Kids need human connection, not horrific nightmares about their android “teacher” raping them to death.
That quote is from my esteemed colleague who had revisited an article I wrote over 6 years ago, The biggest threats to teaching English in Japan. He touched on a few issues but I think that he also missed others. So let’s break down the Biggest Threats to Foreign English Teachers in Japan for 2017.
As Gaijinass talked about the most desirable jobs in Japan are those with a yearly salary that still pay during the long holiday periods an English teacher doesn’t work. The standard school holiday time is March, July, August and December off.
These jobs are few and far between. If you show up in Japan in 2017 you will probably work for a large temp agency, with no paid holidays and as this video spells out, you will make an average monthly salary of 150,000 yen or depending on the exchange rate about $USD 1,500 a month. Every year this gets lower and lower. It’s even worse in the Eikawas with the large companies taking part in a number of shady accounting practices so that, “new staff can now earn a whopping ¥1,400 per 40-minute lesson, before tax. “
Now some English teachers have been in Japan a long time and have been able to lock into well-paying jobs. As long as they haven’t pissed off their school they might have kept a respectable salary but things are changing. This brings us to the first threat to English teachers:
The New 5 Year Limit
In 2013 the Japanese government revised the Labor Contract Law (Rodo Keiyaku Ho) and enacted a “five-year rule.” This was an effort to offer job security to those who were banished to the temp-job hinterlands, doomed to jump from job to job. Under the new law, a part-time worker must be offered a full-time position after 5 years. This might actually happen in other industries but in the educational industrial complex, instead of offering full-time work, companies are just laying off all part-time staff when their 5 years is up. For more info on the law, and its consequences, there is a good write up here: ‘Five-year rule’ triggers ‘Tohoku college massacre’ of jobs
So how does this apply to foreigners working in the school system? Well due to their extended holiday system, often 4 months off a year, all foreign English Teachers are considered part-time workers. So the old-timers who clung onto their well-paid jobs for a decade or more are being forced out of their plush jobs. The schools and temp agencies can then replace them with the present market rate salary system of about 150,000 yen a month … or less.
Bennie and the Jets
Or less you ask? Yes, how about free. See the Jets are coming to Tokyo and the Tokyo government is giving them away for free. The JET program is a huge entity that sends foreigners out to rural areas of Japan that don’t have the knowledge to or can’t afford to recruit native English teachers. The major cities of Japan didn’t need this system because there are plenty of foreigners in places like Tokyo as well as companies to provide them to the schools. Therefore it was quite rare to see JETs in Japan’s largest urban centers, until now.
In the lead up to Olympics, there has been a huge push to install a JET teacher into every school in Tokyo … for free.
In Japan, the political unit of Tokyo is like an American “State” i.e. California, New York, Texas, etc. Inside the State of Tokyo are many small cities called KUs (区), there are 23 of these Special KUs in Tokyo. These city KUs usually handle their own internal education system. So temp companies will bid for a KU contract and then if they win the contract they will supply the teachers.
Tokyo State has stated that they want to give English teachers to every school in the State but instead of using teachers who have lived in Japan, mature teachers that are used to the culture and have years of teaching experience, Tokyo State is using JET teachers who just graduated university and literally just got off the plane. I have a friend who is training these young fresh faces and sees hundreds arrive into Tokyo every few months.
This is a threat to non-Jet foreign teachers in Tokyo because the local KUs have to pay non-Jets’ salary but the Tokyo State government is giving them a JET teacher for free. Why pay a salary when you can just use a free JET?
Now some schools actually value the teacher they’ve had for years but it isn’t the Japanese English staff that make the final decision. That special honor lies with the accounting department and the school administration, they have the final say. These number crunchers have little to no contact with the classroom and when they look on paper at the saving of using a free teacher, the JET is going to win every time.
Those Beyond The Wall
The next threat to the status quo of English teachers in Japan is the huge population of English speakers waiting to enter Japan to work in the school system or in the Eikawas. The only thing keeping them out is VISA restrictions and schools who only want Aryan teachers preferably female Aryan teachers.
This leaves out all the English speakers from countries like India and the Philippines. Teachers that are better suited for teaching English.
Presently in Japan, if you have a couple of years at chef school, making mashed potatoes, or a degree in pottery you’re allowed to teach English, as long as you come from Canada or the UK. Teachers from other countries might have their masters in teaching English as a second language and as they often learned English as a second language they know how best to study and teach it. This makes them way more qualified to teach English than someone who has a degree in IT or a couple years in cooking school.
Now you don’t even need to know how to speak another language other than English as long as you come from a native English speaking country. Teachers from other countries usually have 2-3 languages and there are armies of them who know Japanese and English but are banned from working in Japan.
Some say that teachers from India and the Philippines might have a strong accent. I argue that learning English from a teacher with an accent is an advantage. With the recent influx of third world IT workers, Japanese students won’t be using their English to travel, no they are going to be talking to the Bangladeshi IT guy in their company, in Japan. Learning how to understand accented English is an advantage.
If Japan ever relaxes their rules and lets these better-qualified teachers work wages will plunge as teachers from countries like India will work for a fraction of what the lowest paid teacher from America can live on.
The best jobs are those at private schools. Private schools only exist if there are parents who can afford to send their kids to them. Every year there are less and less that can do this. Some schools get around the declining number of families that can afford to pay for a private school by lowering their entrance test standards. But most schools refuse and just accept that their student numbers, and class numbers, will decline year after year.
How does this impact foreign teachers? As the students decline so do the teaching hours. Some schools have already cut the number of teachers they have. Japan’s “new” normal since the bubble is a stagnant economy. The worse it gets the more class numbers and teachers needed will go down.
This brings us to the greatest threat to English teachers in Japan, technology. The translation tech race is amazing. Already I can go to any website in a foreign European language, right-click, and hit translate. The near instantaneous translation is almost perfect and certainly good enough to understand what is being said. Google devices can already recognize objects and translate written text in real-time through a smartphone camera. There is already a working real-time ear piece translator for the romance languages.
Now, the romance or Latin languages are relatively easy to translate as they are all related. Chinese and Japanese will take longer, but that is all it will take … time. Time is ticking on real-time, seamless language translation. Nothing will stop the progress and as Computer processing power doubles every year, cloud computing gets faster, hardware gets smaller it will get easier and easier to tackle more and more languages.
I predict that in as little as 5 years there will be a working translation earpiece. Sure it will be clumsy and will most certainly have a lag but it will work and it will negate ever having to learn a foreign language.
Within 10 years the translation tech will be instantaneous and it will be able to deal with slang. In 2030 the technology will just be part of our lives like how now the digital camera, TV, and Internet are all on our phone. With this timeline English teachers might be able to squeeze out another 10 years teaching but after that it will be like my comrade says:
Japanese to English and English to Japanese will no longer be any issue what-so-ever and the entire Eikaiwa industry will be rendered useless. The only adults studying will be those at a very high level in very specialized fields, which the standard Eikaiwa teacher isn’t equipped to handle, or those studying for aesthetic reasons: Language acquisition as a hobby with no practical application.
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