Having met a number of former JET participants during my time at Yamasa and having been an ALT with the Board of Education (BoE) myself, I’ve come to learn about some behind-the-scenes stuff regarding ALTs and the prospect of this system.
I had the opportunity to meet an American-Chinese former JET participant who spent 4 years under the JET Program, 3 of which were spent in school teaching while the 4th was spent at the Board of Education itself. Being part of the planning team, she was no stranger to hearing plans of cutting off the JET participants. The BoE she was with intended to slash the entire program in their prefecture but she kept trying to convince them the benefits of the program and ultimately, at the time of her departure, they were down to 3 JET participants.
I have been with another BoE for a period of only half a year but while there are zero JET participants in that city, we have around 20 ALTs, most of which are directly employed by the BoE. The truth is, many ALTs visit more than 1 school. For some schools, the ALT only visits once or twice a week. Imagine: at an average of 4 classes per day and 12 classes per school, each class gets to have a lesson with the ALT a mere 1.3 times a month.
The BoE of the city I was at recognises the fact that many schools across the country are not planning enough lessons for the ALTs to be part of or are even cutting down the number of ALTs (whether or not to eventually phase out this system is outside this discussion), thus, 3 years ago, they started planning on a relatively large scale within the city to encourage the employment of ALTs and recordings have begun recently which will be on national TV in Japan on the kinds of activities ALTs do and the benefits they can bring to English language education in Japan. All these with the hope that the Ministry of Education (MEXT) will support the ALT system and start employing them under MEXT instead of individual city’s BoE.
Fluency in the English language is not an unsurmountable task for the Japanese people. They’ve already got a great system. They just need to expand its scale to fully exploit its potential. If not, it’ll be like trying to brighten up your entire house by lighting only one candle at a time.