Rethinking the JET Programme
By James Winovich
On February 25, 2016
The JET Program does a lot of good things. The program gives foreigners an opportunity to experience Japan while earning a full-time wage. It also gives students a chance to interact with those same foreigners, expanding their cultural understanding. It improves the country’s overall English level immensely.
The only thing is that I totally lied about one of them. Did you spot it?
While some might argue that none of them are 100% true, the one we all can agree on is that the JET Programme isn’t all that great at improving the nation’s ability to speak English.
There are a myriad of reasons as to why this is, and plenty of theories on how to improve the situation, but the point of the article today is to explain that while the programme fails to substantially improve the country’s English, it’s definitely still a successful endeavor.
To begin, let’s go back to why the JET programme was created in the first place.
From the official site:
“(The Jet Programme) aims to promote grassroots internationalization at the local level by inviting young overseas graduates to assist in international exchange and foreign language education in local governments, boards of education and elementary, junior and senior high schools throughout Japan. It seeks to foster ties between Japanese citizens (mainly youth) and JET participants at the person-to-person level.”
In the paragraph above, the word “education” is used once.
So while it sure feels like a JET’s job is to teach English and to teach English alone, this paragraph of purpose clearly tells us otherwise.
I know for some JETs it’s really frustrating. I’ve received more than a few emails from ALTs who spent years learning their craft, only to be used as a living CD player once they got accepted to the JET Programme. That, combined with the low level of English spoken by the country as a whole, can sure make The JET Programme feel like a failure.
But maybe the problem isn’t with how JETs are utilized inside the classroom. Instead, maybe the issue is how JETs fit into their new country outside of the classroom. Maybe the focus is in the wrong place.
Where do you think “grassroots internationalization” happens? Where can “fostering of ties between Japanese youth and JET participants” happen?
There are a million answers, but NONE of them are inside the classroom.
These things happen at recess, at lunchtimes, at festivals around town, and at Sports Day. They happen at local conbinis and on the street. If a JET spends all of his or her time planning lessons, there won’t be much time left to foster any of those ties with Japanese youth or internationalizing.
Teaching English (or “assisting in foreign language education,” as mentioned above) is only a small part of what the JET Programme was created to accomplish. That means that despite your best intentions to be the best teacher you can be, you’re only working on one aspect of your intended purpose.
In fact, one could argue that the more you broaden your focus beyond the classroom aspect, the more you can bite into the rest of the “reason that the JET Programme exists” pie.
I’m not saying the JET Programme is perfect; it’s far from it. But it’s definitely not a failure by its own standard. It does give foreigners a chance to interact with the community and students. It does give us a chance to assist in teaching foreign language, even if sometimes it’s only to ask “What day is it today?” once a week in the worst of cases. Whether each individual participant takes those opportunities or just complains about their situation on the Internet is entirely up to that person.
The JET Programme is accomplishing its own goals, no matter how ineffectively some teachers are being used in the classroom. It’s fair to say that some JETs are being under-utilized, or that the JET Programme could do a better job of using foreigners to teach English, but the Programme isn’t a failure. It’s just not executing its mission as completely as it could.
In the meantime, we need to rethink what The JET Programme does, and what it can do.
My advice to JETs is to work on every part of that statement of purpose. No matter how little your teacher wants to use you, you can definitely expand your presence in other parts of the school. It’s not hard to join a gym class, walk into the Home Ec room, or stay after school to try your hand at Kendo. The opportunities to work on that “grassroots internationalization” are there for you, you just have to take them.
Teaching, while important, is only a part of what JETs are hired to do. So the next time you or someone you know complains about being under-utilized at his or her school, ask that person what they did that day to work towards the other goals of the Programme. Show me a JET working towards all of the goals of the Programme, and I’ll show you a JET having a great time working in Japan.