I have always, ALWAYS maintained that working the English teaching scene in Japan (whether it's as a JET/ALT or an English conversation school teacher) is like working McDonald's in the US. 1) You simply wouldn't do it back home, and 2) it's the lowest paid job you can find in Japan.
All expats in Japan joke that NOVA stands for 'no vacation', because they work their teachers to death.
Japan's comical English language industry is a farce, scoffs Weekly Playboy (3/12).
Nova, operator of the McDonalds of English language conversation chains, is beset by myriad claims of poor business practices that resulted in a government raid on its Osaka office earlier this month, and sees it battling a series of lawsuits across the country.
At the heart of many of Nova's problems are the contracts it forms with its customers. Kozo Nagano, the lawyer who heads the Kyoto Consumers Contract Network NPO, elaborates.
"Nova signs contracts where it sells classes on a point basis. Points become cheaper the more you buy at the same time. But trouble occurs when you want to pull out of a contract before it's finished. Suddenly, the points are assigned a new value different to what they were worth when the contract was signed, and the customer ends up getting back an extremely small fraction of what they originally paid, even though they may not have used much of the time they'd paid for."
Nagano notes that a Shiga Prefecture client sued Nova after it offered to pay back only a small amount of what the plaintiff considered the appropriate repayment. Nova eventually settled the court case, paying about the amount the plaintiff had been seeking.
"Nova clearly didn't want a drawn-out battle and quickly settled. It was suddenly hit with a spate of similar suits, but then suddenly stopped trying to settle them out of court. Perhaps it figured it would be paying such enormous sums to its disgruntled former students that it would make it hard for the company to keep running," Nagano tells Weekly Playboy.
But Nova is not the only allegedly dodgy player in the conversation school caper. Competition in Japan's English language lesson market is fierce and competitors will do anything to get an edge.
"It happened not long after my high school graduation. I went back to school one day and this gorgeous, scantily woman was standing at the gate," a 19-year-old male university student tells the men's weekly. "She flashed a 10,000 yen note in my direction, told me she worked for an English language school and wanted to see my graduation album (containing contact details of class members). I saw her and the money, and next thing we were in a convenience store taking photocopies of my album."
Once contracts are signed, English language schools are relentless in squeezing their students.
"They made me spend 370,000 yen on teaching materials when I signed a contract. I had 17 textbooks, 34 CDs for listening and six guidebooks. But when we got around to the lessons, all this stuff stayed in my desk drawers," a 34-year-old student says. "When I tried to take them back and get a refund, the school refused, saying that one of the CDs was missing."
Students say they're often held back by their peers.
"We're supposed to be working on a small class basis, but we have at least five people turn up every time. Invariably, we'll start off learning a phrase like 'This is a pen,' but there'll be some old biddy around who'll mumble along in Japanese, stumbling to come up with the correct English to use. How are we ever supposed to improve studying with twits like that?" a 30-year-old English learner says.
English conversation teachers get bad marks, too.
"Our teacher couldn't give a damn and yawned all the way through class, from start to finish. And he absolutely reeked of booze," a 26-year-old student says. "I'm sure I wouldn't have been able to make it all the way to the end if it were a man-to-man lesson."
But teacher have their gripes as well.
"We're supposed to have 10 minutes between classes, but get none. We're not allowed to talk to students away from the classroom. We have to move around our building via the emergency exit stairwell," one former English teacher tells Weekly Playboy. "The pay is 250,000 yen a month. At first I thought it wasn't bad, but we don't get a raise or a bonus or paid vacation. There's a teacher turnover of about 90 percent a year."
Tanezo, a long-time reporter on the English conversation caper, has his ideas on why the business is so bad.
"There are all sorts of teachers, but there's no shortage of those on working holidays or just going into the classroom for fun. They're not professional teachers, they're just gaijin (foreigners)," Tanezo tells Weekly Playboy. "I'd say the comparatively small schools you can find over the Internet offer the best education and are not going to be so blindly intent on making a profit." (By Ryann Connell)
February 27, 2007