Fukuoka BoE Fires 120 ALTs; Goes To Dispatch

May 22, 2018


“I was suddenly let go from my job, even though I spent years working hard for the children of Japan”, a foreign national living in Fukuoka City said bitterly to our special correspondents.

Until the end of the previous school year (2017-2018), “Guest Teachers” (GTs) were in charge of “Foreign Language Activities” in 5th and 6th grades at city elementary schools.

Now they say they have “lost [their] main source of income” because the city Board of Education has switched to using teachers belonging to a dispatch company. What happened?

Municipal elementary schools began offering “Foreign Language Activities” in the 2007 school year. Last year, there were 35 class hours for each 5th and 6th grade class at all 144 city elementary schools.

Taking charge of these classes alongside the regular class teachers were GTs searched for and hired individually by each school, including local foreign residents, overseas students, and Japanese nationals with English fluency.

There were 120 of these GTs, some teaching at multiple schools, and even some who were personally asked by their school principals to “please stay on for the 2018 school year”.

However, on February 14 (2018), the city’s Board of Education announced their new plan to outsource the teaching to a dispatch company and to assign teachers called “Native Speakers (NSs)” to the schools instead.

The five GTs who talked to our correspondents said they were informed of this by their principals between mid-February and early March.

“The homeroom teacher and I worked well together doing good lessons, but then I was thrown away like garbage”, says Kent (aged 50s, assumed name), an American, holding his head in his hands. 

He worked as a GT for about ten years. Through the last school year, he taught 15 class periods per week at three different schools. His income from the BoE was 3800 yen per class hour, across the board, for a total yearly income of over 3 million yen. He was told that “from next year, you can still take charge of Foreign Language Activities for 3rd and 4th graders as a GT”.

However, these grades have only 8 periods of this a year–less than a fourth of the hours he was teaching for 5th and 6th grades. He was also told the pay per class hour would be reduced to 2800 yen. This would amount to a total of 600,000 yen for a whole year. He has a wife as well as a daughter in elementary school.

This amount would be nowhere near paying their cost of living.

The other four teachers also had other work – for example as language-school instructors – but they say the GT work accounted for the majority of their income.

Hunt (aged 40s, assumed name) was resentful, saying “the principal cried and said ‘I’m sorry’, but there hasn’t been any explanation at all from the Board of Education”.


What’s Behind The New Plan?

The BoE says “We are extremely grateful to our GTs. We are deeply sorry we were unable to inform them until budgetary measures were decided”, but that the reason for the new system was that when the new curriculum guidelines come into force in the 2020 school year, “Foreign Language” lessons will start to be an official subject, with a grade on the report card.

The Education Ministry has set the 2018 and 2019 school years as a transitional period.

The city BoE aims to improve students’ communication ability with 50 class periods of Foreign Language Activities this school year.

“Some GTs had teaching skills, but others had no experience at all”, they say. “With it becoming an official subject, we have to make sure there can be proper instruction at every school.”

According to the BoE, NSs will receive training at their dispatch company before taking over classes. In the past, there were cases where GTs returned to their home countries for personal reasons mid-year, leaving schools scrambling to find a successor. However, with a dispatch company, even if a teacher is out sick, a substitute NS will come to cover classes.

Responding to GTs’ claim that this is “a sudden firing”, the BoE’s position is that “it was never an employment relationship in the first place”. They explain that “GTs were guests after all, just like having someone who experienced the war come give a talk for a Peace Studies lesson. The money was paid to them as a token of thanks”.

Different municipalities are taking varying approaches to dealing with the introduction of Foreign Language as a subject. If a new plan makes lessons better, that is good news for children; but it seems a waste for dedicated GTs to lose a place to use their skills.

Professor Chris Flynn of the Kyushu Institute of Information Sciences – an expert on foreign nationals’ labor issues – points out that “if a teacher goes to school for 15 class periods a week and earns 3 million yen per year, that’s de facto employment.”

“The BoE could have found a way to train necessary personnel themselves; to end up getting rid of even the good GTs is something that’s hard to accept.”

ー Nishinippon Shimbun morning edition, May 17, 2018