Ueki's long-term observations instigated us to systematically analyze the English reading abilities of students in Ueki's seminar on Clarissa Harlowe by Samuel Richardson. Over the years, classes have consisted of students majoring in English Literature and in Teaching English as a Second Language. Compared to 10 years ago, Ueki tells us that students these days have more difficulty reading the text of Clarissa. The researchers calculated the average number of words that were read in one session from the academic years 1989 to 2000 (also those in 1985), the results of which are shown in the Table 1. The results indicate a clearly downward trend. We can notice a drastic decrease in the number of words read each semester from 1985 to 1992, and a gradual decrease from 1992 through the current academic year.
The worsening of reading abilities may be attributable to popularization of university education. This tendency is closely connected with the decrease in the total number of 18-year-olds, a trend which started in 1993. Because of these combined causes, there has been a deterioration in the quality of education in nearly every academic field in Japan.
Another reason is the "brilliant, generous, and tolerant change" in directives issued by the Ministry of Education, especially concerning the teaching of English vocabulary. Today, fewer vocabulary are taught in secondary schools, probably because of the high ratio of students who go on to high school (though actually now it might be better to call it "low school"). The ratio is 95.9%.
Another significant reason for the worsening of reading abilities at Hiroshima University is the move from the downtown Hiroshima Campus to the Higashi-Hiroshima Campus. The authors cite reasons why this removal has contributed to the drastic decrease in reading abilities from 1985 to 1992.
Ueki has already introduced some means to improve the comprehension of the difficult text, Clarissa. In the latter part of the academic year of 2000, he introduced a method of reading aloud together after the teacher's model reading. With the help of a kind of doze test procedure, we detect a palpable improvement in student comprehension of the work both in terms of literary appreciation and English language.