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70-80% of third-year junior high schoolers fail to reach level 3 in English exam: MEXT

About 70 to 80 percent of third-year junior high school students failed to attain level 3 of the EIKEN Test in Practical English Proficiency in all areas except writing, a government survey has revealed.

    The 2015 results of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT)'s nationwide survey of third-year junior high and high school students in the four English language skills -- reading, listening, writing and speaking -- were released on Feb. 2.

    National government guidelines suggest that students attain a level of around 3 on the EIKEN test at the time of their graduation from junior high school.

    The survey, which covered both public and private schools, tested the third-year junior high school students for the first time. Meanwhile, the high school students -- whom the survey began covering in fiscal 2014 -- again showed overall low-level scores on the examination.

    The survey covered a sample of approximately 90,000 total third-year students -- about 60,000 junior high schoolers, and some 30,000 high schoolers. In addition, a separate questionnaire survey was carried out regarding the content of students' English language courses, as well as their interest in learning.

    Present-day third-year junior high schoolers represent the first cohort of students who have been subject to the current system, whereby foreign language activities are offered beginning at the fifth grade level of elementary school.

    The percentage of students who did not reach level 3 of the EIKEN test (corresponding to less than level A1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, or CERF) -- which requires being able to provide simple answers to questions on topics of familiarity -- were as follows, by category: 73.9 percent in reading; 79.8 percent in listening; and 67.4 percent in speaking -- all of which represent high numbers.

    While the figure was 56.7 percent for the writing section -- meaning that 43.1 percent of the students did achieve EIKEN level 3 for this portion of the examination, and making this skill set stand out in comparison with the other areas of proficiency -- as many as 12.6 percent of students also came away with scores of zero, thereby revealing a conspicuously wide dispersion in this section.

    The percentage of third-year high school students who attained pre-level 2 on the EIKEN examination (which corresponds to CERF Level A2) -- the level suggested by government guidelines for high school graduates -- was as follows, by individual section: 29.9 percent for reading (a 6.4 point increase over the previous year's figure); 24.2 percent for listening (a 3.9 point increase over the previous year's figure); and 17.2 percent for writing (a 6.5 point increase over the previous year's figure). Despite the improvements made, however, the figures still remain substandard.

    Meanwhile, the figure for the speaking section was 9.8 percent -- only a marginal change from the previous year's level.

    The questionnaire shows that among the students who came away with high scores on the speaking section, a higher percentage of those at both the junior high school and high school level indicated that they had time for discussion during their English language classes compared with those students who had lower scores -- thereby underscoring a correlation between class content and proficiency examinations.

    A MEXT representative commented as follows with respect to the slight improvement in high school students' scores: "It is likely that this is a result of the enhancements that have been made to providing course instruction focusing upon the four different skill areas."

    The spokesperson added with respect to junior high school students, "We plan to conduct a detailed analysis of the situation in order to find out where the problems are occurring."

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