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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Osaka English teachers may be cut by Hashimoto


Staff writer

OSAKA — Nearly three dozen native English teachers called Monday on Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto not to cancel an education program that places native speakers of English in the prefecture's schools and expressed concern that the teachers have only been offered four-month contracts.

The Osaka Fu Special English Teachers Union (OFSET), which represents the 34 native English speakers working at prefectural-run high schools and special education schools, hand-delivered a letter to representatives in the governor's office in the afternoon and requested a meeting as soon as possible.

"The Osaka Prefectural NET (Native English Teachers) Program is currently under threat of cancellation due to budget concerns. NETs, working closely with Japanese teachers of English, have spent years developing sophisticated English programs at schools throughout Osaka Prefecture. Without NET teachers, these programs would become unsustainable and simply vanish," the letter says.

After taking office in February, Hashimoto announced that the prefecture would enact a four-month emergency budget to run from April to July.

By then, two special project teams, appointed by the governor to review all prefectural spending, are expected to have their final recommendations on what should be cut. Osaka Prefecture has nearly ¥5 trillion in outstanding debts and is nearly bankrupt.

NET teachers were shocked when, due to the emergency budget, the prefecture offered them only a contract from April to July. Previously, they had been on one-year contracts, which were usually automatically renewed if both the teacher and the prefecture desired.

"It's quite difficult to improve educational standards on a four-month contract. We hope and expect that Hashimoto won't eliminate our jobs after four months. But what we really want is not a continuation of the one-year renewable contract but a contract for five years," Steven Thompson, OFSET general secretary, said at a news conference before the letter was delivered.

The NET teachers hope Hashimoto, who has toured some facilities that may soon be axed, will meet with them and visit their classrooms before making a final decision.

However, Thompson has also notified the Geneva-based International Labor Organization of the prefecture's plans and is keeping them up to date.

Asked about the legality of a four-month contract, Thompson said OFSET had not yet discussed the situation with Japanese legal experts.

The NET program, created in 1990, brings native English teachers into prefectural schools, where they work with Japanese teachers to plan course content. Many of the NETs have master's degrees in education or years of professional experience.



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