Filipino Assistant English Teachers (AET’s)

BDTJ: What do you think about Filipino AET’s?
Kawane: We would like more Filipinos to work as AET’s in Japanese public schools. Since English is one of the two official languages in the Philippines, Filipinos speak the language well. Many of the Filipino AET’s we have hired so far are earnest in their job, work hard and teach well. In fact, in our company, we have many foreign AET’s but Filipinos comprise the largest number, about 40 percent. Since we are a group of companies, the percentage to the total is just about 3 percent, but we would like to increase this. There are many excellent Filipinos AET’s.

BDTJ: By whose standard do you give this evaluation—your company’s or the Japanese public schools’?
Kawane: This evaluation was given by our clients. For example, in Ibaraki Pref., many members of the boards of education in the area have given us positive feedback about the Filipino AET’s. According to them, even compared with the professional native speakers, many Filipinos are as good, if not better.

BDTJ: Until recently, the image associated with the word “English teacher” has always been a Caucasian—American or British. It comes as a surprise then that Japan is finally accepting Filipinos as English teachers. How did this happen?
Kawane: Filipinos as persons are wonderful. This is a rather abstract statement, but for one to be a good Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in charge of children, one has to be cheerful, lively and cooperative with the Japanese homeroom teacher. In other words, an ALT has to have the heart of service for children as well as be cooperative with his or her Japanese counterpart. My personal impression is that Filipinos as a people have a sunny disposition, and perhaps because of their Christian background, are very devoted to their work. They are also well thought of by the Japanese teachers for their teamwork. Moreover, their English is clear, which is not to say that they do not have a distinct accent. English education in Japan is oriented towards American English, which is easier for the Japanese to listen to. As much as possible, we would like our teachers to speak closest to American English. Unless spoken very heavily, the Filipino accent is by and large acceptable.

BDTJ: Everything you have said about Filipinos has been favorable so far. Any suggestions on how they can improve themselves?
Kawane: If Filipinos want to keep this job or if more want to have this job, they should strive to speak standard American English. I think it will not take them much effort since the Filipinos studied English under the American-style educational system. Filipinos have all the advantages since they receive their education mostly in English.

BDTJ: Filipino AET’s are very eager to improve themselves. They are even discussing among themselves the plans for having workshops aside from those administered by their employers like you.
Kawane: I think the demand for English teachers is going to rise even more. There are plans afoot in the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports and Science and Technology (Monbukagakusho) to make English a mandatory subject for higher grade elementary school children as early as 2010. Presently, English is taught in elementary schools under the “International Understanding” class. There is no test, and even basic grammar is not taught. The aim is simply to familiarize and acquaint children to the language. It is only when children enter junior high that English is taught as a subject.

BDTJ: It is almost inconceivable for us Filipinos that a private company has built itself into such a huge industry by selling English as its main product. Why is English ability so valuable in this society?
Kawane: The world economy is still centered on the US. This may be a bit exaggerated, but it is a fact that the language of global business is English. Japan is a small archipelago, which cannot sustain itself economically without doing business with the outside world.

BDTJ: It is ironic that so far, Japan has attained remarkable economic growth without mastery of the English language. Therefore, one cannot claim that English is so important to achieve economic growth. Why the sudden urgency to study English?
Kawane: Global competition has never been this fierce. In a world structured into East-West hemispheres, Japan simply had to produce nice industrial products and was assured of a market under the wings of American alliance. But with the obsolescence of communism and the crumbling of the East-West divide with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the world has become one global market, a level playing field for every one. Even the US has become a competitor, not to mention the emerging economies like China and South Korea. Japan has to go out into the world even more in order to sell its products. More than ever, it needs English to be able to do this. Japan cannot sit back on its English ability, what with a ranking of 100 in TOEFL score worldwide. Even in Asia, the Japanese trail miserably Benigno Tutor, Jr.

Teaching English in Japan used to be a tightly guarded domain of the so-called white, blond-haired native speakers. But when public schools opened in April of this year, about fifty (50) Filipinos were hired all over Japan as Assistant English Teachers (AET) in elementary and junior high schools.

Filipinos pride themselves on their American-style education which gives most college graduates a claim to native-level English proficiency, especially in the period before the bilingual policy was implemented. This recognition of their English ability, albeit belated, is therefore greeted with optimism.

What gave the impetus to this development were the liberalization of the Labor Dispatch Law in 1999, which widened the scope of manpower deployment to non-traditional sectors including teachers, and the kokusaika or internationalization program of the Japanese government which was translated into an education policy of an early start in English lessons in public schools.

Giving us an insider’s view of this propitious development is Yasushi Nakane, president of Selti, the leading manpower agency which hired most of the Filipino AET’s. What follows is the transcript of the free-wheeling interview, conducted in Japanese, last April 22, 2006 in Moriya City, Ibaraki Pref.