It`s that time of year when all the the soba has been eaten, the house cleaned, and perhaps a temple visited. That or you're sitting at home watching `ekiden` road races. Yes, it's the Japanese New Year. So a quick look back and glance forward are de riguer for any columnist too stuffed with food or hungover to be otherwise creative. And with no further ado...
Phil mentioned in his editorial what a black-eye year it had been for teachers in Thailand with multiple arrests of pedophiles working in teaching positions. I suppose that is one issue that Japan based teachers have not confronted. However, there was tragedy and scandal here this year with the death of Lindsey Hawker, a young British woman murdered in the apartment of a man who evidently approached her as a student of English. She, herself, was an English teacher. The police have yet to apprehend the suspect. Here's hoping they do in `08.
Of course the major news of the year was the bankruptcy of Nova. See my previous columns for more on that. The long term impact of the Nova collapse is hard to judge, but I think that the private English education industry in Japan has seen its apex and passed it. The population is ageing, the industry is now tarnished and given that many of its most loyal customers are hobbyists, not serious learners, they may take their yen elsewhere...think resurgence in flower arrangement or tea ceremony lessons. That said, the industry is far from dead. 2008 will be a make or break year for Nova`s acquiring company, G-Communications. Things are not off to a smooth start, but nor have any of Nova`s competitors made major market share grabs. Something to watch in the coming year.
There was a silver lining in the Nova cloud. Both the Japanese employment offices and immigration department dealt with the crisis in a responsible and fair manner. Hello Work, as the employment office is known, was quick to provide English language support and to the best of my knowledge everyone who qualified for unemployment benefits received them in a timely manner. Immigration issued yours truly a three-year extension on the eve of Nova's collapse, in spite of all the rumors. Thanks guys. I was not happy to be working for a company that went under, but I am glad that company wasn't located in any other Asian country. Nonetheless, the bankruptcy brought to light a number of discrepancies between labor laws and practices that exist in Japan's English teaching industry. Something that probably won't change in the coming year.
Speaking of other Asian countries... China hosts the Olympics. English First made a big push to recruit teachers from Japan to work there. I think this is just the beginning of something much bigger to come. Then again China is not typically a dream destination on the par of let's say...Thailand. But with the appreciating yuan it may become a moneymaker...the New Korea for Thai based teachers? For that matter, Korea is now requiring background checks in order to teach. China is looking good for the cowboy teacher in search of easy money. Something to keep an eye on in the coming year.
On a personal level, `08 may see me change career and step outside the teaching arena for the first time in nine years. It's early to delve into specifics, but watching my job disintegrate gave me pause and has brought me to the realization that teaching English in Asia is like nursing. There is always a job for you, but usually the job involves a lot of crap.
Something great in 2008? Let's hope so...