Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Shark attack

Reuters had a report today that caught my attention - but it was a comment buried in the article that made me raise my eyebrows:

NASSIRIYA, Iraq (Reuters) - A two-meter shark has been caught in a river in southern Iraq more than 200 km (160 miles) from the sea.


Locals blamed the U.S. military for the shark's presence.

Tahseen Ali, a teacher, said there was a "75 percent chance" Americans had put the shark in the water.

"This is very frightening for us. Our children always swim in the river and I believe that there are more sharks. I believe that America is behind this matter," said fisherman Hatim Karim.

That's right - the locals blame the US for a shark that swam up the Euphrates.

So much for winning their hearts and minds.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

NOVA - don't cry for me

I must say, when I began to read about the NOVA scandal, I was not surprised. I had long heard the advice: "if you want to teach English in Japan, avoid NOVA at all costs. If you must teach there, get your visa, and move on as quickly as possible."

Those who took that advice were the smart ones. Those who were recruited this summer and arrived in Japan to learn for the first time that the company was imploding were unlucky I suppose, but I also have little sympathy for someone who could have easily googled NOVA and found dozens of articles in the English press describing the early stages of the implosion.

But this raises some more important questions about the state of the industry, and English language education in Japan itself. Why do the Japanese spend so much money on "learning English," and have so little to show for it? If you add up all the money spent on English language education (schools, books, study guides, conversation school, etc.) you would have the GDP of a medium sized country.

Japan has the second lowest TOEFL scores in Asia - only North Korea does worse.

What is the obsession with "eikaiwa?" I propose that for many, studying English or sending your kids off to Nova is a status symbol - right up there with the coach bag where they stash their electronic dictionary." Others believe that they need to study English to "career up." You can also see the salary-men, who slacked off in their high school and college English classes, being told that they're going to spend a few years at the overseas subsidiary...

There are many reasons for Japanese to study English - but should we be surprised to see the largest private school in the country implode? I don't think so. Thus, while I feel sorry for those caught up in this mess, I must also say that they should have seen the writing on the wall.