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Tokyo to introduce English-speaking test in high school entrance exams

Junior high school students in Tokyo sit a mock English-conversation test in September 2018. (Photo courtesy of the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education)

TOKYO -- The Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education is set to incorporate an English-speaking test into metropolitan high school entrance examinations for those who will be admitted from April 2022, officials said on Feb. 14.

All third-year public junior high school students in the capital will be required to sit the English-speaking test, which a private organization will be commissioned to develop, and metropolitan high schools will use the test results in their entrance examinations.

Currently, no prefecture requires all applicants for public high schools to take an English-speaking test.

In the planned test, applicants will record their speech using tablet computers and headsets.

The board of education plans to have students sit the test on a weekend or national holiday between the fourth Saturday of November and the second Sunday of December. Universities or other facilities will be used as the test venues.

The metropolitan education board will solicit organizations to administer the examination, and select one of them. In the academic years of 2019 and 2020, the board will conduct tests on an experimental basis. The metropolitan government will cover the examination fees for third-year junior high school students.

Since about 80,000 children will take the test, the question of how to ensure fairness will pose a challenge. The board will clarify its criteria for grading and graders will undergo training in advance. Use of artificial intelligence will also be considered.

The curriculum guidelines state that elementary and junior high school children are to acquire the basic skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing in foreign language classes.

However, since there is no English-speaking test in high school entrance examinations, critics have pointed out that schools do not sufficiently train students to speak English.

In response to such a view, the metropolitan board of education decided in December 2017 to introduce an English-speaking test for metropolitan high school entrance examinations, and it set up a panel of experts on the matter in April last year.

The board held a mock English-speaking test on about 1,000 third-year students at eight public junior high schools in the capital between August and September 2018, using tablet computers and through interviews.

A growing number of boards of education evaluate applicants' English-speaking skills in entrance examinations. In most cases, however, boards use established English proficiency tests and other examinations administered by private organizations.

In Iwate Prefecture, applicants for public high schools were interviewed in English from the academic year of 2004 to 2006. However, the test was discontinued because many challenges needed to be overcome.

The metropolitan board of education will exchange information on such examinations with boards in other prefectures.

(Japanese original by Akiyo Ichikawa, City News Department)

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