Implementing English Education Policy in Japan: Intersubjectivity at the Micro-, Meso-, and Macrolevels

Fukunaga, Sunao. Implementing English Education Policy in Japan: Intersubjectivity at the Micro-, Meso-, and Macrolevels. 2016. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

English education in Japan has been stigmatized by a discourse of failure and desire (Seargeant, 2008). It fails to help students attain sufficient English proficiency despite the six-year secondary school English education. The inferior discourse has condemned teachers’ inability to teach communicative English. Yet, English is desired more than ever for access to new knowledge and the global market.

Responding to the situation, the 8th version of national English education policy, the Courses of Study, went into effect in April 2013, proclaiming English as a medium of instruction in senior high school English classes. Research (Hashimoto, 2009; Kawai, 2007) finds the conflation of contesting ideologies make the macro-level policy not as straightforward as it sounds. An overt goal is to improve students’ intercultural communicative competence; another covert goal is to promote to the world what Japan as a nation is and its citizens’ ethnic and cultural identity in English (Hashimoto, 2013). Although studies elucidated the ideologies inscribed in the policy, few have examined teachers’ lives: the agents implementing the language policy at the micro-level. This study attempts to bridge this knowledge gap.

This dissertation reports research on the implementation of the new edition of Japan’s national education policy, The Course of Study (COS). Triangulating an ethnographic data set collected from July 2012 through June 2015 in a suburban school district, this dissertation illuminates how the teachers live with conflicting subjectivities and make meaning of their work in the nexus of neoliberalism, nationalism, and English education. A particular contribution of this study is its analysis on the implementation process’s middle layer, namely the school district as a mesolevel actor, and elucidates the interplay between the school district and other microlevel actors, such as individual schools and teachers. Departing from a more common emphasis on agency in language planning and policy research, this study illuminates the ways in which intersubjectivity, interwoven with individual subjectivities, transpires through macro-, meso-, and microlevels of an English education policy’s implementation in Japan. The results emphasize how local intersubjectivity mediates the teachers’ understanding of rhetorics surrounding the new policy linking it to national interests that sit within a neoliberal world economy.

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