The Japanese Government started to implement a plan for English language education in 2003: The Action Plan to Cultivate "Japanese with English Abilities" (hereafter Action Plan). This article attempts to examine some characteristic features inherent in English language educational policy in this country, focusing on the JET Program (the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program) as one example of education reform and contextualizing it in broader perspectives. Specifically, the roles expected of native speakers of English (NSE) are examined.
Before the inception of the JET Program in 1987, there existed two major programs that had invited NSE in schools: Mombusho English Fellows and British English Teacher Scheme. It is sometimes pointed out that these two programs were merged into the JET Program. The JET Program, however, has its own unique origin. In the 1980s, Japan was faced with some crucial political and economic issues and these social factors have induced the government to introduce the JET Program. In other words, this program was implemented not just for the purpose of improving English language teaching but also for the purpose of solving economic and political problems such as trade frictions with the U.S.A. Because the JET Program aims to develop international understanding at the local community level as well as to innovate English language instruction at middle schools, it can be characterized as "being vague," which might result in some confusion as regards the roles expected of NSE in a classroom.
This article also points out the importance of evaluating education reforms. Twenty years have passed since the introduction of the JET Program. And yet there seems to be little research on examining whether it has achieved its own goals or not. In this respect, both the JET Program and Action Plan need to be properly evaluated before further attempts to innovate English language education are made in the future.