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Only 54% of junior high students say prior English studies beneficial: poll

A teacher and students play a game at an "English village" where spoken Japanese is prohibited, in Neyagawa, Osaka Prefecture, in this file photo taken in May 2014. (Mainichi)

Only about 50 percent of junior high school students feel that the English they learned in elementary school was actually useful, according to a survey by Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute.

    These latest findings highlight the lack of connectivity between elementary school and junior high school concerning English language education, which is cause for concern for the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology as it strives to provide seamless English teaching throughout the educational stages.

    Currently, non-assessed English is taught in elementary schools to fifth and sixth graders as part of "foreign language activity" lessons. Looking ahead, it is planned that English will be upgraded to an assessed elementary school subject in fiscal 2020.

    In total, 583 pupils -- who were elementary school sixth-graders in 2015 and then junior high school students in 2016 -- took part in the Benesse survey. When they were sixth-graders, 82.6 percent of them said that the English they had learned would "probably be useful for junior high school," but upon entering junior high school, just 53.9 percent said that their prior English studies had "actually been useful."

    Benesse thinks that one of the reasons for this trend is the fact that elementary schools focus more on listening and speaking, while junior high schools encourage pupils to memorize grammar rules and phrases -- as has traditionally been the case.

    In response to other questions, the percentage of children who said that "the sounds and rhythms (of English) are interesting" dropped from 68 percent to 51.1 percent between the last year of elementary school and the first year of junior high school. The percentage of pupils "wanting to introduce Japanese culture to other countries" also dropped from 54.9 percent to 38.2 percent between the two educational stages.

    In addition, some of the junior high school pupils replied to say that they "wished they had studied grammar in elementary school" -- highlighting the difference between elementary and junior high school pupils in terms of their interests regarding their English language education.

    It is often said that pupils in Japan first begin to struggle with English lessons when the grammar points become more complicated between the first year of junior high school and the second half of the second school year.

    Yumiko Fukumoto, a researcher at Benesse, says, "If you introduce memorization of grammar and words at elementary school level, there is of risk of creating a stumbling block at an earlier stage. Regardless of whether the children are in elementary or junior high school, placing more emphasis on teaching students to speak and write English will lead to a positive learning cycle."

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