American entrepreneur, Bill Fugate has succeeded in starting, growing, and expanding his own business in Aichi and Gifu Prefecture. Now, he wants to improve language schools across Japan. Over the past twelve years, Mr. Fugate’s school called La Porte developed from a few students, to a highly successful international kindergarten that deploys an American curriculum.
Mr. Fugate points out that he had “to go deeply into debt, and if the school was not successful, then it would take a lifetime to pay back the debt. But I summoned the courage. Today, the kindergarten is a success with around a hundred students attending everyday in addition to approximately 200 English school students. Our new expansion into Gifu City is testament to the hard work of our staff, and the delivery of our values and education.
La Porte has witnessed extremely positive outcomes in addition to popularity. That is despite the increasingly competitive environment that private schools exist within. Indeed, thinking and doing things differently is needed in English education in Japan. Mr. Fugate is not alone in believing that standards need to be raised, and that more modern methods should be utilized.
Anton Vegel. English Academic and Instructor
Anton Vegel is an English instructor and specialist in Japan and supports this project. He reflected, “when I completed my first pedagogy in Dresden, Germany, I was impressed that in Europe in general language acquisition is so highly valued. At the junior and senior high school levels, teachers dedicate time for English only. Language points are given communicative purposes. Students complete creative language projects and actively engage.
Clearly, the delivery of English education in Japan has not been successful when considered on a global level. TOEIC scores fall behind other Asian states such as China and South Korea. Rote- learning in public education and the use of outdated methods by large corporate language chains does not address the problem. Therefore, ideas and methods that work are welcomed.
Sports Festival, Gojo Park
According to Mr. Fugate, “we need a way to implement standards, and to have a more transparent way for consumers, parents, and Anglophobes to know that what they are purchasing is following a set of standards, set by education professionals and health experts. That must begin with early years education, and with my experience and passion for language learning, I will champion such an organization!”
During my research for this article I discovered that all kindergartens in Japan must meet a series of basic standards. However, there is no standard for what constitutes an international kindergarten was. This is extremely concerning because it means that schools have the capacity to behave unethically due to the lack of accountability, transparency and oversight. I asked Mr. Fugate, who responded by saying, “just call me Bill”, what the qualifying standards of international kindergartens would include.
“That is a very good question. I would encourage a board of specialists to develop a comprehensive framework using current government standards for Japanese kindergartens as a reference. After all, I want the best practitioners out there to influence the rules and framework. A license with varying grades based on teachers receiving health checks, basic lifesaving and English language training among other basic skills that all students deserve”
Indeed, they do. And there are massive challenges ahead as Japan’s population set to decline from over a hundred and twenty seven million today, to a working population around forty million by 2050. Consequently, there will be more competition between schools and students will need the best language education available in order to compete both domestically and internationally.
“The children and adults in Japan deserve the best. We need a way to deliver high standards and quality education. The age of international schools failing to communicate with one another needs to end, and be replaced with openness, high standards, and a framework that encourages the best from the people of this beautiful country”, Bill added. I suspect that most teachers would support that. There is a vast pool of Japanese and native teachers concerned about standards in the Japanese Association for Language Teaching, and health and safety matters according to members of unions.
Finally, there are scores of international kindergartens and junior and senior high schools throughout Japan. If we value accountability, transparency, and the best educational outcomes, then Bill’s project is commendable, ethical and vital. A series of meetings will be taking place over the next few months in order to listen to educators throughout Aichi and Gifu Prefecture.