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Education

Tokyo readies licenses for Japanese-language teachers

Certification to improve system where 60% of instructors are volunteers

A member of the South Sudan Olympic track team attends a Japanese-language school in Maebashi, Japan. (Photo by Yuta Kimura)

TOKYO -- Japan is preparing to issue licenses for teaching Japanese to non-native speakers, in a push to standardize instruction as the number of foreigners learning the national language begins to swell.

The Agency for Cultural Affairs will formulate a detailed framework, with the goal of passing relevant legislation as soon as the next fiscal year, which starts in April.

There is currently no official licensing process for becoming a Japanese-as-a-second-language instructor. Only a few requirements are needed, such as taking courses related to Japanese-language education in college or graduate school.

Training is conducted entirely by the respective university or private company. Critics say this system produces disparities in the quality of the coursework, as well as in the instructors.

The new teaching licenses will be national certifications, just like medical and law licenses. Prospective teachers will take exams that will test them on instructional methods, linguistics, multiculturalism and Japanese policies regarding immigrants.

Candidates will be required to undergo training in a university setting, and licensed instructors will need to hold at least a bachelor's degree.

The licenses will target college students learning Japanese-language education, and instructors currently working at Japanese-language schools. Licensed teachers will be placed at universities and corporate training programs.

About 260,000 people were learning Japanese at language schools or universities in fiscal 2018, according to the Agency for Cultural Affairs. The number swelled by approximately 100,000 people from fiscal 2013.

But during the same period, the number Japanese language instructors grew by roughly 10,000 people to about 40,000. Furthermore, only 10% are full-time teachers while 30% are part-time. The other 60% are volunteers.

By granting Japanese-as-a-second-language licenses, the government looks to add prestige to the occupation while attracting more instructors.

There were nearly 2.83 million non-Japanese residents at the end of July last year, according to the Immigration Bureau of Japan. The government amended the immigration law in April last year to increase the intake of foreign workers.

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