Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Issue of Outsourcing English Teaching Positions in Japan’s Designated Cities

Robert Aspinall, PALE SIG Coordinator

Designated Cities
With the addition of Shizuoka City in 2005, Japan’s total of “designated cities” (shiteitoshi) was raised to fourteen. Most of these cities have populations exceeding one million and they have local administrative powers very similar to those of prefectures.

On Monday 28 November, 2005 I conducted an interview with a leading English language advisor at Saitama City Board of Education. One of the topics discussed was the topic or outsourcing the positions of native-speaker Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) to private companies.

Below is a table that shows the distribution of the three different types of ALT in the designated cities. Non-JET ALTs refers to those ALTs who are employed directly by the city. They are usually employed on limited non-renewable contracts, with work conditions similar to those on the JET programme.

Distribution of different types of ALT in designated cities

It can be seen from this table that Yokohama, Nagoya, Kawasaki and Kita Kyushu have already started to recruit the majority of their ALTs from private outsourcing companies. Furthermore my informant at Saitama City told me that her city plans to increase drastically the proportion of outsourced ALTs.

Why the move to outsourced ALTs? It is simply a matter of money. JET ALTs cost the city about 3.5 million yen per year. Privately recruited ALTs cost about 3 million. But outsourced ALTs cost less than 2.5 million.

As a former JET ALT I remember some of the Japanese teachers grumbling that the ALTs were paid too much. At that time (fifteen years ago) and considering the pay was tax free, I think that they had a point. However, the JET programme is a national programme and the monthly pay is fixed. Outsourcing allows boards of education to get ALTs from the lowest bidder, and therefore is attractive to cities that are currently in financial difficulties. Also compared to the situation that prevailed when the JET programme started in 1987, there are far more native-speakers living in Japan, especially in the large cities. The JET programme will continue to be indispensable for towns and cities in remote areas of Japan, but for densely populated areas (i.e. those represented by the fourteen designated cities) it looks like the JET programme will be gradually downsized and cheaper outsourced ALTs will come to be the norm.


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