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Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011
HOTLINE TO NAGATACHO
Universities risk getting what they pay for with English tutors
To the Ministry of Education,
I returned from summer vacation and, as I do every year, inquired about how friends had enjoyed their holidays.
For many, the promised joy of spending time with family and friends was marred by the news that they were to lose classes at their respective universities from spring 2012. Some had lost as many as three classes at one university, and most had suffered losses at various institutions.
This amounts to a monetary loss of up to and exceeding ¥100,000 — a massive swipe at the monthly budget. Most people I know have young kids and lead what they believe to be settled, fairly secure lives in Japan.
It seems that in order to weather the financial crisis that has blanketed the planet, educational institutions in Japan have adopted the approach that English tutors are 10 a penny and can be thrown out with the dishwater and replaced at whim by cheaper, younger, less experienced native speakers willing to work long hours for a pittance.
While there certainly is an almost limitless supply of native English speakers throughout the world, doesn't it strike these institutions as bad business at best and financial suicide at worst to get rid of their most prized possessions — namely, well educated teachers who know the system?
As previously mentioned, I returned from the U.K., and during my time there I taught a pre-sessional course at the University of Glasgow. I also taught there in 2010 and I was overjoyed when I was informed that my salary would increase by ￡900 (¥112,000 at today's exchange rates) on the previous year. The reason given for the most welcome pay rise was that the university is happy to invite back teachers who have previously done an excellent job, as it is ultimately in the best interests of the students and, by association, the university to deliver classes to the highest standard.
I have worked in Japan for 20 years and have never received a pay rise. To get an increase of ¥110,000 after the first year and the promise of more next year certainly motivates me to do my utmost. The environment, too, is totally different to most I have experienced in Japan. Teachers are encouraged to help each other and share ideas. We held regular meetings that proved to be most useful.
The students, too, were delighted by the high standards at the university and were more than satisfied with the course. Is it not commonsense to think that an environment conducive to happy, well-paid teachers would, in turn, produce the same kind of students?
Instead of treating teachers in Japan (Japanese teachers included) as pawns in a money-making game, is it not better to treat teachers with the respect they deserve and to occasionally thank them by increasing their salaries? It sure works at Glasgow! As the contempt felt by many teachers grows, the first losers will be the students. This will be followed closely by the learning institutions and finally the country.
I do work at some institutions in Japan where much thought is given to the standard of education given to the students. However, I wonder if this situation is the exception to the rule. Some other institutes advertise for professors with Ph.Ds to teach unrealistic workloads. Some of the salaries on offer are ridiculous and do not even begin to compare with the part-time salaries earned by most students!
Often teachers are asked to sign contracts for two or three years. They are then dismissed and the process of finding and training new teachers begins. The point of this seems to be to save paying pensions to teachers who, like everyone else, are living longer and will require payment for a goodly number of years upon reaching retirement.
Offer teachers decent working conditions and don't try to get away with as little as possible. Invest wisely for the future and reap the rewards later. Take some pride in the standard of education delivered instead of worrying too much about how to save money and screw the very people who are the only ones who can help you. Give teachers a proper wage with which they can survive, and reward long-standing commitment with fair and proper compensation.
When teachers are free of the burden of worrying about their future they will better be able to deliver enjoyable, innovative lessons that ultimately benefit the very people who matter most.
If Japan is to continue to be a great nation, the education of its children should never be compromised.
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