses are also planned.

The flow for these courses is broken down into four basic stages; Groups of 6 - 8 students to be greeted by an English speaker (named as an ‘agent’) who will help to set the tone and support the students throughout the course. The group will then move on to an ‘attraction area’ where ‘scenes’ from real life will be played out with an emphasis on student’s ability to improvise with English and engage in ‘real’ communication. Courses then progress to an ‘active immersion’ area in which the ante will be upped in what looks like some form of specialist debate. The final stage is one of ‘reflection’.  

Now, while terms like ‘facility’, ‘active immersion’, ‘reflection’, and ‘agent’ might create a dystopian vibe, we can’t help but feel that what we have here is simply an English language school. Another one. The people behind it are even following the English-language school model of micro-planning lesson flows and coming up with what is ostensibly empty terminology that it can use to impress the locals.  

There is a difference though. Tokyo Global Gateway, through its ‘active immersion area’ plans to offer more in the way of ‘active’; programming, design, marketing, and sado (tea ceremony) are all listed as mediums through which students will to get to grips with English on the course. The facility will also collaborate with institutions and organizations overseas to further broaden students’ perspectives.

Given that this is a brainchild born of the government we can perhaps then lay to rest some of the cynicism that we might have thrown at it had it been a private group trying to get in on the English school market. Well, we’ll lay some of it to rest, but not all.

Tokyo Global Gateway may be well intentioned, and it does make noises to that effect, but it again raises questions about what’s going on in Japanese schools. You know? Normal ones. The kind that students have to go to. Surely these are the seats of learning in which Japan’s students should be getting to grips with languages and broadening their outlook on life, Japan, and the world. But they’re not. They’re too busy being drilled into orderly lines, learning how to sing in chorus, and not stick out from the group. And when they’re not doing these things, they’re falling asleep at their desks because they spend all their time after school in an ‘after school’ school, and then go home and do their homework. Were it not so pointlessly stupid one might get angry. Instead one tends to feel perplexed.  

Now, we can be flippant in tone, but for the expat parent in Japan, this is something that will have to be taken into consideration when it comes to educating their children. It’s not without its parental benefits, though. These after-school cram schools and language lessons are probably a cheaper form of childcare (or at least one that comes with ‘learning’). And as kids get older, where parents back home might worry about them after school smoking cigarettes or getting pregnant, here in Japan, the likelihood is that they are at the cram school studying.  

This doesn’t make it right, though, surely. The Tokyo Global Gateway press release details that course hours will be set in accordance with regular school hours. Maybe it’s just me, but I would like to think that kids at this time are encouraged to engage in pursuits less ‘classically’ academic; sport, music, art … or just having a bit of care-free fun with their mates.  

There seems to be no word as yet on the recruitment of teachers or ‘agents’ for the Tokyo Global Gateway. At the risk of sounding hypocritical, it will be interesting to see if they are after native English speakers and if so, what kind of work packages they offer. Something to keep an eye on in the coming months perhaps.

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Source: Tokyo Global Gateway press release



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